We do not often have reflections on the ground, here in Phoenix. Not like where I grew up, in Southeast Alaska, where the ocean and the low clouds were Siamese twins, connected at the horizon, reflecting one another. There, because they were a feature of daily life, we avoided puddles. Here, because they are an exception to the arid desert rule, we put on our boots and celebrate them.
My body still has not acclimatized to the desert. The year Mbot was born, there was little rain. It was too hot to venture outside with an infant until November. A year almost to the day after Mbot was born, the monsoons came. In an essay titled “Coyote Carrying Rabbit,” I wrote, “One night in early July, the temperature dropped thirty degrees in two hours, from 112 to 82. Just before dawn, a clatter of raindrops awoke me to an eerie yellow light. The rain had not come for months and months and months. I rolled the stroller through a bright lake of sky, reaching to pull on wet leaves along the way, unleashing miniature rainstorms, and making up poems: ‘Pretty trees/Dripping leaves/Pine needles tipped with silver beads/Smooth bright puddles on the ground/Like pieces of sky have fallen down.’
“As we walked, I felt as if a forgotten part of myself was stirring to life. The process of becoming ossified in the suburban heat, which attacks from the flat close surfaces of apartment buildings; supermarket facades so similar one to another that you cease to see them; the forgettable faces of strip malls; the endless black macadam—occurs so slowly that you don’t even know it has happened until you are broken open by the monsoon.
“It makes me think of the idea of ghosts, and the idea that they haunt the streets lamenting the loss of their earthly selves. For if, in geographic transport—in moving to the suburbs—I can so completely lose a part of myself, so that I cannot even remember exactly what is missing, how can ghosts, who have certainly undergone a more dramatic transformation, remember that they had ever been living at all? Even for those who do not believe in ghosts, per se, the western word has been traced back as far as five thousand years, to the word gheis, which is linked to the idea “to wound, tear, pull to pieces.” Maybe the ghost myth gives voice to the different parts of ourselves that can only be conjured into being by our environment.
“The monsoon reminds me that in this place, I have lost some of what I am—or at least lost access to it—and even the memory that that missing part ever existed. But the monsoon also reminds me that my phantom self slumbers under my dry, hot skin, waiting out the drought.”
Where are you? Are there parts of you that aren’t there?