Years before ever seeing California, I wrote a story titled “Oakland in Rain.”
Rain served as an easy metaphor for the unexpected in a place
known for abundance, and it provided a texture of melancholy.
The nameless protagonist—an exiled drunk who was,
of course, a thinly veiled version of myself—
had lost her mind and believed the weather communicated with her:
rain meant soberness, that she had been absolved of some sort of punishment.
Plagued by her wild inner life, I imagined her wandering the city,
intent on getting lost in the Catholic cemeteries, where she took note
of lemons in the wet grass (an offering?), the sky, a hawk on a tree.
But no matter where she went, nothing was ever quiet enough.
Despite my best efforts, the narrative was bleak;
it lacked tension and a convincing resolution.
Now, why am I telling you all this? Well, one day I woke up
and it had been raining in the Oakland of my actual life.
Outside my window, the cottonwood trees looked like the day before,
but drops of water covered the few dead leaves that hadn’t fallen
all the way down and were caught between branches.
It felt foolish to consider my fate, the idea of premonition.
Still, I put on my red coat and walked up the hill to the cemetery.
As if I had invented it, there were lemons in the grass, palm trees
with browned leaves. Walking there, between the gravestones of strangers,
a runner passed me, and a family who had come to bring flowers,
their faces animated, ruddy from the cold. And my life, I understood,
was just like their lives—marked by ordinary rituals, exercise,
and theories about the body. Nothing was as opulent as I had imagined it
back then, but just as I had needed it—the meaning of it all cold
and very still, like a marble pedestal engraved with an ancient, simple fact.
Copyright © 2023 by Aria Aber. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 22, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.