Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Two Shots, Extra Sugar - Portland

He handed me crumpled page, hand written, both sides - "just a memory of mine. Was just so, I tell you three times".

I'm sitting inside Powell’s Books, in World Cup Coffee, and I think it must be summer, and some year not yet long past. A young woman in a Pokemon t-shirt sits poring through an overstuffed binder of game cards next to two guys who are discussing Stephen Hawking as to quantum graphics.  

The two men speak of "Project Xanadu", and what a fiasco that was. Another guy is talking to a kid who has a Canadian flag sticking out of his tartan plaid day-pack. The man is telling him about selling his BMW and buying the cargo bicycle of his dreams. It will have laser-filigreed meteorite-alloy disk brakes. The Xanadu-Hawking guys shake hands and leave, each drawing a phone as he goes. 

I'm watching Bob watching out the window, as a sidewalk river-current of humans, mostly, moves steadily by. Across from me, out of the blue, Pokemon girl says the cards go in a story she's writing. “Writing is good,” I say. She doesn’t say anything in response but her eyes look up towards me without looking at me. I worry that I’ve intruded or perhaps just said something stupid. I feel the otherness wafting off her, coming in waves, and I feel my own place in this realm shift again, just a bit. 

Outside, a girl with magenta hair and bright green cat-eye glasses stops on the sidewalk. Her bracelet matches her glasses as she reaches in a pocket of her orange dress to give a couple of folded bills to a guy in a wheelchair. He is wearing a POW/MIA ball cap. He smiles at her and they exchange a couple of sentences before moving on. As she starts off her stride catches, just a half-beat, as she’s thinking she’s just heard an owl, right here downtown of all places. Looking around I see eight laptops and six pads being used along the counter that sits against the big windows. There are way too many books being read in here to count. It is Powell's Books after all. No one else in here has seen her, or heard her wondering that.

"Today is a good day to wear green" Pokemon girl says to the young guy with the flag as he’s passing by. She asks him where the flag is from so he explains it's from Quebec, and worn in support of school loan debt protesters there. She blinks at him, that slow hardworking blink that signals shifting gears, jumping tracks, or coming to an abrupt halt and says “Something is coming.”

He quick, looks around behind him, thinking someone wants to pass. There’s no one there. “Excuse me?” he asks her - “Something is coming, something slow and huuuge” she says drawing it out making it huge-er, and then goes back to flipping the album's pages. Flag-kid glances around, catches my eye, gives me a questioning look. I try to give him one back that says “Hey, I’d listen to her”.

He looks back down at her. She's now inspecting a card with a magnifying glass, and he tells her to have a nice day. She just looks up, smiles and nods, as people sometimes do when they’re immersed in something on headphones. She is not wearing headphones.  All this time, Bob, he hasn't said a thing, made a motion, maybe breathed. He gets up now from his book, stretches a leg down and out behind him, then the other, like some big old bird of prey, then pats me on the shoulder, heading off to Mysteries. 

I wonder if all that just happened. Then I realize nothing unusual has just occurred, because this is Powell's, this is Portland. I take that impression out and roll it around to look at it. I wonder if part of that feeling comes from my Native American genes, or if it just means I truly belong here now. Either way “Something Big is coming”, said as one might speak of major geologic events or whole cultures disappearing, and yet said absolutely casually? It's really not much more of a surprise to us than “Tomorrow is another day”.

I pick up my coffee, pressed Sumatran, two shots, extra sugar, and go. Something large flies by overhead, on silent wings.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Where I Have Just Come From - Letting Go & Holding On


Little Head-Bob ducked his head against the blowing rain, dug his talons into the bark of the elm bough, and leaned against the broad tree trunk. 

He could see into the house by a lamp left on in a bedroom. Something about the young man sleeping there seemed familiar or important, like an itch he couldn't reach to scratch. He sat and stared, mesmerized by the rising and falling as the boy breathed. Gradually the young owl began to doze, puffed up against the wind and rain.

Bob slept deeply, gone a long ways back in time, walking down his hometown street. It was probably about 1966, before they had moved out to the country, the old trees, and the owls. 

Walking home from school, he gazed at the Elm trees that lined the street, fingertip-twigs just touching as the branches arched completely across. He looked down the street and he knew right then that all this was going away. The sunlit leaf patterns on the street, the smell of tiger-lilies in a yard, the humming bird that kept stopping to stare in his face - the way it all was, would be gone in just a while.

He walked on down his street to the house he had lived in all through grade school, in the little town he had lived in all of his life. As he walked he said to himself, to the humming bird, and to the trees: "I promise, I will remember you".

Something startled the owl awake there in the quiet woods, nearly dawn, by the little house where the young man lived. The owl looked in at the bed. The boy wasn’t there. Little Head-Bob looked around him. He knew, and watched himself knowing; that the boy was gone and not coming back. All his people might not be coming back. This place would remain a while and then, it wouldn’t, at least not as he saw it now. 

And Little Head-Bob the owl began to see time.

As the morning sun warmed the woods Little Head-Bob dreamt he was a young man long ago, one of The People, standing in a place not far from where a young owl dozed. 

He looked down the hill. He saw a herd of deer grazing. Once or twice one of the bucks would stop and lift its head to look his way before turning again to the new grass. Farther over, down close to the river he saw the woods, recognized each tree there, and knew them by names only the breeze could say.

And then he knew that something was coming, something big like the wind. All this that had been for as long as The People had known, would soon be gone.

The young owl barely heard the man whisper: “I promise, I will remember you”.