{In Which I Write of My Own Death}

Today I borrowed books from a friend:
illustrated children’s books about the brain and books about teaching
students to listen to the —
well, the small voice in their heads.

I read them on the way home and
as we barreled down the hill in our long bus,
I was thinking:
What if I were to die today?

I believe that I ought to be comfortable with this idea, this death.
After all, who knows what my purpose might be,
surely not I.

I know people hope we cry when they die.
I only hope those I know are not quite right,
not quite comfortable with the immediacy, the reality.

I was thinking what a glorious mess that would be:
bodies, and glass, and me —
books about brains surrounding
my bloodied head like a pillow, or a crown.

Really, I only hope you find this poem, written in my notebook —
the last word, a mere scrawl,
the page smeared with my very last breath.

{On The Beach}

The ocean is big, and
We are small.
Insignificant, but here
Laughing for the joy of being alive,
For breath, for this:
The sky and its cotton candy pink,
The sun, and only God knows all the
Crabs, fish, and other small lives.
We mix like sand, rub and age,
Us and the salty creatures I don’t know.
As my friends and I run along the shore,
Our feet denting the wet sand,
Water splashing up our legs,
Light bounces off the sea,
The clams fulfill their purpose
And we keep running.

{Myth}

We talk about the creation story of the Maya.
My teacher, his voice falling with the rhythm of his Spanish,
recounts the story.

“The gods made animals first,
But the animals did not have souls.
They tried creating humans of mud,
But they dried, and cracked.
They tried creating humans of wood,
But they could not move.
They tried creating humans of corn flour,
And then it was just right.”

I swear to you, just then, we were on the holy
ground of la Sierra Madre, our souls of maíz,
our muddied skin, precioso.

{The Leaving Behind}

Naivasha, Kenya. February 2017.

I sit watching the marsh plants and the
tree skeletons ‒ there is a
bird now resting on top of one, just
a silhouette (who can imagine its eyes?) ‒
and the white egrets, bright among the greens.

I am listening to the ibis cry loudly,
and the other birds whom I don’t know by name,
and now the bird on the skeleton tree
has flown away.

I am imagining his eyes ‒ wide, I
think, and bright and moving.

And I breathe deep enough that I
feel the very spin of the earth, the inevitable
movement, the passage of time, just an idea.

And as I sit, the world waking up,
I can only think of leaving.

What if I never had to cry goodbye to the
sacred ibis? What if I never had to leave
this bright existence, this bright life?

{The Brown Lands}

Ewaso, Kajiado County, Kenya. January 2017.

1
Mount Suswa watches as we repair the roof
of a home. The woman thanks
us saying, “I will not
count the stars tonight.”

2
A small girl named Amaya
leads us back to our campsite.
I wonder why her bare heels are
not cracked like mine.
I wonder if my bare head would
be as graceful as hers.

3
That night, my friends and I sleep
under the wide sky,
wind rattling in our ears,
counting stars.

4
Present like the dust,
Like a blessing,
God cares for her
People.

5
When we leave,
My body is brimming
With a feeling I don’t know,
Something big, elusive.

Mary Oliver says the soul is like the
Ear bone – hard and small and almost nothing – but I think:
Can the soul grow?
Stretch and fill all the forgotten spaces?

6
In this brown land,
After a calf is born,
The mother is thinner than her baby.
Her hide hangs loose,
Her ribs brittle,
Bony knees, and tired, so tired.

In this brown land,
The mother feeds her calf
More than what she has,
The spiky grass never enough.

In this brown land,
When a calf is born,
She is soft – no brittle bones
Just yet.

{The Bathtub}

I slide into the bathtub when the water is hot enough
To turn my feet red and tingly.
I lean back against the porcelain and grab my book from the floor.

I read Annie Dillard and I think that
I have never loved my body as I do now.

This buoyant form, soft, and full of purpose.
From the stars long ago, I inhabit the dust of the universe, and –
I know you have been told this before, but trust me,
Have you heard it?

My energy – the ball of pulses and electricity and light and heat –
My energy was, I hope,
The energy of a Buddhist monk,
Or maybe a Chinese schoolboy,
Or an American factory worker.
Maybe my energy existed in the fingertips of an Inuit fisherman.

I hope one day you feel this.
I hope one day you slide into the tub,
Swim in the sea,
Get out of bed,
And I hope that you feel the energy swirling inside of you,
A hurricane waiting for your permission –
I hope one day you remember,
I hope every day you remember that
You are nothing short of miraculous.

Sunday Morning

Our neighbors want to go to church with us, so on Sunday morning we meet them in the parking lot: a man, his daughter and son. We climb in the car; the small girl with a dark bob and wide eyes sits beside my mom. The boy, older than his sister, long and lean, rests against the window, his hands clasped in his lap.

The father is a kind Indian man with manicured hands and a soft, confident voice. He tells of the bus accident that “killed terty people” and of conflict in his homeland, Kashmir; his native tongue and his kids’ school; his Kenyan home and his wife’s parents. He laughs often: a loud, matter-of-fact sound, as if there is nothing to do but laugh.

My mom asks the children questions and they answer quietly. My brother and I sit in the back, eyes out the windows. He pokes fun at my poetry and I do not explain to him that I am trying to remember that every moment is miraculous.

We pull into the church yard. The chilly morning is new in the tea fields far from home. We climb out of the car – worship already at our fingertips.