Category Archives: fathoming

bigger than a blog post, smaller than a breadbox

I haven’t been doing much creative writing lately,

because this:

Fox_sketch-1

 

is coming out in the fall and contrary to what I’d somehow fooled myself into thinking,

my work is only just begun.

More to come lovelies, I promise. all sorts of things are moving and shaking.. a website, a video, events, travel. opportunities for folks to support getting the stories in my book out into the world. For now… disjointed waitress poetry will make an attempt to return, because learning how to market a book gives me a headache, and I need to write creatively again.

 

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15 august

They do not stop, the stories.
Just when you’ve had time to return to your ordinary life, finish the dishes, get caught up on the laundry, have a glass of wine with a friend, feel selfish,
they come cascading down on your shoulders,
rending your heart,
teaching your lungs and your pumping muscles
things they may have always known
loss is coming
death is imminent
the ones you love will perish too.
And you bend over the sink,
sobbing into the dish water,
tasting the truth of love
you cannot keep bad things from happening
even if you
curl around your core
keep the world from your heart,
or smother the ones you love under your wings,
you cannot hold pain at bay.
and your heart becomes a weaker organ
your skin loses its thickness
becomes brittle
and so you open
again
and again
and again
making yourself stronger through surviving
bearing witness doesn’t have to break you down.

it feels that way at first, sure.
and you think about your Jewish ancestors
who tore their clothes in grief,
and you lean in to the power of ritual.
learn that if you allow the grief to tear you open
it will teach you things

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ask questions. people will tell you their stories if you promise
to listen
roll “history” around in your mouth
and see how it sounds when you say it out loud

test it out for righteousness
and the metallic taste of propaganda
coated in sugar

understand that the difference between those hours and these is not a flat timeline

the past inhabits the present
and the present inhabits the future

and you feel your familiar ghosts crowding in;
unknown ancestors
dreams of your former self
storied poets
anonymous nannies
and private photographers
college dreams
and immigrant fantasies,

Americana writ thickly across the land

and you in the midst of it
becoming a part of the past

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for Jack Heil.

photo(4)

it would seem that there are not too many threads
between you and I

your exit came nineteen years before my arrival
and I have only a few snapshots
in the stark black and white
of the postwar years
when you married my grandmother
and held my mother on your lap
in a white tank top
with a St. Christopher medal around your neck
and a bottle of Imperial in her tiny hands

and I have only a few stories
of how you traveled for work
and how the six kids would pile in the car
to drive old highway 99 to the airport
and see you off
back in the day when you walked across the tarmac
and up the stairs
if you needed to take a plane

of how you were at a convention in Florida for work
with my Grandmother
and there was a sitter for the kids back home
and the last night you sat with her on the beach
and watched the waves
and the next day, she took one flight
and you took another
and you did not come home

of how your death tore a hole in your family
and how your widow stitched it together as best as she knew how
and your children healed in their own ways
and they grew with the scars.

Some scars never heal,
some are open even now,
fifty years later.
Your grandchildren have seen them.
We grew up bathed in the echoes
of what seemed to us a distant tragedy
and so you are part of our lives
and now we are trying to fathom
which part
that is.

so I have a few photos
and a few stories
and tonight, it occurs to me that I have something else
I am your granddaughter
I am one-fourth you.
I do not know which parts of me come from you
but it cannot be denied
that we are connected in ways
that are timeless and unknowable

and I have your headstone
and I visit it sometimes
with cedar boughs or incense
sometimes I bring you coffee
and your great-grandson,
and I wonder what you would tell me
if you could
speak
now

“maybe death
isn’t darkness, after all,
but so much light
wrapping itself around us–”

― Mary Oliver

In memory of all those lost on Northwest Orient Flight 705

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Last week, I visited the Northwest Detention Center.

On a cold, grey-sky January morning last week, I packed the diaper bag and made myself some tea with lemon and honey, since I was fighting a cold. In our bedroom, I scooped the baby warm and sweat-damp out of sleep and changed his diaper before he’d finished his waking up stretch. By the time I’d dressed him and bundled him into his carseat, his eyes had fallen closed again. I drove south from our neighborhood in south Seattle, past the sprawling concrete runways of Sea-Tac airport, to a trailer court near my husband’s school where many of his students live.

