Mike calls me out of the blue.
Oakland, tonight I swam in your streets and felt the cool of your night. I think to myself how I feel strong when the pull stroke feels easy, and think to memorize the tones of the sky at dusk when I pull to the side for air – half the sky a fading incandescent red, the other a fluorescent blue. I find, for a few moments of grace that people shimmer with a quiet mystery when they’re underwater, the light from the pool lamps refracting, flexing, arcing over their bodies. To you, Oakland, I feel a sense of sheepishness, I
San Francisco wraps me up with hot pumice breath and does not let go. She follows me with a sincerity that I cannot shake, offering the fruits of her cacophony as the throaty rumbling of cable cars, as the muted quarreling of European travelers, blue eyed children in tow, as azalea sunbursts lining the steps I jog each afternoon. She orchestrates the movements of ten thousand bicyclists. She punctuates the skies with glass ornaments and fighter-jet jewels. and lures in her prey with the offerings of raven gold parlayed over her streets. She charms me over then just as quickly, she turns
I miss running barefoot – there was something about running with the spring in your step, pushing gingerly against the grass, feeling the strength of the stride move through your legs and through your toes that made you feel powerful, or free, or wild. When I first started early on, I always felt sore and achy at the bottom of my foot, like pinpricks lived there. We’d joke that running the lake barefoot was safe–so long as you didn’t step on the needles. A few times I felt a sharp pain and swore I did step on one… only to find out that I was fine. But as the calluses built, your stride adjusted and you would feel safer, and the stones wouldn’t cut you anymore and you’d run a little faster, leaning into the slicing chill, ignoring the numbness of running on wet grass on the north end of the lake and run home in darkness against the dotted glow of Lake Merritt’s necklace.
I can run! I’m on a jog on my lunch break for the first time in four months, and I want to tell it to everyone: tourists with itchy, sunstroked faces crowding Chinatown, Dan, down-cast on the street corner in front of that handmade sushi roll place, forty-something yuppies with yoga mats yelping as I dodge them by. I’m drinking it in, the clangs of cable-car bells, the way they fade off when the car heads up the hill on California, the way the riders have a faraway look as if they’ve seen something familiar yet mysterious (maybe it’s warm nostalgia for things they can’t remember).
He slowly slurps his noodles in front of me, and I take him for a professor, an old man with a certain academic flair. Of course, I have no such reason for thinking so, he could be any old man at this nondescript, jam-packed hole-in-the-wall restaurant (the best kind). A sky-blue collared shirt hides beneath the neckline of his sweater, the kind that men in their fifties protestingly receive from their smiling wives and children on their birthdays that they don’t remember themselves.
I’ve been running for the past week or so, despite my grandma’s protests (“you’ll catch a cold”). It used to be easier with the jet lag, when I’d get up at 5am and stare at the wall and catch myself wondering where exactly I was.
If you lean too hard, you’ll go tumbling out of shadows, into the lake. Look, like how the leaves strain against their cuffs in the wind, leaning into the goldenrod breeze. Look at the lovers lean into each other, racing against sundown, lips brushing freckles, freckles brushing blades tickling toes.
My nephew, he’s the one in Afghanistan. Sometimes I wish I could take his place because if I go… (silence) it doesn’t matter.
you have come to us in royal fashion, your slippers triumphantly slapping against gravel, your elegant fingers drumming against our windowpanes. you keep up a good pace, sir. you glide alongside our car and smile your patented, ringmaster smile. we watch you through one-way tinted glass and air-conditioned cabins. you are a curious specimen, a caged animal proudly loping the length of your alley.
Soon comes spring; and children will sigh in the rhododendron light. Forty days, the land groaned under the burden of frost and dust. I think to myself that were we to drink the ashen calendar days, we could not bear the surprise of heart-sick laughter, the lightness best experienced with others; a choked-up kind of glee that pounces suddenly without explanation. Does a bird think to itself, thankgodi’malivethankgodi’malive? I have a suspicion the children know; they have watched and waited for the light. Soon we, too, shall awaken.
We’re all holding hands on the street. Bear on my left, a stocky, grizzled Filipino dude wearing a hard expression under squinting eyes. Pancho on my right, a wiry black man with a thin face and a black “OAKLAND” beanie with big, gothic lettering. Cece is between the men, finishing a prayer: “And keep us alllll”–she draws out the word in her Native-American accent–“safe from the Devil!”