Pen and Notebook

by Natalie Goldberg June 15, 2008

Mid-April in Santa Fe. Only the apricot trees are flowering; otherwise, no green anywhere and the cottonwoods along the river have that smoky quality but no color. Though everything is full of yearning, aching to open. That includes Ryan and Nell.

They don’t know each other, live on two different sides of town but you and I know that in one infinitesimal moment one will brush against the other in the aisle of a pharmacy or grab for a paper in a rack outside the food coop and a flame will ignite. Even then they won’t know how lucky they are—so much possibility, so much chance to go this way or that. Though most likely in the end they’ll ride the tracks that were laid for them back home in Laramie and Iowa City—so straight and defined.

And here you and I could become too conventional—give Nell a Midwestern twang, a love of casseroles and jello salads, church in there somewhere and the same tree decorations every Christmas. Ryan likes horses, long wires of fence along a two-way road and a big steak.

Both are happy they made it out of where they come from. New Mexico has opportunity. A lot of Native Americans and chili rellenos and art fairs.

Let them wrestle with each other’s body between cool sheets, let them be thin and muscular, their running shoes on the floor, having been ripped off and still tied, let the windows be open, their eyes closed, tremors ripple down their spines. Let the dandelions pop out along the curb and clouds fly across the heel of the nearest mountain. Let them for these few hours know a bliss they mistake for god. Only years later they’ll know it was a terrible god. Every little moment when they are thirty and thirty-five and forty and forty-five. All the way up to seventy-eight when a bird whispers in Nell’s ear: this is it. The last day.

Then let her drop her life selling merchandise, her worries about her two children, her old memories of Ryan. Let her lie still with a solid grief, mourning abundant with gratitude for the sunlight on piñon needles out the window.

But maybe this is all moving too fast. One thing here, then gone. What can you capture in between? A cherry, a geranium leaf, a pair of sunglasses, a cup of tea, a chair, fan, bruised knee. One person sends a message across space and another responds. We all want love though we rarely admit it. Instead we let Nell and Ryan play out the strings of our heart. We—you and I—remain. But we will die too. What will we mourn—ink and paper? What will we feel gratitude for—the close detail, the intimate breath of this one life?

About the Author:

Natalie Goldberg is the author of eleven books including Writing Down the Bones which has sold well over a million copies and most recently Old Friend From Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir. She teaches writing workshops and retreats nationally. For her schedule see www.nataliegoldberg.com.