Calhoun’s Can(n)ons, The Bay News, Tolosa Press, SLO, CA for April 10, 2008
It’s become a hunger, now, a palpable longing to play hooky from the busy days and go to the corner of the yard where I buried the ashes of Kifani, my little Basenji boomerang boy, and sit in the yellow Adirondack chair and look out at the garden. It’s Spring Fever, no doubt. Or my age that presses the ticking of the clock more heavily on me each year, as the sense that since each moment is getting more and more precious, the need grows that the “Gottas” and “Shoulddas” must give way to the “Doan Wannas” and “Ain’t Gonnas” while there is still time.
When Kifani died last year, I had planted a beautiful California native grape vine on the spot where I buried his ashes, and nearby laid down some concrete pavers for the chair and a patio umbrella. And for the rest of the summer, when time and life pressed too hard, I would go to the corner to sit and feel the sun, watch the dogs chasing around the raised flower beds, and listen to the bees bumbling in the lavender plants. And keep an eye on the grapevine --- Kifani’s grapevine -- as it put out new fuzzy leaves, and headed up the fence. Until winter came and the cold and wet put all the plants to sleep, the grape leaves turned yellow and fell off, and the vine turned into a dead, bare stick.
And I slipped into frustrated hibernation, checking the weather to see if a couple of bright days might let me steal a few moments in the corner, bundled up against the cold, grimly determined to sit there way past silliness. But it wasn’t much fun. The lavender plants were trimmed and dreary, the enormous purple potato vine bush thingee against the fence was little more than a huge bundle of leafless twigs. And no bees. Only the crows were left, perched high in the tall eucalyptus trees in the front yard, muttering and spying and complaining for their dog kibble treats.
And so winter passed, and with the passing, the hunger grew with each new weed making its way up through the damp sand. Soon, the giant 4-o’clocks were poking their round leaves out of the ground and the lavender spears appeared. And after a few magical days of sudden heat, the longing to play hooky became overwhelming. So out I went, making every excuse I could to steal moments from a busy day to sit in Kifani’s corner and pretend to be working: I told myself, I’ll read the paper out there, Look, I’m making notes on a rough draft of this column. See? I’m actually busy.
But the busyness didn’t last long. The paper would remain half-read, the world limmed in its pages little more than a continuous litany of horror and stupidity, journalists reporting on a blind death trip by a species incapable of sense, taking itself and its world down into its self-imposed darkness. And with the newspaper laid aside in weary disgust, and column notes trailing off into blank paper, the soft breeze and warm sun were free to demand attention.
And in that shift in attention, I recalled lines from, Jack Gilbert’s poem, A Brief For The Defense. “ . . . But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants. / Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not / be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not / be fashioned so miraculously well . . . We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure, / but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have / the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless / furnace of the world. To make injustice the only measure of our attention is to the praise the Devil. / If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down, / we should give thanks that the end had magnitude. / We must admit that there will be music despite everything.”
There will be music despite everything. It is then I look behind me and suddenly notice there on the wizened stick of the grapevine, the small green curl of a bud covered with soft grey fuzz, a leaf unfolding to the sun, Kifani’s beautiful vine coming back to life.
And soon there will be the song of the bees.