We drive home, all the way up the central
valley under soft gray puffy clouds that have
not yet flattened into rain, past crepuscular rays
as we climb the Grapevine, admire the
godlight arrowing into Pyramid Lake—
Look at the light! clean and crisp—imagining
that we have outrun the atmospheric river
swamping our drought-stricken state.
But just below Modesto on the interstate
the drops find us, lacing the windshield
with pretty patterns before settling into
driving rain, and we follow twin taillights
of cars, of ginormous trucks that lead us
home in the dark where the cats complain
and I know small lakes lie in the backyard
where two weeks ago the grass thirsted.
What we don’t know is that we are getting
the gentle edge of the storm, that levees
will be breached, people stranded, record
snow in the Sierra. We drive blithely on.
When the sun emerges on New Year’s Day,
the river ceasing for a moment, the cats and I
venture out to see what the old sycamore
has dropped as its end-of-the-year offerings.
Already the bowls of water are receding
into the uneven ground. Every year I think
I should fill those in—the depression where
a small tree once grew until it didn’t,
the dog-sized dip where he used to wriggle
his retriever self into the grass for a nap
as I’d tend the roses, and we’d both remember
the man who once shoveled endless
wheelbarrows-full of soil amendments
into the flower bed by the fence, grinning
at me, Just call it what it is, Toots—manure,
knowing it would feed the roses, coax
the cosmos to grow tall, even in thick clay,
even as we longed for rain that rarely came,
like the remnants resting here now, godlight
winking blue-sky reflections at lucky me,
high and dry, between the storms of this new year.