Monday, September 21, 2009

Check It Out, Ya'll

I spent this Sunday afternoon reading young writers' short stories, then Amiri Baraka, Lucille Clifton, Josef Kumanyakaa, catching up on a little college business from back home, and wandered out here to the kitchen for a pick me up only to find a bucket of laundry soaking in the sink.

Oh. Yeah. That's right--I put those shirts and skirts in there over three hours ago for their half hour soak. I plunged my hands into the gray water, rinsed twice, added fabric softner, squeezed everything out, and hung them on the line. My hands are getting that dry, red, stinging feeling that I imagine women on the prairie must've felt after they boiled their rags in lye.

As soon as I pinned the last shirt to the line, the man in the yard behind the apartment building stopped the obsessive whine of his weed whacker, the sky heavied itself and turned yellow gray, the palms and coconuts began to wave their fronds in a gentle frenzy, bowing and bending to each other, and the air gathered the metallic taste of impending rain. In a minute or two, the rain will crash against the windows.

When I was little, Dad used to drag the sprinkler onto the lawn with a lot of reluctance, struggling with the hose, huffing and clicking his tongue. "I'm just seeding the clouds," he'd say, hands jammed on his hips, lower lip set. And, sure enough, as soon as he got everything set up, screwed open the tap, and banged back inside, the clouds would gather and let loose, no matter how long we'd gone in a dry spell beforehand.

Thus, I experience a similar negative omnipotence, as my grudging efforts at laundry, paltry as they are, directly control the weather.


I woke up at the usual time this morning, around 6:00, and stumbled to the bathroom to relieve myself. Then I lurched back into my bed and determined to doze through the roosters and the already building heat, that thickness in the air that settles in the brain like the niggling sense of something crucial left undone.

At 8:00, I swam up from whatever dream had managed to snag me to the sounds of at least three frantic roosters, a dog, a child or two, and the boom boomboom BOOM of someone's stereo working through a disco line. It wasn't the level of noise that alarmed me--that seemed typical of any morning here--it was the quality of noise that sounded a bit different. Whatever happened to the sound of chanting and hymn making, rising from the spaceship church around the corner and floating through my window, threaded through here and there with the flapping feedback of an incomprehensible priest?

By the time I got myself out of bed and into the kitchen here, and water in the kettle building to a boil, I'd tracked down the source of the noise: a birthday party in the making in the main building. Through the window, I could see them put together a table full of food, hang balloons. Meanwhile, Lady GaGa shivered the glass.

I was talking to someone the other day about the difference between here and Singapore. I mentioned that I didn't remember hearing anyone laugh there. "It's a quiet place," my friend said.

Yes, I agreed, right on the money. This is certainly, in contrast, a much louder place. The city never really quiets or stops moving. As we drove to the airport at 3:00 AM, there was a little bit of calm, but the city was not nearly as still as other places I've lived can be at the same hour. Busses still bamboozled their way past us with blatting engines and hissing brakes. Taxis wove in and out, too, bleating their small horns. Alongside the roads, clots of people spilled out of dark bars and dance clubs, standing together or sitting on chairs, as if making a show of whoever passed. Dogs trotted through the piles of garbage in the curb and against shadowy walls.

Right now, it's about 3:10 on a Sunday afternoon. I've got the boom box going, playing a CD of upbeat music I burned to appease the apartment's sad ghost. In the main building across from me, another birthday party builds, and another baseline booms out through the cluster of balloons tied to the metal grate over the open window. A steady whir of traffic growls and whooshes in the distance. A motorcycle's acid blat rises for a moment above the rest, swelling like a giant mosquito. A man yells. A rooster answers. Someone or something clumps, thump thump thump bang, in the stairwell. A breeze stirs the leaves, a pleasant sussurus with a cooling underhiss. The two boys next door babble in their play, until one of them shrieks, high, higher, highest, then shatters into a scream that falls into the regular siren cry.

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