Behind my back garden, my ex-boyfriend with the golden eyes perches like a buzzard in the house my brother-in-law built for him. I avoid my garden, despite the plum tree, the towering aloe, and honeysuckle, the fish in the sunken tub, the coolness of mint around my patio. I am afraid those eyes will swoop down, and still have the power to pierce me right through. I wonder how fast bamboo will grow if I plant it along the fence to protect me.
Next to him lives the African-American beauty who stole his heart, even though she didn’t want it. He pictures her plump skin and pomegranate lips behind him in his roost. Until then, he drinks alone. After five or six belts, he howls songs of unrequited love.
From the north, my driveway winds down past jacaranda and orchids, alongside the home of a retired submariner. After his wife died, he took over filling her birdbath, sprinkling out birdseed in the early morning. The birds seem to reserve special songs for him, but I listen too. Sometimes in the evening, overlooking the canyon, we share a glass of wine, speaking of his grandson home from Iraq, my sons’ accomplishments and high jinks, the care and feeding of my roses or bamboo, his wife’s goodbye, people gone from the neighborhood for more than 20 years now. His other grandson is in the workshop, creating hand-tooled guitars that will hold the tunes for the next 30, and for his children who will come again to play.
My living room used to open onto a garden of Eden. Until she was 100, my Japanese neighbor lovingly tended her miniature tangerine trees, lavender, and birds-of-paradise, the world she created after the internment camps of World War II. Now the dogs of the young family who live there dig holes and birds take dust baths outside my window. A little boy makes mud pies; dirt streaks his yellow hair. I hear him crooning to the dogs. They don’t cry anymore, like they did when they were chained.
Back up beyond the driveway, an ailing Filipino couple keeps watch too, as carefully as the blue jays. From behind their banana fronds, they startled away the kids from two blocks over who came to steal my son’s bicycle. Their own son, the handyman, helped us with all our repairs. His boat and RV are parked in front, ready for an escape to the west or to the east.
On the corner, the bitter man has barricaded his daughter behind dark pines. His job takes him to the border, but the Mexican alternative treatments didn’t cure his wife’s cancer or heal his spirit. He stops me in the street, lamenting ungrateful children, dogs on the loose, boundary lines, and broken fences. His lips still move, soundlessly, as overhead the planes prepare to land.
The border wind blows strangers into my neighborhood sometimes. Young mothers whisper warnings in Spanish at the schoolyard gate. Before they vanished, I saw men with skin like clay hiding in the canyon, down in the bottom where coyotes and rosy boas eat the birds. But the birds still sing up here in my neighborhood, up here by me.