The clouds forgave me for my shortcomings and unrealized dreams from their heights, and they did so without the condescension one might expect from someone or some thing of their station or stature. They acknowledged my temporal eternity and honored my striving. They hung up there in their desert afternoon in their high lightness and form. I gazed beyond the queen-palms’ efforts at obscuring their slow dance and noticed they were standing with an earthly stillness in that solitary spot above me. They moved not in their hanging there. They were beyond the effects of any high-minded breeze or jet-stream, like a kite stuck in a dream that had reached its height on the wings of a storm and had then become frozen in its ever place. So they forgave me, as I said, for the many things at which I have failed or fallen short…and for my impractical dreams and dreams and then. They told me that it’s ok, whatever it is and was. I can try again. I can dedicate myself anew to my pursuits and responsibilities. The dirt of the past is done. They said this as they started to shift, though, so I’m not sure I can believe them. They said this as their ethereal mass began to dissipate and their bodies became only mist with a thinness that belied their certainty. Their substance was fleeting, as was my confidence in their sentiment. I began to doubt their sincerity and wondered if I should believe in them or no. I think this may have irritated them, for they started to move together again, to join again unto their parted selves. Their furrowed brows darkened in their gathering and they moved with heavy footsteps. I heard their grumbling in the distance and wondered if it was at me that they were scowling and then. I had only doubted them. I had only questioned them as they began to flee after being so sure of themselves, as they were so insistent that my soul was salvageable. How could their confidence abide in me when their substance was so weak as to not be able to withstand the breeze? How could I trust their assertions when they couldn’t keep it together long enough for me to look to them for support from that one moment to the next? Their black and creasing brows continued to gather on that outside part of my periphery and the sky was soon dark in their brooding. The sun was inching itself away from them as they came together again in a mass of anger and self-righteousness. They fought in their glances and speared looks. They hurled insults on the breeze and tossed the winds upwards and down again. Dirt and detritus they caught in their absent hands and cast at my delicate skin and eyes, blinding and stinging me in their driven anger and storm. I thought they would have been more objective in their protesting, in their dissertation on slight and ignorance, but they weren’t. They were as insulted as I had originally been relieved in their forgiveness of my frail and human self. Their scorn became arrow-like darts of light and flash; indeed, they were brazen and razor-sharp piercings of my skin and soul. They flew in their rage and black cavernous hate and stacked themselves anvil-like in a column of evil air and haughty turbulence. Had I seen through their façade when I doubted them? Had I roused their ire when I questioned their ability to be steadfast in a storm? I waited for them to get over themselves, those miserable black and gristly clouds, those temporal harbingers of fright and concern. I stood there in defiance of their anger and shot my own scornful black-eyed gaze into their bursting souls and surprised myself and them. They broke into tears and sobs of quaking anguish and sorrow as their black hearts emptied into the gray evening and they lightened in their form. Moments and hours passed and the sun was down and the black was gone in the breeze of their passing. Those vaporous beings that were so sure of themselves and angry in their confidence were indeed light and frail, just like me. Their substance was mist and their temporal hearts were tender. They possessed and gave life in their coming and going and asked only to be believed-in, to be trusted, and then, those clouds in their desert sky.
