I sit with my thought patterns as they loop around loss, fear, and judgment, compounding any sense of present loss with the threat of future loss and the specter of imagined and calculated past losses. Cultural loss, loss of life, loss of space, connection, depth. The birds are good! Focus on the birds. Poor birds, there are not enough and they can hardly hear each other. What do I know about what the birds can hear? I hate these new cheap, hastily constructed spec houses and what they represent and mean. My jaw is soft but the teeth of my mind grit against the swish of tire on pavement; I make my own inner mourning sound, below the level of hearing, a gut keening, imagining these birds flying
from one lone, preserved tree to another, one piece of private property to the next.
I condemn in my mind these lines, the lies they tell and the history of thievery they carry forward into today. And then I peek out, to see the shape of my lines. Are they good enough? Am I making this little piece of the world more beautiful? Do the birds like me? I can name each plant, remember the time I put its roots into the soil here. I claim them automatically. My choice, my money, my idea, my careful noticing of sun and wind, my failure to protect from freeze and drought, my mistake, my daughters' home, my new idea, my future, my past.
My thoughts take turns punishing me, patting me on the back. I hear the sounds beyond my form, and the sounds within. One follows the next, floating, falling away. I make my own bird call, which is breath: a filling and emptying rise and fall whose pattern sings my soul out, and in again.
I tell the sob story of how my children find safety and familiarity in the sounds of cars instead of the sounds of birds. I rub the fabric of my implication: moved away from the wild place I knew and loved, from birds and sky and family; an early gentrifier in this neighborhood, getting when the getting was good; the daughter and wife of builders, living all my life on money from development, dead trees, heavy sheets of steel, architects' fantasies made 3-D, luxury; two kids who take baths and buy the newest plastic at the art store down the street, who want to believe that they belong to this planet, to this place and its plant and animal people - but can they learn that from me?
I refuse the human company of the people who will pay $500,000 for half of one of these off-gassing duplexes. I call up my judgments. Their "Tibetan prayer" banners and Cascadia flags. Their expensive strollers and highlighted hair in high ponytails for jogging. Their assumptions: that we are the same; that this neighborhood is ours; that we are making things better, nicer, safer; that I want to be on the inside with them. I take up a smaller space inside myself to get away from the grinning monsters I have conjured. They can have the right, I'll be on the left. And yet, it's not even safe here in this wedge of my rib cage/brain: we are their precursors. We came before and laid the carpet: we made them possible.
We were the people the neighbors saw roll in with a U-haul when Alberta park was still full of Black laughing teens and Black families in parade chairs with plates of food and syncopated Black basketball games watched by young Black hopefuls and tiny Black babies dressed in tiny ironed jeans getting their pictures taken on the baby swings. We were digging up the yellow grass to put in a garden and cutting holes in the roof to put in a dormer within a month of moving in. We were feeding our neighbors' chained up Pit and scooping up his poop. I was that lady: the pregnant white one smiling at everyone, full of ownership, with no idea in the world why her neighbors didn't think she was the cutest, most benign thing on Earth.
We had no cash flow but we bought our house for cash. We moved to Portland because it seemed like we could make it there, find friends, fit in; we would be within a day's drive of my parents; the food shed and water sources helped us imagine a safer future. We saw what is now our home of eleven years while walking to breakfast from our good friend's house the one time we visited. The owner (a white lady, for the record) was selling it herself and was too old to know about Craigslist, so it was still on the market at the right price when we sold the house Jeff had invested so much sweat in back in Idaho, at the absolute tail end of the bubble, in the summer of 2006.
Our mindset then was that we were buying it so we could leave. The math worked out to a $1000 a month to travel on. We went to India after staying in the house for less than a week, prepping it for the renters I had secured before ever walking in the place. When we came back a year later, our mindset was different. I was three months pregnant; the house was the only ingredient for home we had. We furnished it with free Craigslist desks and Jeff started work gutting the upstairs, throwing the plaster and lathe out the window into a waiting dumpster in the driveway. I worked on his website, started seeds, and cooked: soup, a baby. At night we walked long loops around the late winter neighborhood, wondering how the trees survived such prolific bloom, wondering what our lives would soon become.
My grief at this memory brings me back to the deck, the pillows, the air, my breath. I am sad for the lonely year that followed, when Jeff and I lost each other as I found the iron bond of motherhood and he went, adrift, toward building again the relationship with his work that had always sustained him. But there is also the good hardness there, the slow work of growing up, and all the laughing moments of shock and potent magic.
I am sad for myself now: it has been so long since I travelled; since I lived free as a single body the shape of only me; since I woke not knowing what the day would be.
I am sad about all that I see now that I didn't see then: how I wander and dig in a garden planted with the seeds of the slavery and genocide that grew around and through my ancestors in times now unreachable except in the harvests I, their heir, reap daily. I am sad that the Western women who carried forth the line in ways I can't imagine and ways I intimately know (blood, milk, tears, laundry) handed me also a tendency to blame myself for everything, and smile sharply at the world.
But the grief, truly, is the grief of believing in my own small story. The solidity of my perspective is intolerable! The chance for it to go differently, or mean something else, for me to stand somewhere that lets me see it afresh - or just to live it all again, awake - is a dream of sky I see from the bottom of a well. I feel grief for all my own dead selves, all the projections around me, each daily baby I locked eyes with, and all the eyes though which the world flooded into me, which saw only what they chose to see.
Yet here I am, still, in this skin, gazing at this garden. The house blooms behind me, fresh for this moment. The cool air ripples across my face like water. There is no answer for it. No solution. I was trapped then and am trapped now: I look out of tese eyes only. This place is mine and not mine. The burden of my presumption here is too big to fit inside me, and too steady to escape. Each nasturtium bud blooms for a few days. I see before me many that are blooming now.