The Ride Home
The ride home concerns:
vii. considering birth
x. considering distance
xv. considering illness
The Ride Home
The drive takes hours. But after the first fifty miles, I lose count. The car drives itself, the central valley whizzes by. Like a baker to morning bread, I go to my thoughts. The deep pathways I’ve paved for so many years. The caverns of sticky memories, the giving and memory of giving, the taking, and memory of taking. If I were impoverished of hardship, and the memory of hardship, I wouldn’t have anything to discuss with myself. So I am thankful. Anything to give life over. As it is, I’m full to the brim. I’m going home.
The San Joaquin River runs its way down the valley, winding through the dry agro steppes and branching into tributaries, dissolving into the Los Angeles Basin and Tehachapi Mountains. Along the banks you will find them. Along the highway you will find them. Evidence arching across the great imperceptible divide. Scattered to the four directions. Stray hairs. Fine particles in a beam of sun. They left the body some time ago. Left in a fit of unearthing and nails. Leading lives outside the body longer than they ever lived inside, carrying the map of you. You leave your trace wherever wind spreads the great seasonal decay.
Cracking roads branch off into sun scarred hills. There are no houses or street signs, no trees meant for sitting under. The only trees are in neat rows spreading diagonally away from the freeway. The trees are heavy with fruit, harvest after engineered harvest. When I say engineered, I also mean mechanized. I mean, the soil does what we tell it to.
The people live behind the sun scarred hills in adobe houses with tile floors. I would like it if they had lemon trees in their yards and made fresh lemonade. I would like it if they drove somewhere to get a hamburger. If summer looked like America.
About halfway between Northern California and Southern California there is a cow feed lot. Depending on which direction the wind is blowing, I smell the cows before I see them, or I might smell them after I see them, but I always smell the cows driving past them. Which is what they mean when they say cows are responsible for the 5.5 million metric tons of methane released into the atmosphere each year. Cows and more cows, as far as the eye can see. I dare you to yell Big Mac there. They know.
I am equidistant when I reach the cows. Women choose visual landmarks as location indicators. Turn left at the building painted like an aquarium; I don’t know the name of the street. The driveway flanked by birch trees; next to the rock that’s shaped like a sun sitting on a man’s body. I can get you anywhere I’ve ever been.
When I’m driving, it’s most important to listen to my thoughts. True, the sound of the interstate is an excuse for distraction, the engines and their varying tonal registers a pulsing cacophony of instruments. But noise can become quiet, in its own way. Have you ever been so quiet your skin itches? That’s when I can hear the earth whizzing around, feel it pulling in my teeth. That’s when I start to notice the pattern of my breath. The way my body sways, even when I’m trying to be still.
I heard a woman is ready to give birth when her baby’s pulse appears in the tip of her middle finger. The old sages and shamans always check the finger first. I can feel my pulse all the time in all parts of my body. In my jaw, in my feet, in my shoulders, in the weight of my palms atop my thighs, in the back of my eyes, in the top of my head when I bend down to inspect things, all the time, thrumming over each breath, each stir of the wooden spoon, like a gong in the chamber of my inner ear. At night, when the house and street are quiet, the thrumming grows so loud I wonder if I’m hearing the pulse of the earth, beating up through the floorboards into my blue bed. I’m told this sensation has something to do with Circadian rhythms, but I can’t help calling it Mother Earth. Please great drum, great mother, do not let the pulsing stop.
In California, I hear nature better than anywhere else. When I stand to watch the fog blanket the San Francisco bay, I hear snoring. A deep rattling snoring. Small, almost unnoticeable at first, but growing louder and louder, until it crashes, like enormous cymbals in my head. I’m not sure if the snoring is actually fog, or ambient snoring I attribute to fog, but either way, I can’t hear nature like that anywhere else. I can’t hear myself hearing nature anywhere else.
Here is a tableau: There is a hole in the door. The whole is about a foot from the ground. The hole is about the size of a shoe. There is a baby blue blanket on the floor. The baby blue blanket has a hole. The hole is the size of a child’s fist. The heart is a muscle the size of my fist.
My brother is a soldier. He has a gun and black boots. In a world that is covered in sun when my world is covered in moon, he serves. Understands the nuance of direction. Of dust. Of pant creases. He takes buses. Will walk the rest of the way. He is self-governed. I know you might disagree with me on that, but it’s true. He does what he wants. Much of the time, what he wants is what others want of him. This gives him great pleasure. This makes him a good soldier. When he left, my mother died a little bit. My brother standing in the desert with a gun is like a little death inside my mother. Her protective shield only reaches so far; it wears her thin to be sending her protective shield so far.
Most people underestimate the beauty of the desert. They see the desert as its dangers. But I’ve read the Wind, The Sand and Stars. I’ve met the little prince. I slept next to him in the desert. Under a violent sky. My pulse was arrhythmic. Precision is more than a steady beat. It is violet, a star hanging below the moon, a striped horse at dawn.
I found a snail in the bathroom the night my brother went to the desert. The snail was crawling up the wall. He was wearing a white shell. The most beautiful white shell I’ve ever seen. He stayed there until morning. Then, I put him in my palm, took him to the sweet peas in the yard. He left a slimy trail for me to find him, but I let him go. He’ll be fine I thought.
All my cells are dying. Each of my cells has a map. The map is a map of my body. Once, my cells kicked a hole in a door. They kicked out of rage. Some of my cells light up when I feel rage. Some of my cells light up when I’m full of joy. My fear cells are always lit. The lighter they burn the faster I run. The brighter they burn the more able I am to fight. To climb trees. To see clearly, in the dark.
My blood cells rush and pool in response to heat. I have blood dammed to deep anatomical pools.
I lie on the hot dirt, cheek down, my skin sizzling over the entire hot world.
The kind of gestures I lack.
The kind of pain, we inflict upon ourselves.
I lived here. Sung here. Tapped my toes against the earth here. Waited for a warm reply. Before I lived here, and left here, there were orange trees. Great orchards of orange trees. I grew with their roots underfoot, the sweet smell of soil sweating from my skin. When I came back, when I come back, the roots wind up to greet me. To coil around my body. A second skin, in the wearing.