I was looking for the home of a brother and sister, one a current and one a former student of my husband’s. They and their younger brother needed a ride this morning, and I had offered to drive them. I followed a map my husband had drawn on a piece of scratch paper until I found their trailer. Their mother, a small, pretty woman with dark hair, welcomed me inside, exhorting me to come out of the cold, and I sat with the baby in an armchair near the door. Their home was cosy and dark with the heavy curtains drawn over the windows, likely to help keep out the cold. The parents’ wedding picture was framed over the television, which was tuned to a program in Spanish. The mother moved quietly around her house, finding jackets for her daughter and sons, who sat next to me and played with the baby. Their father wasn’t home. Back in early December, he’d been apprehended by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and he’d been detained and awaiting deportation ever since. His wife and children hadn’t seen him in over two months. I had come to drive his children to his deportation hearing.

Their mother couldn’t take them because she’d be asked to show her papers, and she didn’t have the proper ones to show. As I sat in the armchair by the door holding the baby, an older gentleman who was a friend of the family gave the kids a brief set of instructions in English. “When you see your father, don’t talk to him. You can’t smile or wave or stand up. Just sit quietly. If you make the judge angry they could decide against your father. Do you understand?” The kids nodded.

Outside, their mother had her car warming up for me to drive. I pulled the baby’s carseat out of my car, and she installed it in her small four-door sedan with brisk efficiency. She was wearing a fleece jacket and a black skirt, and thick pink socks over her tights. I imagined her getting out of bed early while the house was still cold, dressing in an extra layer and turning on the heat. I wondered if she made herself tea or coffee and sat with her hands wrapped around the mug in the quiet, thinking about her husband, before waking up the kids and making their breakfast. I thought about how once you have children, feeling sorry for yourself is a luxury you don’t really have time for. I thought about her daughter, who’d been one of my husband’s students in his first year of teaching at this school. Exceptionally well-behaved and kind, perfectly bilingual, insightful, thoughtful, and intelligent far beyond her grade level, she’s a critical thinker, acutely aware of the systems that surround her. At the age of nine, she and another student staged a day of silence to protest injustice after learning about Mahatma Gandhi in fourth grade. She made such an impression on me I named the heroine of a children’s story I wrote after her. I wondered how much of her and her brothers’ comportment was the result of having had such a stable home life up to this point.

The kids climbed into the car and buckled their seatbelts, and we got onto the freeway heading south. The oldest, the girl, sat next to me in the front. Her brothers sat quietly in the back, the older one focused on entertaining my son in his carseat. I tried to make conversation, but none of us had much to say. We passed the Federal Way waterslide park in the rain, and I asked them if they’d ever been. The daughter brightened. “No, but a friend of my parents said maybe they’d take us this summer.” We lapsed back into silence. I followed the family friend’s car off the freeway just north of Tacoma, and we made our way through the industrial section of the city to the Northwest Detention Center. It’s what’s known as a “Contract Detention Facility,” which means that a private corporation is getting paid for each person detained here.

(Image by Alex Stonehill, from http://www.prx.org/pieces/52448-expanding-the-northwest-detention-center)

The Northwest Detention Center is a dismal-looking place. Razor wire spirals around the fencetops, and there is no visitor parking. A few spaces are provided for lawyers’ and employees’ cars, but those who are here to visit the incarcerated have to park on the street. There were lots of people there that morning, and I had trouble finding a spot. After I’d carefully tucked the car in a space near some sort of shipping yard and unloaded the kids and the baby, a man in a hard hat came outside to yell that he was going to tow my car. I gave the baby to the eldest girl to hold and moved the car to a spot in a nearby alley.

The family friend led us across the railroad tracks and inside, past the line of waiting families. He had been here before, and knew that we could bypass the line since we were here for a court date. A brusque official signed us in and ordered us to leave our coats and bags and cell phones in a locker. I was informed I could take only “one diaper, one wipe” for the baby. As we stowed our things in the locker and shepherded the kids through the metal detector, I heard this instruction barked at subsequent mothers waiting in line. “One diaper, one wipe!” “One diaper, one wipe!” I crossed my fingers the baby didn’t have anything in the works that couldn’t be handled with these minimal supplies.

We were buzzed from the waiting room into a hallway, where the kids found their dad’s name amidst three or four dozen other names on a court roster, taped to the white cinderblock wall. A security guard told us there would be a long wait. We took our seats. There wasn’t much to look at. Lawyers passed through occasionally, checking in at a glassed in desk. A portrait of Barack Obama in front of the American flag hung on the wall opposite us. The family friend made brief conversation, asking me about the baby, and telling me that his kids were grown, and that he worked the night shift last night and had not yet slept. The kids kicked their feet restlessly. I thought about playing “I spy” with them, but gave up on the idea since there wasn’t much to spy. In the hopes of staving off a courtroom meltdown, I turned toward the wall and breastfed my son under my sweater.

