Sunday, April 22, 2007

A Sensualist Moment on Earth Day

Eighty degrees on the back porch, I'm sitting in the shade reading rough drafts of student short stories (kids getting lost in fields, car wrecks with no seat belts, creepy neighbors, insane miming clowns, threatened virginity, a lottery winner losing it all -- the usual panoply of the Flint imagination) and the sun moves gradually onto the slate porch floor. I feel its radiance before it gets all the way to my toes, still in their thick winter socks. I'm drinking strong black tea -- nothing fancy this time, just the real goods, pekoe with the bag left in a half hour. Two yellow tulips blooming along the fence; two dozen more buds about to pop. A mourning dove chases his girlfriend around the yard. She stays just a few inches ahead, making quick swerves to the right and left. Eventually he'll catch her: she'll let him. A bee zips by my ear. A bee! Could it be a honeybee? Is it possible they're not all dead?

Since it's the end of April, I allow myself not to be anxious about the heat. It can be 80 degrees on April 22. That's not so unheard of.

When exactly did the sun become the enemy? In my lifetime -- after centuries of reliance and celebration, after centuries of art and poetry and worship. Today, I'm willing to take it the old way, so beckoning, so beneficent. Today it feels like a gift. I watch the oblivious doves -- adorable, panicky bobbers almost put on the "can shoot" list but saved in a Michigan vote. I'm trying not to think about Blacksburg, those unrelenting images of guns and blood and grief. I'm trying not to think about the worst week in months in Iraq -- hundreds die in markets -- in markets! -- those gathering places where there's food -- the one thing we must have to survive, and hope, and communion. I'm trying not to think about Gonzales, and how he can't recall, and can't recall and can't recall and can't recall. But one needs to acknowledge all this: this, too, is the world.

So I get up from the chair, drop my pen on the last draft, and submit. I stretch out on my back on the slate floor, in the sun. For a quarter hour those beams shine on my winter skin. I turn my face to it, my eyes closed, and the bright gold penetrates my eyelids, so that all I see is bursts of yellow coronas. The heat penetrates my black jogging pants. I stretch out my arms and let the rays warm even the pale white undersides. It's audacious, this unmitigated, healing warmth and light. Perhaps I'm old enough now that the warnings don't matter. For a quarter hour the sun feels perfect, my body soaking it in the way we used to. So this is what it comes down to for an old sensualist: indulging in unambiguous sun, an ancient pleasure, while a wisp of nostalgia lurks, just a few inches away, just a few inches, in the shade.

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