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How Would I Know?

September 28, 2015

I’ve been telling people all summer
about a tradition I’ve heard of.

In some Australian and American cultures,
nobody celebrates birthdays.
Instead, when they’ve reached
a new stage in life,
become a new and better version of themselves,
they take on a new name.

And I ask,
how would I know when it’s time?
Which questions would I need to ask?

Am I courageous enough with love?

I sit in a smoothie shop,
drawing the people who wait in line.
Such incredible beauty.
The man with the dreadlocked beard
holding a motorcycle helmet
with his muscular forearm and smooth shoulders.
The woman in tight jeans that outline the curve of her
calf muscles.
She’s obviously a cyclist.
The man with expressive, weathered hands.
The woman with shining eyes that meet mine,
unsure how soon to look away.
Does she know that I’m drawing her?

A woman walks by me on the street.
She is crying on the phone.
Should I offer her a hug?
Would she be afraid?

I send a picture of my art
to my best friend from high school.
He hasn’t responded to my calls
for three years.
It’s a close-up drawing
of an eye.
I laugh at the thought of him seeing it.
Will he hear my laughter?
Will he understand?

They replaced all the people at the library
with machines.
Now I can check out books in silence,
without touching anybody.
I walk past people on the street.
I wonder how long it has been since
somebody has touched them.
I go tango dancing and ask a woman to dance.
The music sounds like it’s coming from an old record player:
Our temples touch in our embrace
as we dance
across the wooden floor.

When was the last time somebody
took you in their arms
and told you that you’re wonderful?
Do we have enough great acts of love?
Are the greatest acts of love something mundane?

I hope to see my friend again
so we can play on the floor like puppies.
Will she close her eyes
and kiss me?
Is she thinking of me
as she boards the train bound for the mountains?

It’s fall, and I return to places where I used to live.
This is a season of transitions, and the golden light shines
through the fields of tall grass.
It’s the the kind of grass that glows
late in the day,
with the fluffy seeds on top
that come off in my hand
as I walk by. I toss them
into the wind.

I planted this meadow two years ago.
It was just a barren piece of dirt,
worn out and stomped down
by horses hooves and people’s boots
and drought.
Most of the plants died
thirteen or fourteen years ago
during the driest year.
For more than a decade they’ve been
blown away bit by bit
in the wind.
I planted the seeds one spring afternoon
just before I moved away.
I am humbled by how little effort it can take
to transform life.
Does this meadow know me?
Am I as important to the meadow
as it is to me?
Which other acts of mine have grown like this?
Have I sown seeds in anyone’s heart?

New people live here.
I’ve known them for two days.
We already laugh together
with our whole bodies.
I pass out seven instruments,
one for each of us,
and we play music on the floor
and drink hot chocolate
and talk about love.
It’s almost midnight.
Are we still strangers?
Somebody told me once that
the most important loves in life
might not need to be long-lived.

It rains tonight for the first time in two months.
We all go outside to feel the air.
This is the desert.
The rain is sacred.
Is it possible to forget the magic of this place?
I fall asleep in a tipi
to the sound of gentle rain.

If I were to become worthy of a new name,
would it happen all at once?
I shave my facial hair
for the first time in two years,
and I don’t recognize myself.

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