A mother who looked to be about eighteen came in with her baby, another woman, and two children. The baby bumped his head while playing on the floor and began to wail, and the young mother scooped him up and pressed his forehead to her lips, whispering words of comfort to him as she rose to bounce him in her arms. She did so with practiced efficiency, moving around the room until he fell asleep, and I felt a physical kinship to her, having done the same thing many times before.

About thirty minutes later, we were escorted by a guard into another hallway. We sat together on a long wooden bench and waited some more. Dozens of men in blue or orange prison jumpsuits were escorted in and out of the three courtroom doors while we waited. I watched the kids out of the corner of my eye, and wondered what it felt like for them to know they were going to see their father dressed as a prisoner. I wondered if they were reminding themselves of their instructions, not to smile or wave or speak to the father they hadn’t seen in over two months.

After another twenty minutes of waiting, the guard led us into the small courtroom. The detainees sat on the left side of the room, their families on the right. A Spanish-language interpreter sat at a desk before the judge, and a lawyer representing the federal government sat at another desk. In the center of the room, there was a third table with a microphone and a pair of headphones. We stood as the judge entered. She apologized for the delay, then proceeded briskly to the matter at hand. It took her approximately seven minutes to hear each case. Each detainee put on the headphones to hear the judge’s comments translated into Spanish.

Some of the men were in court for bond hearings, while others were being considered for deportation. To each of the potential deportees, the judge put the same set of questions. “Are you aware of your right to be represented by a lawyer?” If they did not have one present, (and only one of twelve did), she asked “Do you waive that right?” Most answered “si.” Through her questions, small details about these men emerged. Most had American-born children. Most were in their mid-twenties, and had been apprehended for traffic violations. Most were from Mexico. Several admitted to being afraid to return to their countries of origin, citing “the violence in Mexico” or “the violence in Guatemala.” Their answers seemed to matter little, and the judge authorized the deportation of nearly every one of the men.

The childrens’ father was the second-to-last to go before the judge. He looked down at the floor when he walked past his kids. My stomach tightened when I realized there was no lawyer present for him. His three children obeyed the instructions they’d been given, and sat still as he walked past them and put on the headphones. As it turned out, he was actually here for a bond hearing, and he did have a lawyer, who the judge called and put on speakerphone. The connection was poor and it was difficult to understand the conversation. It turned out that because their father had already begun the process of appealing his deportation, this particular judge lacked the jurisdictional authority to grant him a bond, and his entire hearing ended up being nothing more than a bureaucratic shuffle. As he walked back to his seat, the guard asked the children, the family friend and I to leave, and the kids’ father flashed them the smallest and briefest of smiles.

We were buzzed through the two secured doors, and passed single file through the metal detector to reclaim our coats and the diaper bag. Outside, we stood beneath razor wire in the rain, and I asked the kids if they understood what had happened. The eldest daughter said yes, and I did my best to explain it to her brothers and the family friend, who confessed he was confused over the outcome. I told him that while nothing had really happened, it seemed that we should feel good, because he wasn’t under immediate threat of deportation, and there would probably be another hearing soon. He said he would be there for it, and I said I would bring the kids back again. “Well, I’ll see you then,” he said, with a small tired smile. “It’s a good thing you’re doing,” he offered as I began to shepherd the kids off the sidewalk. “De nada,” I told him, placing my hand over my heart.

A half an hour later, I pulled up in front of the family’s trailer. The oldest two children asked if they could go back to school for the rest of the school day, and their mother and I raised our eyebrows at each other and smiled. She thanked me, and I told her “de nada” like I’d told the family friend, placing my hands over my heart. I offered to give her son and daughter a ride to school, and they clambered into the car with their backpacks.

When I said “de nada,” I did not mean I thought it was nothing.
I meant its the least I can do.
But mi español es muy malo.

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generalizations about anonymous passerby

8:27 am on a tuesday in december, cold rain and 40 degrees outside according to the car, which is where i am sitting to write because i felt a surge of inspiration at the dreary intersection of 200th and 99 after dropping Ryan off at school just now.  I was listening to Amy Goodman explain that Richard Holbrook was dead and the last thing he said to his doctor before he died was something about how we’ve “got to stop this war in Afghanistan.”