Do you ever wonder sometimes, or have you ever wondered what your life would be like if the words went away? Not all words, really, and not anyone else’s words, just yours. What would your life be like if you no longer had the ability to express yourself with words, if they were gone, somehow? And no, not if you simply didn’t have the desire to speak with anyone, or otherwise communicate with them, any particular someone or other somebodies, but across the board, what would your life be like if you lost the ability to simply express yourself with words, as if they vanished from your brain somehow, in concept, in application, in their entirety…gone. I had this thought this morning as I was making my way back from another bike ride along the waterway that I wrote about in Skunk Creek Crossing a few weeks ago. I was looking over the watered and watery plain that exists within the confines of the natural and man-made walls of the river or creek bed and was discussing with myself the many colors of green and brown and velvety silvery gray and yellow and pink and orange and others that were within my view and wondered suddenly how I would feel if I couldn’t describe them as such. I wondered how my life would be so different than it is now if I couldn’t express myself with words…again, not just any words, but mine. I was drawing up one of the last hills that would bring me to the Rio Vista Community Center with its fountain and desert flora, playground, picnic area, etc, when the thought came to me. I almost had to stop riding for a second there as the magnitude of what just occurred to me began to sink in, as it nestled itself and drew its roots down into the fiber of my being and the curiosity became more of a frightening worry as those colors fled past me in my riding, as they moved from my suddenly unfocused forefront and into and beyond the periphery of my view as my words worked themselves frantically to describe themselves and themselves and what they were and meant to me. They struggled against the pumping of my legs as I shifted into a lower gear and pumped faster and harder to make the top of the hill as the sun shone on my back and made the navy blue zippered sweat-jacket hoodie thing that much hotter as I wasn’t moving as fast and making enough of a breeze to cool myself as the words fought themselves still and my throat got choked up as I looked to my left and saw the ugly brown of the washed river bed and looked again and harder and thought that “ugly” wasn’t a good word as the browns and greens spoke to me, as the grays and browns and black and slate and rolled and tumbled porous lava-looking something type river rocks and gravel mixed with some kind of basalt-like something or other as they lay all a-jumble in their bed and touched and rubbed and bumped the little weeds that were so green and bright in their newborn-ness and living and processing of their light energy in their chloroplast-ic photosynthesis factories in their cells and the little fuzz that radiates and collects the warmth and the moisture depending on the time of day and the clouds and the humidity and my fingers are typing wrong and awry as I search for the words that I want and they’re hiding and a-mix in the wash of the fan near me and the cat on the counter meowing as the jet passes overhead and the computer hums; again and still. The top of the hill… and I looked at the scarlet and pink trumpet-shaped flowers on their almost bare-leaved stems and stalks of a bush and wondered how I could tell anyone or myself what they looked like when I had passed them and they existed only in my mind and those little neuronic snaps and fizzles that connect and fire and live in the passing of images into what used to be words or might be “used-to-be” words as I contemplated them and their existence or non-such. I reached the top of the hill and I was sad and I looked again and hoped that my brain wouldn’t be starved of this expression, this vent and outlet and necessary contrivance from our evolutionary past, those things and symbols and articulations that express, and sometimes don’t, the thoughts that ride and ramble and hide away and gone in my cerebral recesses and processes and solitude when they are searched for and longed for by loved ones and others when I keep them inside myself with my reluctance to share and speak and open my mouth and emit those sounds of whatever that make and mean and are words from the inside where they are born and live and hide and rejoice and are mixed and lost and find themselves and me inside themselves and then. I made the top of the hill and didn’t stop but kept pedaling and came to the place where the walking or foot bridge goes to the other side of that river and kept pedaling and came to the playground sidewalk and I thought of words and writing them here and I looked at the rock tower and saw the little brown haired girl standing up there and leaning and looking down at her dad and realized that I knew and know her dad and how could that be, for I don’t know many people and I don’t often see the ones I do know outside the contexts of my knowing them, but yes, it was Elmo, Saint Elmo, my friend from the gym, the one whose mom I met in November or June or some other kind of month, as we shopped in Walgreens, both of us looking for cards for some occasion, as Elmo introduced us and we talked and I was anxious because we weren’t in the gym and I didn’t know what to say, but my friend did and his mom was gracious and laughed at what her son and I said to each other in that nervous exchange for me…as my words hid themselves and I felt the sweat form on my brow and hoped it wouldn’t start to pour like it does sometimes when I don’t know how to bring my words out and use them and share them and have them make sense to those around me…when they usually stay inside and I hurry to do something else or away. And Elmo was gentle with his little daughter and her friend as he played with them and reached up for them and carried them down fast in a “Whoosh! There you go!” as my words jumped and bounced from the yellow sunflower type selves of themselves to “Hey there!” His words came easy again and I marveled at how warm it was and still and it was truly nice to have a friend out there on the path and in the world and be recognized by someone other than my bike seat and “I’ll see you next week; my wife has to work tomorrow,” he said…. “Ok, take care….”
