Some guy at the power substation in Yuma, AZ flipped the wrong switch and most of the lower third of the Great State of California and four million people of its people are powerless. Maybe he should have been thinking about the grid instead of that woman in HR with the nice ass. And why did he have to do it today when I am itching to write in a way I have been longing to itch for weeks, this afternoon when I am riding full tilt in the Word Funnel, phrases and ideas swirling in my head, waiting to blow out the little end onto a virtual page, lines and squiggles in Book Antigua?
No matter, said Ms. Efficient, gathering hurricanes and candles, log lighter, matches and many, many flashlights, patting herself for grilling an extra-large steak last night (just in case Yuma Guy was thinking with his penis today? could she have known?) and not being out of romaine, as usual. Dinner, handled. Last half-gallon of milk in the freezer ice bin for morning coffee and don’t open the door ‘til then. It is a freaking sauna in this house – open the windows here and down the hall to try to achieve the miracle that is cross-ventilation.
When Tom pulls up the drive, I’m out there in the Mini with the engine running and two chargers plugged in, juicing my cell and iPad, singing to The Wreckers with the air-conditioner cranked and a full tank of gas. He frowns, puzzled, at my cheery wave. Making the best of things, I say, all charged up.
Once in his home team uniform of shorts and ratty tee, he hands me his soggy suit coat and slacks. What did you do, I ask, swim home? No, he explains, but he was in the lobby of the office building when the power went out, so he walked up 20 flights to where his clients were waiting for him, then back down 20 when the guard said the emergency lights in the stairwell were shutting off in half an hour. He’s a wet, tired, 80-year-old Energizer bunny who deserves a big glass of wine.
We eat outside in the gathering gloom (as the Moody Blues sang), whispering about how far sound travels in this spooky quiet. A neighbor across the canyon out back, a quarter mile away, talking. Coyotes far down the canyon, yipping and laughing. The faintest hum – can you hear that? – that we finally agree is the sound of cars on the interstate six miles west. The air is thick and hot. Night has fallen hard to the dark ground. The tea lights are guttering. A mosquito bites and Tom’s palm slaps skin. Inside.
He tucks into the guest room because I want to write. Besides, he thinks he hears more coyotes over there, though I know better. He’s asleep in seconds, his breathing a bellows that sucks air out of the hall. I blow out the candles like a birthday girl and follow the last one, held in my hand like Tinkerbelle in a jar, down another leg of the hacienda to our bedroom.
I build a light fort with flashlights balanced on furniture and sit in my underwear where the beams intersect on the bed, legs flat out and a fat feather pillow scrunched between my thighs, in the vee, iPad on top. My fastest-typist-in-the-class fingers are flying on its pretend keyboard, not tapping because there’s no sound but a minute skin-glass thud, maybe a thid, a thip, a tip – tip tip tip tip, they run together, it’s so fast, words are shooting out my fingerprints, nanopauses here, there. I hear a coyote just outside, a bark, another, and I look up.
Where the light beams cross on the bed is a campfire. The black-ink corners of the room are the night, and the walls have fallen away, leaving me under a sky of glitter and silence and a three-quarter moon that begs for an ululating howl. The coyote obliges, and then her friend nearby, calling, calling. So I answer, straightened back, chin up, whispering aaaahooooo, the same note, held, the lyric to a coyote tune.
A Paul Simon song from yesterday bounces into my head, and I remember the words:
“A pilgrim on a pilgrimage
Walked across the Brooklyn Bridge
His sneakers torn
In the hour when the homeless move their cardboard blankets
And the new day is born.”
Writing songs would be so hard, the music part especially might as well just be impossible and then fitting words to its melody, and then rhyming, for Pete’s sake, and not just moon and june but verses that are so good you can’t forget them, not ever, like:
“Folded in his backpack pocket
The questions that he copied from his heart
Who am I in this lonely world?
And where will I make my bed tonight?
When twilight turns to dark.”
“Questions for the angels
Who believes in angels?
Fools and pilgrims all over the world.”
My brother had cancer, you know, and now he has more cancer. I wasn’t writing about that, not on the night the lights went out and not today before this, but now I guess I am. The surgeons cut it out, a lot of it, all of it we thought, chunks of his neck and arm, big meaty pieces that left one hand quivering and his voice as scratchy as an old 45, twisting scars like long gristle rivers that cross craters covered with skin. Tiny dots on a PET scan, some new things or some things a knife or the poison missed, who knows, no one, no one does, but there they are. More cutting soon, maybe with lasers this time. He’ll be fine. He will. He says and I believe. I don’t believe in angels, fool and even pilgrim that I am, but I believe him. Maybe he’s an angel.
But that night I was just thinking that if I wrote more and more, tip tip tipped more words, thousands of words onto the lighted page, that every once in a while some phrase would stick, like “questions that he copied from his heart” does, would strike the inside of a tiny brass owl and make an almost imperceptible sound and be remembered by someone for a little while even without an accompanying string of notes.
That night I was sitting at my campfire in the arms of the intense silence of a powerless night, in a darkness that came from the bottom of the black ocean and colored everything invisible for hundreds of miles, blotted it out, wondering how Simon had thought of rhyming “disappear” and “zebra tear,” listening to Tom breathe and the coyotes cough. Until I yawned one last time and clicked off the flashlights, pulled a sheet over my hot legs and laid my sweaty head down to sleep.
By morning power had been restored, and everything was just as it had been before.
“If every human on the planet and all the buildings on it
Would a zebra grazing in the African Savannah
Care enough to shed one zebra tear?
“Questions for the angels
Who believes in angels?”
Posted in: favorites, human beans, la-la-la-love, my baby brother, pen 2 paper, what i'm thinking
Tags: angels, arizona, brother, buddhism, campfire, cancer, candles, coyote, craig, craig mann, death, dying, flashlight, fools, ipad, iPod, love, mini cooper, moody blues, mosquitos, mr. forte, paul simon, phones, pilgrim, pilgrims, power outage, tears, yuma, zebras
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