I was waiting for the light to change, thinking about that, and watching two men in pseudo-cop gear waiting to cross the street.  One was heavyset and the other ordinary, I guess, both Caucasian, both looking pretty certain of their uniformed authority. I strained my eyes to read the white lettering on the back of their jackets but couldn’t.  Decided they were probably Metro rent-a-cops, based on their resemblance to Ryan’s description of ones he’s seen on the buses in that area. I wondered if they were escorting the middle-aged Latina woman who was waiting to cross the street next to them.  She was wearing a warm coat and carrying her purse and I wondered if they had decided to apprehend her because they felt like enforcing law and order on the buses and her transfer was too crumpled and maybe now she would be late to work or worse discovered not to have the Right Sort of “Papers” and thus deported and I seethed at the possibility, even tho I knew it was unlikely that was what was happening in front of me. I knew beyond a doubt that something like that was happening somewhere though. That sort of thing happens every day.

The light changed and I drove thru the intersection and down the hill past the federal prison, and I glanced at the woman and man on the landing by the entrance. In the split-second I had to observe them as I drove past I noticed he looked like a guard and she was wearing heels and a skirt, and I decided she was not someone waiting to visit her boyfriend but probably a lawyer and i realized that if she hadn’t been white and dressed the way she was i would have maybe concluded differently.

But this is what we do…. move thru the world every day making generalizations and assumptions about anonymous passerby based on our prejudices and our prior knowledge and our opinions about the power structures of the society we inhabit.

Ask me and I’ll tell you the judgmental heavily prejudiced assumptive story I composed about the white women at Starbucks this morning that i told my husband to hurry up and get in line in front of when i saw them getting out of their newish SUV… because women like that almost certainly order complicated drinks and they are clearly more privileged than us based on their car and their comportment and after all I am on my way to drop my husband off to teach children growing up in poverty and that is manifestly more important than whatever those women are planning on doing today with their designer handbags and their heavy makeup.

I’ve got another story about “Paul the Plumber” whose van I saw pulled up at the “sexy espresso” stand near the airport that we passed a few minutes later. Paul is a nice enough guy who thinks there’s nothing wrong with getting his coffee from an eighteen-year-old girl in a negligee who’s the same age as the daughter who he’s trying to put through college but that’s different and its no one’s business but his and he tipped her a dollar after all and he’s got a long day of dirty unpleasant work to do and he’s entitled to this small pleasure, right?

I’ve also concocted a story about the girl working in the espresso stand who i can’t even see from my car who’s probably also hoping to get through college and who surely doesn’t understand the larger gender-class-power structures that invisibly enshroud her as she shivers in a negligee in a drive-thru coffeestand steaming milk for the 1.99$ mochas of the working class folks who drive this road or maybe she feels empowered and liberated by making this kind of money and she’s majoring in feminist lit, who knows, I sure don’t but I pretend to myself I do, and it only takes me milliseconds to spin out my narrative about these anonymous people as I pass by.

It occurs to me, (sitting here in a parking lot a little while later, writing in my journal with the engine running because the baby is asleep and i don’t want to wake him before i’m done writing) that i make up these kinds of stories a hundred times a day, based on my assumptions and my prior knowledge and my prejudices, and that I am no better or worse than anyone else.

But I’m going to try and pay closer attention. Catch myself in the act.

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birthplaces

We’ve moved into “anytime now” mode.  I regard every kick, every cramp, every shift the baby undertakes with new fascination, and I nap as if I’m making a career out of it.  Ryan’s been reading bedtime stories to my belly, and the dog never strays more than a few feet from my side.  It’s a dear time, quiet and unhurried. Hard to believe one can be pregnant for forty weeks; harder still to believe its possible to feel this good at the finish line.

A few weeks ago,  our birth class instructor asked us to do birth art.   Despite our mutual enthusiasm for art, we felt a little odd about doing art about birth after a guided visualization sitting on the floor in a tiny room crowded with 14 other people.  I had trouble focusing on an “image of birth,” and midway through the instructor’s visualization,  I realized I’d spiralled off into a reverie about our trip to India last summer, and was contentedly imagining sunrise over the Ganges, and mornings drinking black tea in our little room in the Himalayan foothills.  When the birth class instructor told us to pick up our art supplies and render our images, I was thinking about mist and blue water, and green leaves and bamboo silhouettes in the fog.

