I know that the sound is coming from outside my ears, from the little speakers in the headphones that cup around my head. I know that the piano isn’t really inside of my skull; I know that this is illusion. But still: it doesn’t seem wrong to imagine that Thelonious is beating on dissonant keys with splayed fingers, somewhere inside, rocking my head to and fro, syncopated and sympathetic. And when the piece finishes, I imagine that he stands up and walks around his upright grand before he sits down and starts the next track.
It starts with a maze of narrow, bustling cross streets and then the ducking down stair steps to sidle up with the “river.” The river is contained and constricted within concrete walls, blanketed by streets overhead and overlooked by patios and skyscrapers. Near the waterway, there are smells and debris. City workers in bright yellow vests sweep up the morning-dampened Fiesta confetti deposited the night before. Mallard ducks float by; a barge with nets on either side filters out jetsam from the weekend festivities.
There are diversions. I have to go back up the stairs and over a bridge, negotiating traffic again. And then back down to the river where a spillway relinquishes control. The land starts to open where the walls pull back and brush covered slopes ease towards the water.
Further downstream there is grass and rocks. There’s a continual buzz of insects and flora cling to walls. A neighborhood of quiet decorum and proud architecture sighs alongside the water, offering the allure of its side streets. Approaching a high school’s grounds I see kids wandering towards school. Or perhaps they’re meandering away, motivation withering as spring starts to suggest summer.
There’s a white shorebird in the middle of the stream, now far from people and overpasses. I think it’s an egret, but I don’t know birds well enough to be so acquainted with its family. I admire its choice of habitat. Water starts to roam and spread. Hard concrete walkways and rigid walls give way to open grassland and a gravel path; and I can cross the stream just below frothing spills, where stone steps provide quick hops from one edge to the other. This path continues, the sign points. There’s a brewery and artists’ complex on the near horizon, and further beyond old missions. Community parks are in between.
The water relaxes more. There are ripples and a real flow cascading over rocks. Wetlands start to sneak legitimately along the shore, and in some places metal grates provide a dry path over water. I do a double-take passing the shallows here: Snakes. They’re under the water, long bodies extending out of the dark crevices. Not cute snakes, but long biblical snakes with steely upstream gazes. They get nervous as I get closer and duck under cover, still submerged, to where I can’t find them. I’m reminded that they’re always there, seen or not.
Turning a bend, there’s a train flying above me on an old trestle made out of wood timbers. I run directly underneath and listen to the clang and moan of trucks and wheels, while the wood of the support structure creaks under the rolling weight straight above me. A park is on the other side, and then a bridge, and then a coherent way to start my loop back.
I make my way back upstream, back to where the water is contained and controlled, back to the smells of the old city, the old tourists, humanity and their collective weight in general. And I rise back to the street above form where I’d started, egrets and snakes and trains all behind.
Early morning, groggy, I transposed the letters of a flier tacked to the wall before realizing it was advertising a karate class. But even after realizing this, “marital arts” was stuck in my head. It’s an oil painting of us figuring out who will pick up the kids after school. A clay sculpture of me leaning over the bed to kiss you before I leave in the morning. The many performances and installations of us calculating what next while we look behind us to last night, to the trip south, to twenty years ago when we “looked so young,” as you say. And forward: we plan a weekend or a color of paint and we marvel at how the time goes by and how we discover new pieces, dance phrases and impressionist panels, and we can only imagine what we’ll be doing twenty years hence, what watercolor will depict the image of all that’s yet to come.
The WordPress platform creates some interesting connections. I can tell from the stats that are being charted in the background that there’s some modest traffic in this space that I’ve come to expect, but there’s also a set of invitations that open a backdoor and welcome readers to come in through the mudroom and the kitchen. I can see this happening on occasion as a post is released and almost immediately gets “liked” by someone I don’t know or have any possible everyday connection to.
Particularly, it’s the #tags that draw people this way. Whenever I label an entry with #writing I’ll get a significant uptick in attention. Similarly, #poetry gets some recognition from some cohort of frustrated poets, me among them. If I labeled all my entries with those tags I’d likely double readership; and I’d probably get exposed to lots more other writers. These clicks and likes are a nice recognition, but more than this I get to see what others are writing and what kinds of conversations we may be having even without talking face to face.
Recently, I wrote about cherry blossoms in the quick moment of reflection immediately after coming in from a walk across campus and just before I ate my lunch. I mused about the sexual role of the flowers and I marveled at how reliant the tree was on the timely, dependable transition of season. Using #faith and #sex as tags on the same post seemed totally appropriate.
This evoked an interesting intersection of readers, and as I followed even those few who left a fingerprint on these pages I wondered what the conversation in this room would be like. If a paragraph on a cherry tree can bring those who write about their Christian values together with those who write about sex toys—all fascinating and worthwhile reads, by the way—then perhaps writing can save us after all.