Today’s Sermon

Today’s Sermon

Today’s sermon is a friend writing from her Parisian vacation that she’s come down with Covid. It’s the fourth date I didn’t have with the former rock star on account of all his coughing. It’s my sneeze that might be something, but doesn’t go anywhere, and packing a covid test in my bag just in case. It’s the half and half I forgot to buy two days in a row, and wondering whether I can eat the two plums and the head of broccoli in my refrigerator before I head out of town. And that moment this morning when I saw the four brown bananas that were going bad. I moved to throw them out, then felt wrong – like, what a waste. And I think about that a lot; all the clothes stuffed in my drawers and hanging in my closet, and how so often it’s not the shirt, or the boots, or the bananas that I want – but something more primal, something deeper that I don’t know how to name. Today’s sermon is the way the man on the phone asked me if I was lonely, and how quickly I said no, like he’d asked me if I’d tracked dog shit on my shoe from the yard. “No,” I said, without considering the question, and the way I tried to explain it to him, but how my words got mangled and didn’t make sense. It was the way he got quiet as he listened to me. Today’s sermon is that moment a few years ago at the kitchen sink when my younger brother asked me if...
How to Write About the World

How to Write About the World

Start with the mismatched boots you discovered you were wearing last week as you boarded your flight to Mexico. You’d be teaching for five days, and here you were in the Oakland Airport looking down at one brown boot, and one black boot – both put on hastily that morning in the dark. Remember how you stared at your feet, thinking if these boots were tarot cards they would tell me to… Drop perfection, trust self, write wildly. Notice that you’re constantly being asked to live what you teach. How even though you know the lesson, there’s always a little part of you that angles for the love and the approval. Forgive yourself for that achey longing, and for how shiny and special you thought you needed to be to teach alongside the stunning poet, Marie Howe. Remember you’re just two women trying to bring more beauty into the world … which now feels more important than ever. And how you mean to name that beauty… The way my daughter spoke to her new boyfriend on the phone while we sat at the kitchen table, totally unselfconscious, not noticing me at all, lost in the newness of love. The salmon-colored roses that awaited me when I got home, sent by Kirsten and John for no reason except they were thinking of me. And the harder things too, even if I don’t what to say about… The Supreme Court. Highland Park. January 6th. Rioters entering the capitol with baseball bats and flagpoles turned into spears. The quote I read from someone who was at the 4th of July parade in...
Letter to Michael

Letter to Michael

Michael, it looks like you’re having a nice time in Spain – thanks for the photos of you and your friends on the Camino. Life is much the same here. It’s Saturday and I’m drinking coffee in bed, my cat is at my feet. I’m shaking my head at the saddest news, wondering how it feels to be the police sergeant who held his people back from entering the elementary school in Uvalde. How it feels to be the teacher who was accused of leaving the back door of the school open, the cop who sped by the shooter, the 911 operators who took those calls from the kids. The mothers and fathers, the sisters and brothers, aunts, uncles, the grandparents. Everyone. Things are the same here. People at the farmer’s market were cheery. The weather was bright and warm, and there were 17 kinds of salts lined up at the spice man’s shop. The mango lassi maker told us the cardamon he used came from India, and as I left his booth, he reminded me to say hello to a mutual friend. Some people aren’t looking at the news, “because what can we do?” one friend says of Ukraine, Buffalo and Uvalde, but I leaned in hard to the weather beaten face of Steven McCraw, head of the department of public safety, who spoke for 43 minutes during a press conference, going over the timeline of the shooting. When he got to the 911 calls, his face cracked, he began to speak and then stopped, cleared his throat and stated the facts; what time the calls came in...
What I Came For

What I Came For

It was like this, you were in Mexico, and the moment you got there you wondered why you’d come. You tried to remember the plans you’d made months ago, why you thought five weeks south of the border was a good idea. Your story was this: you liked San Miguel, a big city that felt like a small town. You liked stepping out of your rented house on Animas St., how you literally fell into the flow of people heading into the day; the rag-tag group of kids with backpacks, mothers strolling babies, the bakery owner pushing open her doors, a man throwing a bucket of water onto the cobblestones. You liked cobblestones, how they huddled together like thousands of baby hippos, the short walk to the town square that took you past the school where Mexican teenagers in uniforms and pink hair lounged alongside grandmothers on benches. The churro man would be there, sitting in front of his pyramid of sweets. He’d be asleep in front of the pile by noon. And the balloon lady, she’d be there too, minding her toddlers, as she tied strings to balloons so they didn’t fly away. You knew that Pamela’s house would be perfect with its shady living room – a respite from the 93-degree heat – the big wall of bougainvillea in the courtyard that you could stare at from the couch. On the roof was a stand-alone bathtub where you imagined yourself floating in warm water, watching hot air balloons rise from the hills. You’d tuck into yourself a little more, get a little quieter. “This time you’ll fall...
A Time Like This

A Time Like This

Last night I lay in a hot bath in the bright lights of my bathroom, watching a woman on TikTok, a stranger to me, a blond therapist with a soothing voice, assure me that in her lifetime, and in the lifetime of her parents, who are also therapists, none of them can remember a time like this.    And so if you’ve been feeling tired or foggy, she continued, her eyes resting on me, if you find yourself drifting in circles around your house looking for the list you’re sure you set down somewhere, and which will dictate your next move. If you’ve veered from some sense of purpose, she says, if you find that your appetite for conversation and company has dwindled, and two hours with anyone is just about all you can muster… If you find yourself, I murmur aloud, as I lay in hot water, eyes closed against the brightness, if you find yourself declining dinner invitations because you are speechless, and there’s nothing left to say, if you find yourself at home alone, night after night  – not because you’re afraid of a new variant, but because these last two years have taken the chat right out of you. How last week, you found yourself speaking aloud to yourself in the car as you drove to meet your friend, Laura, for a walk around the lake. “I’m well,” you practiced saying, “you know, working and…” the words stumbling out of your mouth as you readied yourself to be with another person again. If you find yourself looking forward to another episode of Bridgerton so you...
I Don’t Know How to Write About War

I Don’t Know How to Write About War

I don’t know how to write about war. But I do know how to get up in the morning, after an election, a pandemic and an invasion in Ukraine, wipe the sleep from my eyes, and stumble into the day, angling myself to the promise of hot coffee, music and poetry. I don’t know how to write about war, but I can tell you about the picture I saw of a row of strollers that Polish mothers had left at a train station for the arriving Ukrainian mothers and their babies. And while I can’t tell you where the human corridors were supposed to be in Kiev, I do know how to cross a busy street in Oakland with my 26-year-old daughter, our elbows interlocked, me looking left and right, protecting my child as we head toward an outdoor cafe for a meal. I don’t know how to write about war, or how to pack a bag in ten minutes, or what to do the night before a war, how one young man in Kiev said he had planned on making a banana chocolate pie to bring to his work mates, how that same night he was online looking to buy a new game for his PlayStation, but how the next day there was no work, and no pie and he was researching Molotov cocktails instead. He is the same age as my daughter, who told me that she realized that for two years she has been working for 9 hours a day in her apartment for a large company that she is making rich, and that she is...