“What are we supposed to be drawing?” Ryan whispered in my ear.  I grinned at him.  “Dunno, really. Our concepts of birth?”

I figured the soft colors floating around in my head were as good a thing to draw as any, so i peeled the wrapper off a blue pastel and swirled the entire length of the crayon in concentric circles. Realized that in thinking about water and mist in India, I’d begun to picture our birth tub in my head, and the place its going to be set up in our living room when I go into labor.  Realized that in thinking about greens, and plants in mist, I might also be thinking about the maple in full leaf right outside our livingroom window, and how I would perhaps be able to see it from the birth tub.  Started playing with the green pastels.

Looked over to see Ryan sketching out a square pool of water and a tree, and realized I knew exactly what he was drawing. Realized, somewhat startled, that we were in fact, drawing the same thing.  Sort of.

Birthplaces.

I was drawing my conception of a tranquil birth space, one situated in our cosy little house with a pool of water and windows looking into the trees.  Ryan was drawing a similarly tranquil birth space, also featuring a pool of water and plenty of trees,  one also rooted in memories of our travels in India last summer.  His was a place where a birth had already occurred : a sacred and well-marked spot outside of the tiny village of Lumbini, Nepal, where a woman named Maya Devi gave birth to a son she named Siddhartha, sometime around 500 BCE.  Siddhartha would become known as the historical Buddha, and thousands upon thousands of pilgrims would venture to the site of his birth in the centuries that followed.

ruins of ancient monastaries on the site of Siddhartha's birth

The site of the birth, partially excavated, is protected from the elements by a simple roof and unadorned walls, and a wooden boardwalk allows pilgrims to circambulate the site in meditation.  We visited Lumbini in the monsoon, and the air inside the birth-site smelled of damp and dust.  We stood at the site, staring up at a carving of the birth scene, installed on the site many years later by a Buddhist emperor paying tribute.  Maya Devi labored standing up, supporting herself from a tree branch, with her attendants close by.  In the carving of the birth scene, the infant is shown just before the mother, seated on a lotus blossom.     I stared up at the carving of the laboring woman, and noticed that so many pilgrims had touched their hands to the stone in reverence, her face had been worn off, as had the face of the infant Buddha.  They were a mother and her son, not royalty or spiritual leader incarnate.  The birth that happened here was, for all intents and purposes, as ordinary as it was sacred, a quality I felt certain the Buddha would underscore were he here to converse on the matter.

I wandered back outside to stand in front of the pool, built to commemorate the pond in the woods the mother had bathed in after giving birth.  The water was still, disturbed only by the occasional raindrop and the slow-moving ripples of turtles swimming beneath the surface.  A giant bodhi tree branched out over the pool, grown from a cutting of the tree in Bodh Gaya under which the Buddha attained enlightenment. A little girl and her father were tending the shrine under the tree, and offering incense to the pilgrims in exchange for donations.

We spent three days in Lumbini.  In the calm and quiet of that little village, and hours upon hours spent wandering the massive peace park dedicated to the Buddha’s birthplace, we had conversations about our visions and fears and hopes around becoming parents together.  We shared delicious food in a restaurant in which we were the only customers at nearly every meal.  We listened to the rain, and bought incense and umbrellas from the tiny shops on the street.  By the time we left, we had decided we were ready to bring a child into the world.

When I saw Ryan drawing the pool at Lumbini, our time there, and the significance of it, came flooding back to me in a wave.  The next day I had prints made of the tree and the pool, and I hung them around our house so we could be reminded of that tranquil place as we bring our son into the world.

Dove back into my India journals to re-experience the memories more vividly… excerpts below for anyone who wants a little vicarious time abroad.

Boarded a train in Varanasi to Gorakhpur, experiencing our first taste of “sleeper class.”  no AC here, and close quarters with other passengers after the busy stops.  We sit as still as we can, sweating and watching an exquisite sunset unroll across the countryside,  glowing on dozens of kids laughing and throwing their weight into makeshift swings hung from trees with bicycle tires tied together…

6 long hours later, we pull into Gorakhpur… get a room for the night, then hire a taxi to take us to the India-Nepal border in the morning.  Walk across the border in the rain, our first taste of monsoon.  its a dry year, we’ve been told… we experienced no rain up till now in the other places we have been.  It is creating great pressure across the countryside, as farmers cannot plant their rice until there is adequate water.

