Another windy day, the wind never stops talking when the trades are blowing. I like to think about them wrapping around the earth, the expanse of earth that’s completely water, a belt of wind, pushing clouds and waves from east to west, continually. They drive low white clouds along, so low over the island, I imagine reaching up and pulling one down to the ground like a parachute. I’m watching two clouds, truck-sized, drift past our cabin window as I write. One pushes into the other to form a two-humped camel. They’re followed by keikis, babies, shaped like snowshoe hares mistaking the camels for mothers. Our friend Toby called today. He was in our yard in Homer, and he said snowshoe hares had girdled all of our orchard trees. In the garden this morning, watering, I doused the ohelo berry bush, stripped of all its leaves by striped beetles. I think of my friend Rika, in Homer, who tends her yard as a native garden. She nurses only indigenous plants, spruce trees, birches, fireweed. When Craig told me Toby’s news, I didn’t mourn too much for the apple trees that have never produced a single apple. Our yard is filled with birch and elderberry. “Let’s just plant spruce trees from now on,” I said. I’d love to stop fighting things so much. At first, I tried spraying the ohelo berry bush with soapy water, then picking off beetles and crushing them against a rock. But finally I gave up. I’d like to become the kind of gardener Rika is. I pick up the Osho Zen card beside me. There is that pale figure, arm behind its head, other arm akimbo, drifting through the teal and lavender currents, going with the flow. Flow of snowshoe hares and beetles and encroaching forest. Flow of trade winds and clouds (right now, passing by, Phyllis Diller’s head. An armadillo. A match box car.) Flow of endless ants arriving at the scene of one mango skin left on the counter. Flow of one woman endlessly wiping the counter with a sponge.
I call them ancestor clouds. I imagine the ancient Hawaiians riding on top of them, but instead of looking down to see what’s become of their islands, to see what their descendants are up to, I see them staring straight ahead. An endless procession of ancestor clouds.
I look down from the clouds passing by to a postcard on the window sill. Flow of the watercolor brushstrokes on a painting by a woman I knew briefly, Catherine Senungetuk, Untitled, 2010. Like an early Georgia O’Keefe, curved blue lines like quotation marks holding red at their centers: “red” Squiggles of teal like electrical wires. Coils of orange like unraveled DNA strands. Blots of yellow. I received this announcement of her retrospective exhibit in Anchorage a few days before she died of breast cancer. I take the postcard down from its place on the windowsill, put it beside the Osho Zen card. The title of the exhibition: The Color of Living. I think of her when I run sometimes, especially at sunset, when the sky’s painted in brushstrokes, and I want to ask her, “What’s it like, Catherine, on the other side?” But she flows on by me, on her way to wherever the clouds are going. Her long silver hair streaming behind. (Two-headed cat. Tea pot with puffs of steam. Dancer.) She contacted me last spring, when she heard I’d been diagnosed with breast cancer. “I pray your diagnosis is not too dire,” she wrote. The suffering she described (her cancer had metastasized to her bones) terrified me, and I wanted to push "dire" away as soon as it entered my heart. But I couldn’t push it away, and her cancer story forced me to confront my darkest, deepest fears. Her story of painting, writing, teaching, loving as her body succumbed: well, that story forced me to confront a strength I must believe is there for me, held in reserve, the kind of courage that is sometimes asked of us. Catherine, despite that suffering deep in her bones, filled in for me to teach a writing workshop I was scheduled to lead in Cordova at the shorebird festival. I had to cancel due to cancer. Ancestor riding on a cloud, pilgrim on this road, miles ahead, a road we all walk, whether we are forced to face it or not, Catherine, you left postcards, paintings, words, as offerings, as instructions, in case they are needed, and they will be needed, by all of us, sooner or later. So thank you for The Color of Living. Thank you for bearing witness to your own dying. Catherine; fully alive until she was not.
Today I’ve been reading excerpts from poet Anna Kamienska’s writings, from In That Great River: A Notebook. The excerpts were published in the June issue of Poetry magazine, and I read them so many times during chemo last summer, that the pages are wavery from sweat, tears, spilled tea, Cape Cod July humidity. Excerpts like this:
I pray in words. I pray in poems. I want to learn to pray through breathing, through dreams and sleeplessness, through love and renunciation. I pray through snow that falls outside the window. I pray with the tears that do not end.
I’m moved by everything broken and crippled. Since that’s how we really are.
Collecting pebbles for a new mosaic of a world that I could love.
In the Church of Synchronous Happenstance, Kamienska will be one of the prophets. The Gospel according to Anna. Poet Mary Oliver will be one of the prophets, too. (Nominations for prophets can be made by commenting on this blog). In a famous poem, Oliver asks something like: what are you going to do with your one, wild life? My answer: collect pebbles.
Collecting pebbles for a new mosaic of a world that I could love. That’s what it feels like I’m doing, writing this blog, living this (temporarily) saved life. Collecting pebbles for a new mosaic: Catherine’s postcard. Poetry magazine open on my desk. The Osho Zen card. A teapot from Chi Chi La Fong’s thrift shop in Kapaau. A cloud shaped like a doorknob. A sky shaped like one enormous door no one’s ready to open yet. Life after cancer. New world I could love.