I’m not in great shape this week. As Massachusetts has opened up and I’ve ventured into the waters—tentatively, just a toe here, a foot there—of life as we knew it, you’d think I’d feel relief. I have felt joy in the moment: It was fun, for example, gathering with six friends from my singing group, not singing, of course, as that’s a proven corona scourge. We arranged ourselves a good 8 to 10 feet apart around the edge of the pool, blinking almost uncomprehendingly at the marvelous light of other human beings. Thursday, I co-taught a live Nia class in a public park, pleased to join in with the obvious delight of students freed from their little Zoom boxes, reaching high and far into the welcoming air. Friday evening, we went to a friend’s socially-distanced, outdoor retirement party, three couples graciously spaced in elegant pairings across the vast patio, the retiree and his family seated together, flowers on tables, candles lit, the evening air sunny, warm, remarkably bugfree, all suffused with simple delight in long-held friendships
After these gatherings, I haven’t felt relief, but rather a bone-deep weariness that I recognize as grief’s calling card. I miss my life. I miss my friends. I miss the sense of safety I had in moving thoughtlessly through the world, not looking over my shoulder to see if you are six feet away in the grocery aisle, not tugging my mask quickly up as I see you running towards me on the trails in the woods, not dancing like an idiot to the winking eye of my laptop camera, hoping somehow you are having an experience of substance in your family room or on your porch. I worry about my adult son in Texas, where responsible self-restraint in the name of public health might earn you a fist in your masked-face. I miss the version of myself who was naturally cheerful and optimistic, who didn’t bristle at minor frustrations or tear up at imagined slights or feel sadness always sitting heavily in my gut like an undigested meal, gumming up the works and making me sleepy.
I am angry and I am tired BUT I am not giving up the fight. I try to commit to making each day count by creating something beautiful, a meal, a poem, a loaf of fresh bread, a refrigerator scrubbed into sparkling freshness, purged of months of congealed soy sauce spills and Beetlejuice-like shrunken vegetables fallen behind drawers. Somedays, it’s all I can do to muster an appreciative thought. Yesterday, it was gratitude for the silver, wolf-pelt bark of a grand white pine I noticed on the trail, perched on a streambank, its bulbous roots rounding pawlike into the slope. Walking across a field back to my car, I saw a red tail hawk on a red fence rail, which pleased me because it sounds like a line from a children’s picture book. Later, walking a different trail with Cordie, a great blue heron took flight from behind a massive stand of rhododendrons, the flash of a deer’s white tail bobbed over the ferns before disappearing around a granite outcropping. The simple act of noticing these fleeting gifts feels like something, anyway. I know that I am exceedingly blessed to live so close to Nature.
At the retirement party on Friday, one friend asked the group: so what new skills have you picked up during quarantine? I love that question, the making-lemonade of it. Bread-baking, I answered. And pickling. I’m not going to say I’ve become remotely skilled at poem-making, but I have developed an interest in writing poetry, and a fondness for the sense of murky-depths-plumbing combined with spirit-channeling it evokes in me. Here’s a skill I am definitely honing in quarantine/post-quarantine: noticing.
I’ll leave you with a couple of poems I’ve been working on in the last few weeks. I never quite know if I am done with them, or if they are done with me. But they are on their way. I hope I haven’t made you sad. I hope instead my words might help surface some slippery fish that’s been swimming below the surface of your awareness, so that it can splash up into the air and catch a little light before it flops, silvery, back into the water.
Juneteenth / Solstice
How do the chains feel?
I mean that sincerely; I wouldn’t know.
It is not your job to answer me, you who do.
I try to feel the metal bite
Cut my ankles and affirm:
Yes, this is human; I know it, too, but I don’t.
Your ancestors drank tears, tasted rage,
Muscled, sang you into being,
Patient, angry. You could seek revenge, but you don’t.
I only sing the grace you know
That dance is joy and music life;
Unshackled, we might move as one, if you want;
That love is all in all and all
And you know better far than I
How to steel oneself through dark: The soul shines.
A summer sun floats over dusk
As creatures prick their ears;
Great alchemy of planets spinning time
Carbon falling like stars through air
Into crickets and you and me—
My dogs your mom those friends this tree that asshole an enemy—
My love, we are one.
It scared the hell out of me
When earth opened its hungry maw
Swallowing stone, trees, turf,
Little bees, soft moss,
Gulped it down fresh-caught-fish whole
Leaving a no-place of asphyxiated beauty.
Weariness weighted my bones
And so I raged.
Little girl, don’t you know how I fear for you?
My fierce heart quakes that earth may shuck us,
And yet you comfort me.
One claw is longer than your tender throat.
When did you learn that shambling hunt
For glory in a dumpster,
Mourning weft and weave of all-being shorn?
You console with gentle pats,
And so I bow.
I bow to you, my daughter.
I will not bear my teeth at hope.
I lay a salmon at your roots.
Paws heavy with honey,
I roar to the moonlight,
And pirouette with motes at dawn.
Cold river water soothes
My ragged, wooly, ursine soul,
And so I swim.
You have to know:
I will not let you cross the wasteland
With no talisman of ferocious, shaggy love
To protect you.
And so we go.