Flirting With the Fictions of Living
A love poem to The Bay Area, with all its difficulties and persistent magic, whom I visited with last week
A question from Soph: If you could kiss any kind of bear, which bear would you kiss? Koala’s have nice breath because they eat eucalyptus is the appropriate answer.
These are the kinds of questions I remember her asking at age 5, but now she is nearly 19 and still so cool and curious and sending me a Louise Glück poem that we both agree reminds us of prison — is Leo Cruz making his ceramic bowls in a desert or is it a metaphor for exile? Are they meeting in their minds, the artist and the speaker? Will this walk never happen because of Covid, or is it an allusion to…?
A gesture flashes to mind: two palms pressing together, hooked on each side by a thumb: “a San Quentin hug” that I learned a few days earlier. My colleague behind those walls was just denied parole: I’ll keep living my life, he says and I believe him — and so I remember, too, that my life operates in the here and now of Golden Gate park on this chilly night where children throw shadows on brick, backlit by their father’s cellphone. The soundtrack is jazz and the Spanish language.
I see a butterfly made of hands, then the jaws of a wolf.
On another day, on another street in the daytime, two adults danced a poor running man and let me laugh when them. That was in Oakland across from a mural of Shock G.
Nice moves, I said to the dancers!
Hahahahaha, they said!
(We all knew the moves lacked nutrition, but made up for it in sugar).
Jane says she needs to get better at flirting when she watches me talk to the fly buzzing around our food. I’m not bothered by the word choice. By the definition I looked up, I just flirted with the little kids playing tag who said, “we’re both it!” —
Yeah ya are!, I cheered them on.
“Flirt: behave as though attracted to or trying to attract someone, but for amusement rather than with serious intentions.”
I’m trying to win the affection of the great all-there-is, the universal truth, the multi-voiced we of life source through flirting with all the various bodies it inhabits. For example, even my autocorrect gets down on the action, turning “an endless cycle of Covid” (an apt description of recent conversation) into “an endless cycle of vivid” in the chat app. Well, autocorrect me.
And so, the full, vivid picture: The giant succulents jump out of the people’s yards and say TAKE MY PIC NEXT, and so I call them baby. They want to meet my husband so I backtrack and say, well, I only called you baby like an old woman pouring coffee in a diner calls everyone baby, so no thing.
I flirt with The Jazz across the world over WhatsApp by sending a candid photo of myself blissfully hugging a Redwood and telling him the truth, which is that the Redwood downloaded an entire children’s book into my brain. My eyes are closed in the photo and I am smiling with my cheek against the rough bark.
I flirt with my new ring, a find in The Mission: lapis lazuli the size of a big blue-backed cockroach, those New York sized motherfuckers, on my middle finger like a dare coming out the mouth of kind eyes and a smirk.
I find that I am living my life.
“A revolutionary’s laughter that becomes side door of the universe… / explains our take on liberation — in part — the invention of a new / motherhood / and a new universe to host it”
- Tongo Eisen-Martin
In the car, at the very end of our hang, my friend comes alive when I ask about his mom and her revolutionary parenting — you gotta create a whole alternative world.
You’ve seen my apartment I joke, which is across the country and full of plants and paintings.
Yeah, he says, but like way, way more.
I will meditate on “way more” as a mantra I wish to live into. Way more subversive by way of real joy. Way more imaginative. Way more inventive. Way more fun. Let me help shift the quality of light, if I can. I can.
Conversations having or holding the quality of Lake Merritt:
What would it be like to try to navigate a polyamorous lifestyle after so many years in prison, since age 16? Remember when I was running around these streets doing some little me version of the same, heart scarred and therefore barfing up poems with a cosmic kind of urgency on the corner of 16th and Mission with my lovers? Eyes in the murals watched over us and we felt invincible. I was some early twenty age and feeling myself. It was a temporary freedom but that didn’t mean it wasn’t real. Now I drop myself into my friend’s story and the profundity of that stance and expression — his intentionality, his self awareness, given his life experience — blows me away.
Another coffee in the jacket-less sun where I learn that six years in solitary confinement can make one’s mind very agreeable to one’s soul, very pliable, controllable, very attuned to the spiritual — best case scenario, of course, is when one uses that magical power for good, which not everyone does, maybe most don’t, in fact. This is also what I’m told. The story went, “I deserved to be in there, I was dangerous, I got rid of the garbage, so to speak,” and I’ll let you imagine what that statement means. How to square that reality with this one, where we are hatching plans on the lip of the big blue lake, is a Pandora’s box maybe one day I’ll stop wanting to open but until then: I strive for some semblance of balance and borrow tips from the wisdom of seasons. I pull my hat down over my ears along with all these potent stories.
To bring us back to the beginning, I ended my week with family. Being tended to at a soul level is what I’d call it, something I can learn from. Let me show you:
Rick makes me a pour over-ed fancy coffee (“God in a cup”) that was traded in return for his chickens’ fresh eggs, which bled sunshine on the plate when I bit them with my fork. A congregation of guitars hangs out in the living space (“so funny, I think of them as a gang,” Grace says in response to my description), then one leaps into Rick’s hands at the kitchen table to offer me a real snack of a song for which I fail to provide a better lyric. (Sometimes it’s as simple as the sky.)
A children’s book is read aloud and relished. I so often want to be the one reading, but I’m trying to curb that urge. I found myself loving the combined act of listening and looking at a single image. Focus.
On the street, Rick and Soph — people who live with a plant nursery at their house (where I ate fresh picked kumquats) — stop to make sure a public plant is secure in its soil.
On our way home from the forest, a bobcat races in front of the car. I catch its tail, looking like a stuffed animal come to life as it runs off and away. I feel like I always do when I see an animal in the wild: is that real? I have to laugh later at my best attempts to facilitate a shared moment of interpreting such a gift. It was disappointing to look up the symbolic meaning of seeing a bobcat. The Internet can be so cheesy. We find it more fruitful to ask each other, what do you think it means? That’s where the gems hide.
Early on in the week The Times fed me up an interview that I really appreciated with Yuval Noah Harari and this primed me for the following interpretation. What I got from everyone I encountered in this gentrified city where free-love mentality can still be found if you search for it, and not too far from the surface: this whole world is only a fiction we’ve agreed to.
“Imagination is a toy,” M tells me after reading an original poem behind the walls of a prison after we rocketed to another planet where great creatures roam through iambic pentameter.
When I’m paying attention to the clarity of my thoughts, I see how easy it is to slip, that my hands have the potential to be teeth, an unhinged jaw. In another light, one more flattering, I am called toward air. My hands are wings and I fly and fly.