And my words came again and tossed themselves around in my brain and I wondered again and still at what I would do without them. I didn’t think of the commas and periods and semicolons…or even the ellipses and blanks or dashes and whether I should use a single or double quotation mark…but I did wonder about what the color orange looks like and how I would tell someone or you what it was or meant when I said that word, that orange word, orange. I wondered how, if my words were gone, how I could convey what the vibrant orange of an Arizona born, rain-washed, February orange looked like on its tree when that tree had been planted with or near a bougainvillea bush that had mated or entwined itself with that tree and became a collage of scarlet purple blood-red flowers and rich green leaves of both beings and those vibrant oranges and orange that struck out and beckoned to me in my passing, trying to seduce me with its richness, and I had to look back quickly to avoid the parked car along the roadway and circle about again to ride past one more last time as the bright freaking yellow Hummer with the “For Sale” sign taped to the windshield announced in its pregnant yellowness that the oranges were orange and not yellow with the scarlet purple blood-red flowers alongside them and among and with them; it was a rich and fire-blown orange from the great orb in the sky that sheds and imbues the hues and ranges of what is color and then…not the wanna-be orange of a Little Caesar’s pizza box laying in the roadway flattened and smashed and lost of meaning, a has-been with the road film and dirt and grime of tires and sand and oil and asphalt and cheese-grease smeared into the cardboard of a used-to-be sometimey kind of orange. How could I share that without my words?
If they went away, those words and mine, how could I tell you and myself and other somebodies that my mind rushed back to my childhood and young adulthood in Germany, again, as the scent of wild grass and weeds and the wet fecundity of that riverine plain dragged me back to where the outdoors came to live in my deepest heart and mind, to where the staunched soul of my child-self escaped, and where solace was gained and given in the smell of the rich earth and pine sap and crushed leaves and needles and ferns and the scrap and ruin and rant of the forest’s floor in thick mulch and pondering earthworms with squirrel scat and scrape along and beside the trees’ trunks and bushes’ shadowing cover and form. Images and emotions flooded from the smelling parts of my brain and memories born there comforted me strange and new as the words thought in their fleeing of their fleeing as I couldn’t grasp what I wanted to say again as the asphalt moved under the bike tires’ turning and brought me into the same and other regions of the morning ride.
As I and we, the bike and me, and I and my memories rode past and along, we encountered people on their rides and walks in the scented fields and plains and long grasses and wild flowers and the desert bed and we said “Good Morning” to each other as those from my past would mumble or brightly start with their “Guten Morgen, or “Morja,” or “Ja” as we went along, cheerful or not, wanderers that marched or stepped or glided along those hillside roadways in their knitted and woolen pants and tweeded jackets or knit sweaters from the colors of the earth and antiquity and from among the nestled sheep and lambs and the Alsatian dog that sat in his long brown golden red hair with perked ears and watched the tree-line with black brown eyes and lifted quivering nostrils that snuffed and blew in our passing and at the other scents that populated his springtime morning in hill and vale. My desert-ed pathway led past bushes with yellow buttercup type flowers that flashed back to Germany, again and still, and covered the wandering meadows and sundry hillsides with the same and other flowers, those of dandelions and milkweed and bluebells and daisies along black dirt and rutted tractor and wagon roads that paralleled hedges of rock and twisted fences with apple trees in bloom and falling and fallen pink and white petals with bees’ buzz and hum and then. This walkway along the floodway brought the dark-skinned soldier in his desert and storm hued combat boots and overstuffed and loaded green and gray digitized camouflage patterned ruck-sack backpack with his crew-cut and dark wrap-around sunglasses with a march and a cadence that told me he was a new soldier and maybe home on leave and not one tested and fired-upon, not the veteran who might instead be at home curled up in the comfort of his blanket trying to hide from his dreams or racing down the freeway on his crotch-rocket in defiance of normal things that scare us, as the sun glistened in the sweated drops on his forehead and how, I wondered, would I say those things, could I describe those things, if the words were away and gone and had left me in my quaking?
