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  • Shayda Kafai

Gratitude to Raked Leaves

I felt disembodied yesterday. Time as sensation expanded past the 24 hours we are told exist in a day. The living room was not the living room. Although I was moving slowly, I was sweating and fatigued. One medicalized word for this is disassociation, but that description doesn't feel right; what I felt was distant from myself. This feels like a more accurate and authentic naming. Feeling distant from myself connotates a searching, a desire for orientation.


I am able to designate this language and reflect on these somatic experiences after beginning Robin Wall Kimmerer's new book, Braiding Sweetgrass. As she wrote about her kindred and tender relationship with wild strawberries, she gave me the language to name what I could not access. She writes, "... it was the wild strawberries, beneath dewy leaves on an almost-summer morning, who gave me my sense of the world, my place in it" (22). I was not "in the world" yesterday. I felt like an observer.


***


I raked leaves today with my uncle. Since his stroke, he has what the medical industrial complex calls aphasia. After witnessing him (and as a poet), I think aphasia is more complex than an inability to express speech. My uncle has his own grammar, his own diction. There are fricatives and sounds that are connected to his expressions, his hands. His has become an embodied language. This morning, my uncle stood outside and gestured toward the pile of leaves; I followed. As he began raking, I slowly began shoveling the leaves.



 A close-up picture of the red maple tree in the backyard. The trunk is thick and the branches arch outward. It is covered in golden, orange, and red leaves. The sun is shining through and is casting itself on the leaves.
A close-up picture of the red maple tree in the backyard. The trunk is thick and the branches arch outward. It is covered in golden, orange, and red leaves. The sun is shining through and is casting itself on the leaves.

It was a strange day, a strange time. It was 72 degrees Fahrenheit in Southern California. The red maple's leaves had just turned scarlett and yellow. It's body told us about climate chaos and the distressed beauty of it all. As we worked, the heat landed heavy on my back. I was surprised at how the sun built on my neck and arms. My growing succulant tattoo sleeve saw sun for the first time. I can't express how quickly and tenderly I returned to my body. It was a combination of this meditative outdoor ritual and the texture of the heat that allowed me to relocate myself. How quickly we become distanced from ourselves; how quickly, still, we return.


***


I am going to keep reading Braiding Sweetgrass, outside, in the sun. I am going to try to remember my gratitude for heat and for raked leaves, for the simple rituals that are meditative points of orientation: weeding persistent weeds and raking leaves that grown and fall.

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