Saturday, February 15, 2014

Mrs.Yang Paints a Rainbow.

We lived so near the Sacramento River, we could skip out the door, clip up the steps to the levee, and skin our knees on the rough tumblesome path to the water before you could finish humming, "Morning is broken." We knew where the turtles came to sun themselves on a large fallen tree, where the egrets hid, the lizards scurried, and the hideout of the ferile cats. But the river kept many of its secrets to itself. Penned in by huge dirt dikes, it was a muddy shadow of its once mighty self. Where is the river spirit, I wondered. I tried to discover it in museums, in Old Town Sacramento, where I knew the buildings  were made of bricks fired from the clay-pits of Greenhaven. The Delta King stubbornly, silently bobbed up and down near the gaudy golden bridge facing the Capitol. I sensed voices in the railway museum--and even more so--heard groans from the sun-baked ruins of the old rail yards, and in the stink and squeal of the steam train engine that puffed back and forth, up and down, a relic for tourists to sneeze at. Train-less tracks ran through our neighborhood and divided it just as decisively, and unfairly, as ever.

It seemed nearly impossible to discover any evidence of the original river-dwellers, but every once in a while I'd hear a rumor of how they used to grind acorns into flour--or a haunting of how the neighborhood might be resting on their bones. Sinking her fingers into the slick river clay one afternoon, my youngest discovered a stockpile of  fake artifacts: tiny red clay pots, with scorch-marks from being fired right on the river-bank, we guessed. A leap of thought: maybe these came from the first peoples. But they were all wrong for this: one of them was even heart-shaped. Who buried this strange cache in the river, we wondered. An unsolved mystery. We fingered them and brought a few home as treasures.

Our morning school driving route almost always passed by a park--one of the former clay pits that invariably became a pond after each rain--where a group of elders practiced Tai Chi, supervised by a colorful umbrella hanging from a wire fence. An odd morning, while strolling to the river, I thought I might have discovered the river spirit, and lurked behind a tree while I observed her. Later, I scribbled this:

She moves away from the manicured lawns

and plants her penny-loafers in the fox-tails.

She fills her palms with pineapple grass.

All along the river-wall
bicycle bells dingle-dangle,
sport-suited joggers jiggle salt-and-pepper heads,
lanky legs flash in leather sandals--
they are dark and they are comely--
lavish pony-tails bob 
behind squeaky strollers.

Some of them walking, all of them talking;
maybe a few would-be philosophers,
debating the funding of schools versus wars.

Or perhaps not, 
but she performs her part.

She pushes up her broad-brimmed hat,
straightens the collar on a white button-
down cotton blouse, vestments of a
high priestess of morning.

Raising her hands above her head,
Mrs. Yang paints a rainbow.

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