How would I describe those things or the happiness that grew and now hides in a staunched soul that seeks forgiveness and light and wonders at fun and joy if it’s not spontaneous and then, if it enjoys things and others but doesn’t call them so, doesn’t name them so, doesn’t record their lasting imprints and touches as those and then. It sees and smiles inside and changes names and lines of sight in diverting and looking askance and it wasn’t a glare, but a look away and that’s not what you’re thinking; you’re wrong. A shuddering and questioning self bred in scorn and grown aside and apart and not the same as it was then and not, and wonders at the lies and lived agonies of past and forgiveness’ dream as the cycles ebb and flow in their drawing, and if that was a lie is it all a lie, as the driven sands slip through their glasses and the words flee into their surround and marvel and rage as their quiet rings and hums and becomes something they were not, as a muted love screams at the loss of touch and sound and reason as wisdom departs for other seas and oceans of abide and then, if the words fled and died and were lost and gone.
It was a rich gray and thick that lay upon our morning with no sun in the east and slow and thoughtful drops that fell on the roof and slid in force and collusion and collision with each and every other drop as they ticked and ting-ed and splattered in a wet symphony into the puddles of their forbears and cousins and then. Rain for two days then none and again today and the ground and sand and dirt and clay are loose and saturated and floating in and among their separate selves and the plants are singing hosannas and praises as the dormant seeds are waking and cracking and spreading their softened shells and driving their single primary roots into the soaked and soggy substance of their surround.
Living in the desert as we do, and in the plains or valley of it at that, bodies of water and streams and creeks and rivers are usually sights that we must travel to in order to see and behold in marvel. It has rained off and on for most of two days, and then yesterday the sky was clear, with not a single wisp of cloudy vapor lingering anywhere in that vast horizon as I took my little one to school. After running a couple errands, I put some air in the tires of my faithful bike and headed-out for a journey through our neighborhood. I hadn’t planned on riding far, hadn’t planned on going where I did, but I ended-up on the bike and walking path that goes along either side of a natural waterway that someone years ago named ‘Skunk Creek.’ For probably ten months of the year, there is little to no water in this stream or creek bed. Only during the summer monsoons or winter storms and occasional gully-washer rains is there enough water to flow in any presentation as a stream or creek or river…as it did yesterday and continues to do today.
After riding the mile circuit through our neighborhood, I made another round of an adjacent neighborhood, then pedaled up and into the infamous ‘Dog-Town’ region of yet another nearby neighborhood, one that was named by a group of Hispanic hoodlums and gangster wannabes of yesterday’s lore, and found that it was very similar to neighborhoods populated by the same socioeconomic caste that we/you can find in the southern and western reaches of our larger city and metropole with the same sainted yard figurines and shrines, half-done or more ornamental iron fence-work, stucco and plywood patchwork on the houses, some with bougainvillea and rose-bush elegance amid the potted plants and cacti, and others with cars in the dirt or scantily-grassed yards, or with beautifully decked-out trucks that I could afford if I didn’t live in the house that I do, and Pitt-bull puppies and bitches with teats flopping as they ran down the chain-link barking and threatening my two-wheeled presence. I exited Dog-Town on Roosevelt Street and headed north on 83rd Avenue…three miles and beyond to the north side of the creek and alongside the backside of the sports complex and apartments and Arizona Broadway Theatre on the south side of Paradise Lane and around and back down the other side of the floodway on the sidewalk that skirts beautiful tile-roofed homes, an older stretch of farm plots with their own wet and wonderful smells of turned dirt and manure and workers covering or uncovering orderly rows of tender shoots of green and life and further along to the orchards of orange and grapefruit and tangelos and limes or other citrus with shorn grass between the rows and baby Mexican fan palms struggling and winning against nature and the landscapers where its germinal beginning was dropped in a dropping from a passing bird or carried on a summer storm gust from nearby or wherever relative trees.
