For me, the honeysuckle does it. Out walking the dog, I pass through that place behind the apartment building where the vine-covered shrubs form a loose fence line with the neighboring townhouses. There, the scent lifts me up from whatever chaos is in my head. I pause and find one underneath, going for the yellow blossom. While the fulsome white catch the eye, I’ve learned from experience. The yellowed, crepey petals store astonishing sweetness.
You think you are small. You crouch at the edge. This one like so many before, the low riverbed where you seek sustenance.
It’s far from a river, really, barely a trickle. You crouch here and watch how pebbles below the surface make water glint. In the copse of trees between one set of houses and the next, the big road bearing down just around the bend, this is the closest you come to a sacred place.
Our governor gave us the stay-at-home order yesterday. With presumptive positives surpassing 1000 in the state, it’s a wise directive. That said, judging by the volume on I-66 right outside my condo, only a handful of my fellow Virginians are complying. And no, they still have not finished replacing the sound wall as they ravage the land around us for new express lanes. Which means even as spring explodes from the tulip poplar and cherry trees all around the complex, my balcony door stays sealed tight.
My university made the announcement that all buildings will be closed starting tomorrow. Some students still live on campus, some international students have not been able to get home. “Essential services,” as we call them now, will remain functional. Grab-and-go meals in a few dining halls. Campus security. A couple of residence halls. The rest of campus shuttered. All of us that can telework are doing so.
In the span of a week, an entire faculty has figured out, more or less, how to teach online — a skill some sizable percentage has been resisting for a decade.
Today I went into my building for the first time since March 10. With a gloved left hand and a “clean” right, I navigated to my office to collect my ergonomic keyboard and a standing desk floor mat. My partner and son have assembled a plywood contraption on casters that will work for me to stand at home. This small condo is quickly shrinking, and it’s good to have a place to work that isn’t the dining table. Especially now that we’re eating three meals a day there.
At this point, I check the news only three times a day. The rationing is keeping me steady. When this all started a few weeks ago, broadcasts from the various corners of the world helped me make decisions. I pulled my son out of school a day before the county caught up. The conversation with his dad about the decision was tough — I had to make the case for why our boy’s academic well-being was less critical than flattening the curve. This meant providing evidence from the Italian news, from scientists who were begging for distancing in the absence of any kind of coordinated response from our leadership.
Like so many people, I read and read and read. Tracked curves from around the world, learned why South Korea looks so different from Iran. Then not 24 hours after I made the call, our school board followed suit. That early vigilance validated, I continued to gulp down news from every source I could find.
“Staying occupied is a socially sanctioned way of remaining distant from our pain.”―
1. Here is your blank page.
A crease deepening in the fold of their neck.
A spiderweb alongside the eyes.
Knuckles nicked and gnarled
from every saw blade that has ever gone sideways.
Their hull with its jagged seams lashed back together
more times than even they can count,
Yet strength enough still to flip you like an egg
over easy, your wet yolk intact (but not for long).
Their silhouette against the moonlaced slats,
lifting the crenulation of your ribs
smoothing the oil they somehow coax
you forgot you’d sewn into the edges of your whispers.
“You’re doing your best,” they say. You nod, you shrug. Okay, sure.
Inside, you sneer.
“Your best” belongs to brighter days. Not so far off, those days, but somehow also remote. Like they belong to someone else.
Best You learned things. Made decisions snap-snap. Took on the project. Invited people into your home. Best You learned a new language, the names of trees, how to roll sushi, and the most exhilarating route through Manhattan by bike.
A string of taillights threading between shadow
trees of a ghost forest.
A mountain of dirt higher than the fire truck
The remains of a wall. It fell against the sound
we cursed, the sound
that turned out to be
Unfolding from a plank on a mat, I see his sneakers approaching.
“Are you done with your workout?”
“I’m not sure.” I pull back into a child’s pose and then flop over.
“You look like you’re done. Did you do your weights?” A dark heart of sweat blooms across his chest.
“A few. I just don’t like it here tonight.”
He looks around. Our gym. The place we come almost every free Tuesday evening after he picks me up from the metro. “You don’t like it here?”
“Not tonight,” I say.
“Okay,” he shrugs. “We can go home anytime. Let me know when you’re ready.”