Stella the dog is scratchin' and Lesley the cousin is readin’ and Janelle the mama/workin’ gal is nursin’ Eleanor the kid, who’s sucklin’ and soon to be dreamin’ in our tiny bed tucked by the radiator, which isn’t makin’ a peep since it’s the middle of June and outside all the Iowa birds are gathering together for the morning worm hunt while I sit here and drink my coffee and listen to Mozart and the sound of high heels against the pavement outside as some unknown, unseen woman heads off to work with a cordial newspaper tucked under her arm.
On the floor, all around me, maps and pamphlets are welcoming me and my family to this city. “To become the Uberman, imagine whatever you want to be, then become that,” I say to the worm, the bird, and to myself, who sometimes needs reminding that we’re not just predestined, pre-programmed social autobots, but actual angels in our clothes and simple shoes, “and pray for strength and dignity along the way. The humility will arrive on its own.” No, maybe these aren’t my words, but the words of an ancient urchin with glaucoma and a bum leg wrapped in plastic bags and duct tape, some griot in Gazelles, standing guard over the pedestrian promenade, dispensing pop wisdom for handouts, corndogs.
I don’t know birds. And so when I tell you that I see an Oriole outside, perched in his rusty brown jacket and bright yellow beak, take it with a grain of salt. He could be a million and one things all tied up into one. I call him an Oriole, because specificity = better writing. “But I’m not an Oriole. And you’re not specific, you’re just wrong,” she says, in chirp-talk. “Aw, I’m sorry baby. Please forgive me. I ain’t nothin’ but a damn American man with a lot of cigarettes in my past.” She does forgive me, I believe, because she’s building her new nest in my heart. “Fuck specificity. Be honest about what you know,” is my new prayer, “Grow some wings.”
Time passes. Sage smoke fills the apartment.
Janelle’s coffee has kicked in, which makes her chatty like a cheerleader for the passing of time. The clock ticks. Like the Oriole, she is perched over the pamphlets now, perusing them and commenting on the many swimming classes available in this city. “Look at this!” and “Hey!” Eleanor is asleep, perfect, and full of a quiet fire. I say to my self, “All of a sudden, this happens…all of a sudden…all of a sudden…” This is one phrase that will never die from the English language. Will never grow old or reach obsolescence. Everything happens all of a sudden. We enter, we exit. Things happen. All of a sudden. “Janelle, let’s swim to the Grand Canyon next summer. We’ll get Ella some swim fins and just go for it.” Elsewhere in this city, relief workers are bailing neck-deep water out of the art museum.