The cycle path had been upgraded from rocks and dirt at this point and was now a two-laned and striped thoroughfare from one side to the next, going beneath the overpass that spanned the waterway preserve of rocks and plants and life in miniature and climbing an upward grade to the city park and complex and another footbridge span that crossed the creek yet again and took me south to places I had never been. I’ve passed them times innumerable on the western freeway that travels nearby and have looked into and onto their expanse of bush and brush and things covered and undone in the rains and winds of our seasons, but never have I ridden so closely or walked among the grains of sand and leaves and washings of the mighty rains and streams as I did today. The fresh water scent and heavy air and wet vegetation of weeds and wildflowers and scattered pieces of tree and grass and crumbled and crumbling masses of horse droppings from the pathway and pieces of Cholla cacti that were brought here by some other force for there were none growing here or nearby…and out in the middle of the watered wash where the water had passed and lessened into another stream was a little baby palm tree struggling against the other stuff that wasn’t of his kith and kin…and laying nearby and amid the tumbled rocks and bushes and scrub were a handful of perfect and bright oranges, one here one there and some in the beyond of that purview…oranges glowing in their orange-ness and wonder in the waterway passed and past, having come from afar.
I took the sidewalk pathway to the middle of the plain and stood at water’s edge as it streamed and rumbled and washed into itself from rivulets and splashing and had a mini-roar to itself as it moved along its way…the sidewalk was there somewhere underneath the brown and frothy churning and I thought for a hazardous moment of running across and through that mess of water and wonder and had flashes from my childhood where I tried to cross a neighborhood stream on my bicycle with my brand-new shoes and got bogged-down in the middle of that oh-so-clear stream in the mud and whatever as I tried to balance myself with feet on the unmoving pedals and suck of mud as I fought against gravity and what I knew would be an ass-beating when I got home with one muddied brand-new shoe…so I said in my child’s mind the child’s equivalent of ‘fuck-it-I’m-getting-my-ass-beat-anyway’ and put both feet down and walked my bike through the mud and crystal water and stood there sweating with heart pounding at what I knew was coming with monster-fucking-butterflies in my stomach…and those memories are so far away and so near as the raindrops fall and stream off of my roof and the neighbor’s as I look out my living room window, right now, with the piano music on the stereo and the never-satisfied cat on the counter behind me…literally saying ‘meow,’ as cats do….
And I stood there yesterday and knelt-down to smell the water and touch the mud and look at the other footprints that stopped earlier where mine were now…hiking boot tread and slip and I turned around and looked into the beyond and spied the path again that pointed south and made my way in following its lead. I rode to where the water completely covered the southward path in its filling and flooding of the river-plain and had no choice but to stop and head back. Before doing so, though, I got off the bike and studied the traveling water and marveled at its passing and roiling and moving into and over and under and beyond whatever was in its way as it went…wondering at the mini-habitat and consuming essence of ‘nature’ is it was here presented. I smelled the earth again and weeds and cleanness as the zoom and noisy fright of the passing cars on that western freeway and those city streets went on their collective and singular ways, making a background of gray noise that fought against the tunes and mystery of the water and I wondered, too, at what life was beginning in the flood, what brine shrimp or other desiccated and dormant somethings were stirring in their watery rebirths and hatchings as ducks rode-by, paddling against their mini currents with occasional heads tucked into the wash sucking and finding something to eat as bugs or other somethings came their way. The sun was bright in my eyes and glanced and danced off the moving and tossing water like millions of diamonds in their sparkling…tiny blasts of light and shine in cascading explosions and reflections and then.
And it was time to go now, as I had places to be and things to do that waited upon and depended upon the ticking of the clock and appointed imaginings of moments and then…and my shaky and tired legs pumped the pedals back along that pathway and passed the greening mesquite and cat-claw and palo-verde trees and creosote bushes and wild baby sunflower-ed plants of something or other as the chilled wind teared my eyes and brushed my cheeks with an ambulance siren behind me and the sparkle of an airplane passing overhead…the water flowed into and beyond itself thick and thin and brown and roiling…moving on its way downstream to other flood-beds and plains, carrying life and the lived with it and then….