The Doppler Effect

I spill out of my doorway to frost covered lawns and the city shrouded in fog.  My breath billows in front of me and it is impossible to forget December has arrived.  School buses trundle down the street and a young boys wait at the corner as I pass, stamping their feet and jostling their backpacks.  My own bus stop is crowded with leaves but otherwise uninhabited.  I lean against the pole and wait, staring down the street.  As the bus pulls close I think for a moment it will continue past my body and vanish into the city without me, but the lights flash and it pulls to rest as it does each morning.  I climb the steps and settle into a seat as we lurch into the day.

Fog makes light indeterminate.  The ends of things disappear—I hold my coffee and watch the window as the suspended city slips past me, as the doors open and close with a rush of cold air.  I am beginning to know people along this route.  The man in beige overalls works at a produce factory south of Seattle, and we nod at each other each day without knowing names.  I find myself watching for him as the bus pulls to his stop—his coat flares as he walks and he wears a hat that reminds me of a Humphrey Bogart movie.  He seems out of place with this time; a man too large to fit into the modern narrative of web designers and Bluetooth headsets.  I am on the bus when he gets on, I remain when his stop comes and goes.  I must seem a constant fixture and I wonder what narrative he has constructed for my life or if I am simply the Girl on The Bus and exist only in this capacity.

The bus drivers, too, are familiar.  We exchange pleasantries and sometimes continue conversations over a few days. A bit colder today. How were your holidays? Have a good night, thanks. I don’t know their names either, just their faces.  The girl with dark hair and narrow features who drives on Sunday nights.  The man with two kids and a knit hat from Saturday morning.  The older man with glasses, often weekdays and Sunday morning.  If we were to see each other in another place, our memories would tug but we would be past before realizing why.  We exist together only here, between places.  In transition.

This city is a place described best by circumnavigation.  I take the long way to my destination without intention; I head north to go south, I circle back towards my home to leave it.  This system doesn’t make sense.  My map of the city is full of gaps and holes.  I identify an entire neighborhood with one house and a stretch of beach.  I fill others with backyards and porches, wine glasses and coffee cups.  Seattle is strung together with where I have cooked dinners and where I have danced to music that rang in my ears for hours afterwards.

As the sun finally breaks through the massive glass windows at work, I realize I have been in Seattle long enough to accumulate memories of people who have merely paused here before continuing on.  There is the poet who now lives in New York, the potter who moved somewhere near Virginia.  The dear friend who drove his van to Portland and sold it instead of returning.  This is no longer their place, but it remains mine.  The sun lattices shadows on the carpet and I remember this kind of light last year, the kind that unfolds.  How different everything felt then, but here it is once more—early winter.

Anne Carson, in The Glass Essay, writes “Perhaps the hardest thing about losing a lover is/to watch the year repeat its days….. I can feel that other day running underneath this one/like an old videotape.”  I understand this concurrence, and I find myself wanting to quantify; to measure the blue shift of bodies as they move towards my own without accounting for the opposite movement, the way a body becomes redder until it has sped away entirely.  I want to record the present and ignore the undercurrent of the past but that isn’t the sort of person I am.  These days even California is tinged with the pleasant scent of orange groves and the soft blue night skies.  It is easy to forget the desperation I felt there, how I longed to be somewhere cold could set in and burrow beneath doorways instead of a place coated by dust and wind.

It is dusk for only moments before evening steals in beneath the clouds.  The overhead flood lights turn on and around me planes glint.  The few families are buttoning up their coats and getting ready to head home. I would like to end this with a conclusive statement, but I have nothing conclusive to say.  This is my home and it isn’t.  The moon, just past full, will emerge like a coin made of bone.  It will ride above me whether or not I point it to out anyone.  This city will map and remap itself, transparencies made of faces and names and kitchens, until it becomes too large to describe in simple terms.  Already I can feel the layers building, and that will have to be enough.

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2 thoughts on “The Doppler Effect

  1. I like the idea of a produce factory – where vegetables are assembled from imported parts and such.

    I remember once living with a beagle puppy and the first time he saw snow. He had no idea what it was or that this too would pass — just that everything had changed overnite.

    Bees are like that. Workers only live maybe 6 months, and during the winter months, honeybees will seal off their hive and huddle around the queen to keep her warm. In a particularly long winter (or an unusually short life), a worker may know nothing more than huddling the queen – no flowers, no sun, nothing outside a crowd of bees in a box (or a tree or wherever they are).

    And I wonder what larger cycles my own perspective is too short to grasp, and what I would see happen over and over if I lived to be 1000.

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