Five years ago I wrote the following lines in a poem:
The Santa Ana winds
always leave me reeling in fever
unable to sleep.
This might explain why today I feel as if I spent last night partying despite having really had a quiet evening watching TV and folding laundry. I keep slipping into a zombified haze of reflection, despite attempts to actually be productive and make progress on one of my current projects. Of course it isn’t just the winds. Air quality is also lousy as a result of various fires and my throat is dry and scratchy. Lately the phone conversations with my mother start out “so are the current fires anywhere near you?”
Last week I started a job which involves a commute to UCLA three days a week. I’m still figuring out the best time to make the commute within the constraints of a normal workday. Meanwhile I have realized that it has been way too long since I swapped the CDs in my car for something new. Most of what is there is from a hard time in my life and brings with it interesting memories.
Driving home Thursday night the moon was full and low in the sky over the freeway. It reminded me of a time years ago, driving across the city to a meeting that I knew would put me in a very uncomfortable position. I was angry at the man who had, seemingly completely carelessly, set up the situation despite the fact that it seemed it should have made him as uncomfortable as it did me. And I was fighting back panic, unsure whether I could gracefully carry myself through the evening. Halfway there I looked up from traffic to see the moon, full and giangantic peeking through palm trees. I had PJ Harvey on the stereo (probably Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea but possibly Is this Desire since this was before Uh Huh Her was released and found itself playing on repeat all too constantly in my life). I looked to the sky, took a deep breath, and sang along. Somehow it made all the difference and by the time I arrived at my destination I felt quieted and calmed.
If you had asked my last Thursday night how long ago it had been that I drove across town in the moonlight full of anger and fear, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you without stopping and counting. I could have told you it had been January, but not the year. An errant rss feed this weekend reminded me that it was January 2004. Or rather a post from the ether reminded me that the October before had been in 2003. That was the first time since I had moved here in August of 2001 that there were fires burning severe enough for me to notice their effects on the air in the middle of the city. It was during those fires that I wrote the above lines of poetry, and this poem.
One Side of the Story
Friday morning the dawn refuses to break,
cracks slightly but then turns
its fire-tinged breath back in on itself.
By 10 a.m. everything is an orange haze
and as the ashes fall she wonders
when the world became a metaphor.
Thursday came hot and clear
with promises of normalcy on its lips
and she floated carelessly into her day,
driving east through the sunshine
across gritty downtown streets
that reminded her of childhood.
But she wakes that night
unable to shake the feeling
of his skin against her bare shoulders
his lips against her cheek.
She laid in his arms, took a breath, two,
too many, before she pulled away.
Friday she cannot breathe.
Her lungs collapse inward
with the heat and thickness of the air,
She stands gasping at the top of the stairs
Fire, she whispers, I can’t breathe
because of the fire, not the wanting.
Most of the music in my car is stuff I was listening to then, or in the few months after I wrote that and it is a bit strange to have been reminded of the date independent of my own reflections.
And all of these thoughts of dates, of time passing, makes me realize that mid-August brought the beginning of my eighth year here and I have no immediate plans to leave. Still, sometimes driving at night, with the city lights spread out around me, I find myself wondering: how did this strange place become home?