A Night in Sausalito

"You most re-membur"—the Ugandan poet bade us in clipped, beautiful accents and round tones—"thet fleepping on deh light, duz knot ex-ting-gwish deh darknis; deh darknis ez oil-ways widus, wai-ting, be-neat deh light, for deh mo-mint deh sweetch ez fleepped ah-gin. Four dis ree-sun, we most keep are eyez o-pahned and deh light ahn." 

The room was quiet as she paused and met our gaze; her sharp chin tipped up with the conviction of her words. 

There was a glowing behind her eyes, a strong presence that backed up the images in her poetry. Her words encircled Greek myth, the process of becoming, and scenes of family—all held lovingly, all tinged with tragedy and love that made the lines ever more poignant. When she read, she slipped into her verses, like someone sliding down a bank into a pool of water. It was a mesmerizing experience, despite its taking place in a low-ceilinged basement room of the Sausalito library with only eight other audience members present—mostly supportive friends from the same arts program. Perhaps, though, it was all the more remarkable for being such an intimately shared experience.

All too soon, her time was finished, and the audience straggled out the back door, and into the Sausalito sunshine, talking and chatting.

I walked a few blocks to the water, pondering her words, and pondering my own becoming in its continual messiness. There were times I felt stable, and times I felt hollow, like a passing mist. A tall, homeless man ahead of me caught my eye. He was on the corner, at the far end of the block, thoughtfully pushing trash into what appeared to be the end of a green hedge. I fought the urge to cross the street, as I observed him in his strange, absorbing task moving with the slow fluidity of a shadow bending in the light. He disappeared behind the bus stop and came back with an armful of trash that he proceeded to slowly and methodically press into the hedge, pausing to look his hand to the hedge, to see where each piece might fit.

As I got closer, he disappeared and returned wearily with more trash, and I saw that he was not pressing the articles into the hedge, as I had supposed, but into a long green, recycle bin adjacent to the bushes. 

I pushed the walk button on the corner and watched him curiously out of the corner of my eye, as he came back with an empty milk cartoon someone had tossed away; it went into the Paper hole. A crumpled Doritos bag was mournfully considered next and placed with a sigh in the Landfill hole. Back and forth he went—plastic, paper, landfill, landfill, landfill—until the bus stop was clean, and his hands were empty. He stood still, then, eyes lingering on the recycles bin. They moved listlessly to track those who passed by, hoping for another task, another reason for him to exist.

The walk light turned blinked on, and I wished him well and left him there.

I turned left on Johnson into the marina and walked out on the docks, where the boats swayed in the water. The landscape was a monochromatic blue: the hills upon hills, the expanse of waves, the clear sky at the end of day. It was serene and peaceful, and I pulled out my notebook and tried to capture the picture of the homeless man caring for the earth—it felt connected to what the poet had said about light and dark somehow. My pen scattered black across the page, collecting my thoughts.

Life was vibrant all around me, echoing across the waters. An old man glided skillfully over the blue in a little skiff, keeping a perfectly straight line as he came into the harbor and pulled at the oars in unbroken rhythms. An outdoor bar nearby was filled with laughter and people, and a young golden retriever ran joyfully about the feet of his owners. Everywhere people were emerging to turn their faces to catch the sun falling over the blue hills and follow the rays that spread and fanned out like fingers as it began to dip—

"Get a good one?"

I looked up from my writing. A man with perfectly white hair, framing his perfectly round face was bobbing in my direction. He lifted the camera that hung from his neck in a polite gesture, and I caught up. "No," I replied, smiling. "My phone won't capture that." I nodded out towards the marina.

"Yah." The man sniffed. He looked down to fiddle with the dial on the camera's shooting features. "Mine either, but this is my ex-wife's camera, anyway." He paused and looked up at me significantly.

A comment was required. Too much empathy might imply I was interested in picking up where his ex-wife had fallen short, but too little sympathy would suggest that perhaps I thought he deserved to be alone.

"Oh, yeah, that is...hard," I responded vaguely with a thoughtful nod, turning my gaze back to the marina.

He looked up hopefully and scanned my face. "Well..." And trailed off. He bobbed his head again to fill the silence that followed, then turned suddenly and walked back down the dock to his car. 

I had already gone back to my writing, when he called out again, "I'm not giving up you know"—the hand that held his camera saluted me—"just moving on." He smiled, and I smiled back cautiously, and he continued on his way, leaving me to ponder whether he was referring to his mission to capture the beautiful sunset before us, or to find love again...I hoped it was both. 

The sun disappeared finally behind the horizon, and the words of the poet came back to me—For this reason, we must keep our eyes opened, and the light on.

We all four went our separate ways through the light and darkness of the night. The poet to form verses that would help us bleed and heal; the homeless man to find his place on the earth he was caring for; the divorced man to try to love again; and me—to continue my journey to become my better self.