If you press your face against the screen window to inhale an autumn night such as this, you will know for certain what is coming. You recognize the winter on the breeze filtering through the mesh. This particular night, is silent and black, without the usual dissonant echoes of multiple backyard parties booming. Even the orange glow of streetlights is absent, the darkness unusual enough to notice.
This is a strange way, a strange time to begin something new. In a time for slowing, ceasing, and dying. The last of the Day of the Dead flowers have wilted, the candle wax scraped off the sidewalks. In Southern Califorina, you have to grow attentive to subtleties if you care to experience the change of seasons. You learn to spot the modest changes on some trees, edges of leaves begrudgingly browning. It requires a kind of attentiveness as you would to find poetry in the desert, finding life in seeming lack.
Its s also the sensibility of some suburbs, at least in mine.
On this particular night, I press my face against the screen window to inhale the pulse of my city, the electricity of bodies awake in the night, traffic, the river and its grass somewhere west of here. So much filters through the mesh. On this particular night, my mother sits alone outside on a plastic lawn chair at midnight, contemplating the winter. A year ago almost exactly, my grandmother lay dying of cancer in a hospital in Guadalajara. My mother and her brothers and sisters, my tios y tias, waited at her bedside and in the hall for the inevitable, cada quien contemplando lo suyo from thereon. Aca en el norte, I waited too.
This is a strange way to start a blog about life in South El Monte, life in a suburb outside of L.A. But maybe it’s not so strange. Writing comes in the life of a full present moment that is often pregnant with the experience of the fleeting past.
This moment is a still one, a crack between past and future. It sprouts dandelions and ragweed, stray fig trees and tiny chiles from seeds dropped by sparrows in flight to their secret nests. Cracks are more fertile than you might imagine. The best parts of my life seem to have sprouted from some crack, quietly overlooked or blatantly ignored. In the backyard, a few-feet-by-a-few-feet patch of grass lined by two splintered wooden fences and one rusty gate. A squat, little lemon tree growing defiantly in the corner. Over the fence rises a landscape of silhouettes, rooftops, treetops and part of the long profile of the San Gabriel Mountains.
In Holy Land, D.J. Waldie says about Lakewood, “…We’re supposed to be so dissatisfied in the suburbs. But I’m not unusual in living here all these years. Perhaps like me, my neighbors have found a place that permits restless people to be still.”
And perhaps I keep coming back to South El Monte because I am restless too. It’s certainly one of the reasons why I write. This is a unique place to observe the minutiae of the quotidian, but also to cast the eye far, in all directions. The boulevards will draw your vision north, and the mountain will be there waiting for you. The boulevards will draw your vision south and the hills of Whittier will halt you unexpectedly, so that you stay in place sensing with inquietud and anticipation, the great stretch beyond and beyond. To the east is a great vastness, many versions of you yawning in their beds, slowly walking out their front doors into the growing light of dawn. And to the west is yearning.
In the stillness of my backyard, the vision is drawn up, it is drawn in. Intuited memory, intuited future, reading into the rustle of leaves on the driveway like the swirl of tealeaves in a cup.