I'm here. Words inhabit my days always; sometimes they swarm, buzzing loudly until I have to pin them down with ink on paper to quiet them. Sometimes they hide at the corners of my head, hazy and evasive, too shadowy to see clearly. When I try and name them, they shift away from me.
I haven't put them here in some time, so I'll remedy that bit by bit. Instead of starting broadly, I'll start with the small and concrete. Our days are built of those details after all, aren't they? Grand life stories, made of stacks of tiny moments.
Mornings have passed, in different places. At the beach, in the city, in the country, there are constants: Rumpled cotton sheets, bare feet on a worn wooden floor, a shower, coffee.
I like my coffee hot, like my showers. Too hot. I scald my tongue each morning. Is there a lesson there? Have I missed a survival gene?
I stand under the running water, eyes closed, letting the water turn my skin from rosy pink to a hot, angry red. It feels good at first, but quickly I can't tell the difference: Am I seeking the present pleasure of heat or avoiding the inevitable chill?
Downstairs I heat up my coffee until the milk steams up, threatening to froth down the sides of my mug in foamy white drifts. The first sip is bliss. I take another, then lose myself in 20 minutes of writing—trying to find multiple ways to describe dark chocolate for a holiday catalog without saying intense over and over, plus puzzling over a better adjective than refreshing for the taste of peppermint—and suddenly my cappuccino has gotten cold.
I touch my tongue to it, wondering if I’d rather be burned by something dangerously hot or disappointed by something safely lukewarm.
Finding just the right spot, in between two extremes, is nearly impossible. It’s fleeting. The second you achieve the perfect temperature, it disappears. I’m learning to appreciate the rest of the spaces in between hot and cold. (Learning, I said. In process, I said.)
You do what you can on your own. Sometimes you’ll need help (call your mother, look up a g-d synonym for refreshing in the thesaurus already). But one day without meaning to, you’ll discover that certain sorts of happiness aren’t achievable alone. You need someone else to amplify what you feel to the right heights. All you can do is try and tune yourself to the right frequency (health, strength, an open mind) and wait. Aimee Nezhukumatathil puts it this way in her poem, “Letter to the Northern Lights”:
Of course you didn’t show when we went
searching for you, but we found other lights: firefly,
strawberry moon, a tiny catch of it in each other’s teeth.
someone who saw you said they laid down
in the middle of the road and took you all in,
and I’m guessing you’re used to that—people falling
over themselves to catch a glimpse of you
and your weird mint-glow shushing itself over the lake.
Aurora, I’d rather stay indoors with him—even if it meant
a rickety hotel and its wood paneling, golf carpeting
in the bathrooms, and grainy soapcakes. Instead
of waiting until just the right hour of the shortest
blue-night of the year when you finally felt moved
Enough to collide your gas particles with sun particles—
I’d rather share sunrise with him and loon call
over the lake with him, the slap of shoreline threaded
through screen windows with him. My heart
slams in my chest, against my shirt—it’s a kind
of kindling you’d never be able to light on your own.