We get our visas in order and our passports stamped, and hire another taxi to take us the rest of the way to Lumbini, the village on the site where the historical Buddha, Siddhartha, was born.  The countryside is rich, verdant green, and the rain is pretty much constant.  Our taxi driver leans out the window every now and then to wipe the rain from the windshield with a rag, as the wipers are apparently not in working order.  Mango trees, more kids on makeshift swings, tiny brick abodes with bright laundry dripping in the rain and each home with a water buffalo tied in the yard eating from the center of an old tire.  Around 11 we arrive in Lumbini, a tiny village with only one main street, and a quiet one at that, more traffic from herds of goats and cows and water buffalo than anything with an engine.

take a tiny, dear room on a 3rd floor balcony, looking out over the rice paddies.  discover, as the hours pass, that monsoon has arrived in this part of southern Nepal in earnest.  it rains at all times of the day here, sometimes slow and steady, sometimes hard and fast… riotous birdsong all the time, and the power is out as often as it is on.  its cooler here than it was in India, which we’re grateful for, but the humidity is still very high.  If we get wet in the rain, our clothing does not dry, and we realize we’re going to have to buy umbrellas, as we’ve only got a few sets of clothes each.

In the late afternoon, we rent bicycles from our hostel and pedal down the short road and through the gates of the international peace park built around the site of Buddha’s birthplace.  Its late day and we simply want to get a feel for the place, so we pedal down the narrow dirt roads, through tall grasses and past still, quiet ponds and slow moving rivers.  There are beautiful monasteries from a dozen countries set back in the trees as we go, and giant white cranes flap slowly overhead every now and then, on the wing from the crane sanctuary at the south end of the park.  We are pedalling along a brick path lining a long pond when the monsoon begins again in earnest…

we take shelter for a while under a thatched hut and listen to the downpour, watch it soaking into the dirt road and running down the tall stalks of grass, tiny beads sliding along the fibers of the thatched roof, piling onto each other until their weight becomes too much and they carry themselves downward to splash up again from the puddles below…

calm suffuses this place, and we drink it in.  The park alone would be something indeed, but to know the story that is rooted here, the birthplace, literally, of a spiritual tradition dating back hundreds of years before the birth of Christ… a tradition rooted in contemplation, in this very landscape.  There is meaning in the damp air and the muddied earth that settles into your bones and asks for your heart to consider it.

Realizing the monsoon isn’t letting up, we venture out from under the roof into the torrent and climb onto our bikes… i pocket my glasses, useless in this sort of rain, and the landscape’s edges blur into softness, green on brick on greysky. we pedal through the mud and the puddles, laughing and grinning like fools… soaked through, and no reason to care, the rain is warm and we’ve got no where to be.

my kind of honeymoon, i holler to Ryan, wiping the sheets of water from my forehead and eyes

he grins back

we splash along the road near the entrance,

locals smile at us and shout namaste as we pass.

In the village, I try to bargain with a woman shopkeeper for a set of black umbrellas.  She doesn’t speak much english, and calls her husband out to help translate.  Since my negotiations appear to be failing, I decide to attempt the “walkaway,” and tell them I don’t think I should spend so much, and am going to ask my husband.  Her husband begins to laugh. “She never asks me what I think.  This is her business.”  I grin back, impressed by her chutzpah, and pay full price for the umbrellas.

That night, we take cool bucket showers in our tiled bathroom and then spend the evening reading on our beds before the open windows, watching the endless raindrops soaking into the rice paddies.

The next morning, we walk down muddy paths, rain thudding onto our umbrellas and cascading down around our feet.  White cranes flap overhead, wide-faced water buffalo feed in the tall grass.

As we attempt to visit monasteries, we are turned back by closed gates and flooded paths, but make our way anyway, by walking. Walking, walking.  Two thousand years of pilgrims here, prayers, contemplation in this place.  Even though I hesitate a bit to call myself a pilgrim, I begin to feel it in my body, my subconscious.  Mind softens, quiets.  Feet sting, where blisters are opening under wet sandal straps.  We keep walking.  The rain keeps falling.  Cranes flap overhead.  At the monasteries, we shed our shoes and walk barefoot over smooth marble and stone paths, made slick by sheets of flowing rainwater.  It feels divine on aching feet.  Monks sitting under monastery eves laugh and watch the monsoon.  Others chant softly in the temples.  We find our own sanctuary from the rain, and unwrap the newspaper from a pile of samosas I’d bought earlier from a street vendor, lost in the sound of the unceasing rain.

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