In the thicket of wild and obscure feelings, I want to have faith in the art of incantation. Because I can’t but darken and over-organize the more luminous and playful energies in the inward privacy of a mind, I had stopped for so long.
But now there is so much uncertainty to invite me here.
The first impulse is to eulogize the land. To grieve the coastal mountains where I have lived all my life, now overlooking a sea-change, with only hazy constellations to navigate by.
Then the birds of my neighborhood, who will feed them now? Who will notice when Fox Sparrow arrives in the fall and leaves in the spring? Who will extoll how perilous and brave he is?
And then there are all my life-long loved ones…. And the ones who love my sons. The ones like me who don’t migrate and never have.
A few weeks ago, I was deep in the grand-mother land, under the green mountains jutting up like crowded tombstones in the fog of familiarly foreign languages. On one clear day I asked her about the lightening and thunder, and she said no, they are bombing the mountains to make way for roads.
I watched the locals prepare for Ching Ming, as I headed home. How it is that the snap of fireworks can cleanse the space of the afterlife. And yet the ways we keep the never-aging dead here with us. Along a new freeway — more of a battlefield than a road — I passed one ancient mountain where erosion had stripped the earth except for one gravestone. The simple tomb seemingly held up the core of stone and dirt and history. And the other unworldly mountains looked on and agreed. We had floated through those sentinels of ancient ink paintings on bamboo rafts. Our handsome raft-man says his family goes back 1500 years to that village, where now he can no longer survive on our one fare. So we helped him carry the raft upstream, and he let me miserably try to pole us as he so elegantly could. But I kept driving us into the riverbank where a lone woman kneeled among the rows of radishes over several lifetimes.
And they would apologize for being simple peasants, their words. And I begged them to know we dream their life. Except I know ours somehow has a deeper horizon — however unchartered, un-ventured and never satisfied. And our pastime of theorizing choices and opportunities when their doors open to another dark courtyard where the chickens scratch. But I sat by her fire and heard the pond language of traveling spring water and ate the fish they just took from there. All while the crickets and stranger frogs hummed oddities. I could place her here in my mind, like how one copes with an untouchable lover on a far-off continent. There I felt a new loneliness that lurked behind me in the bamboo forest, like a luxurious hotel room with no one to share the ache. And it has followed me home.
Because in the same day, I was driving down the street of my childhood home, firmly in an Americana that is iconic and unoriginal and unmoving. The same home that bore an insulated, however splintered child that never moved 30 miles from her birthplace. I arrived on that self-same street not by miracle of imagination but by dint of modernity and privilege and luck and post-human transportation and time changes. There are no words to describe that kind of return.
I cannot also romanticize that grand-mother-land — she is my fleeting sight of the glowing pheasant bird heralded in those ink paintings, digging through garbage behind the hastily-restored Great Wall.
Here is my love of grassy and vegetal air rising off the coastal scrub above the rough surf. The cliffs off which people much braver than I, with only fabric and string faith, jump into those circling updrafts. Here also are the voices of people droning on about sniveling inannities. Trying to escape from their own aching hotel rooms of life, like me.
Her migration was epic like Fox Sparrow’s. Not like ours to a new state. Maybe it is her cells flowing through me, carrying the trauma of torn roots that makes me feel otherwise. She came from so far to be buried here, now part of my mountain over this ocean, not one of those over his river. And I don’t want to go. God please don’t make me go. And I will go. I know and forget that all these minor heartbreaks are good practice for the final one, whichever mountain it will be.