"A list, after all, is an incantation." ~ Lia Purpura
Stay with me a little longer. There's such
a little space between one edge and another.
These days, we all feel smaller than any
dream of a begging bowl carrying one spoonful
of rice. Nothingness is a body that the tide
carries so easily into the sea; or that the ovens
turn so quickly into ash for someone else's
anointing. But we'll walk six miles to take
a sack of powdered milk for a sick child.
We'll divide rice grains into empty water
bottles. Every warehouse will be
a subdivision of all our common
longings. We'll take turns delivering
what we can to those in need.
You can read through a list
of household materials to determine
what is the best to use for a home-
made mask: cotton from an old T-shirt,
a clean panel from a vacuum cleaner bag;
a pillow case, a dish towel. In a video,
an abuela shows how she pleats two
strips of regular paper towel then folds
and staples each end around a rubber band.
Now, it is possible to live-stream the northern
lights from the safety of your own home.
Tonight, it is possible to watch a Broadway
musical or attend your sociology class without
changing out of your pajamas. When the sun
is out, you can still go for a walk by the river
or ride your bike around the deserted campus.
For now, you can pick up a coffee, a sandwich
and fries from your local café, as long as you
drive up to the pick-up window. The rituals
of the life that you used to know are changing
rapidly day by day. City streets are frighteningly
empty. Or maybe this is what they were meant
to be: stripped of all the layers of what you
used to think of only as busyness and commerce,
now you can see the sky behind the darkened billboards.
You might even see a little more beyond the pollution.
The word boulevard and the word
avenida each conjure a different city
in Europe. When I was a girl, my father
said I should aim to see as many parts
of the world as I could, when I grew up:
its great libraries, for instance; the grand
bazaars and turquoise oceans, the marble
columns and great aqueducts we were taught
belonged to a time called the beginning of
civilization. After I finished college, I added
my own items to this list: I wanted to see
in the poet's room in Amherst, the white dress
with pin-tucked pleats and mother-of-pearl
buttons that Emily Dickinson wore; lay
a flower at the monument in the Warsaw
Church where Chopin's heart was buried, after
being pickled in a jar of alcohol and smuggled
across the border. Had we but world
enough and time, wrote Marvell; but now
the world seems on the brink of annihilating
itself, and the only places of refuge left
are those that seem impossible to get to.
In the aeries of Meteora, ancient monasteries balance
on the very edge of sandstone ridges. In the past,
monks used an elaborate system to lift worshippers
and supplies from villages below. They raised
the chains and pulleys in times of danger, waiting
like the cliffs for the winds of trouble to pass.
Doesn't it feel as though you've been practicing
for this moment all your life? Like,
didn't your parents make sure every
part of the plant or animal
sacrificed for your use had some
practical application, down to the last
oily whisker and scraped
cavity of marrow bone? Weren't you told
to straighten your back and look
without cringing at the fish eyeball
swimming in soup?
Your grandmother crouched through the forest,
pregnant with your mother, as bombs
fell and sniper fire zinged through the slats of night.
Your grandfather walked, prodded by bayonets,
his arms behind his head. How many miles
before they were herded into a camp where they waited,
five men to a cot, for deliverance?
The only mantra they taught you was Be prepared.
Henceforth, even in the face of what no one could ever
know was coming, they added to their hidden stores
of rice in the cellar, built walls of canned
goods, deposited flour and sugar and salt
down the empty mouth of every plastic container.
Bootleggers of grim hope, they were always
tensing for the future while keeping one
eye open for an exit sign, a hidden trap-
door leading away from this moment backed against a wall.
I used to say, when I'm retired
I'd like to learn to play
the cello—an instrument
whose sound I've heard
described as closest to
the human voice. The score
that it will read is nearly
complete: low volleys
in the distance signifying wars,
shards ranged across the lines
like all the close calls and near
misses. Most of all I dream
of learning to pull the bow in one
continuous motion across
that estuary of longing as the roots
of mangroves fill with twilight.
In response to ViaNegativa:Self-Quarantine.
Though I don't notice until after I get home,
that's what it says at the very top
of my receipt, from when I went to the Asian
grocery to buy yellow mangos, loose
carrots, three bundles of ramen
to share with my daughters, a bag
of bok choy. He bagged them for me, too:
there being long lines and not enough
personnel. That day, the shelves
were still full of toilet paper. Shrimp
with heads on sat bundled in plastic,
half-buried in ice. Children touched
everything in the fruit section:
the green spikes of durian, red frills
of dragonfruit; satsumas resting on
their own leaves. Jesus could've been
their cashier too— We'll look
back on this day and think of it
as the surest sign of our days being
reckoned, added up at the till.
were raised on sugar and water;
or milk and water, or rice
and beans, which convert
eventually to sugar and water.
The first shock
administered to our bodies
was that of air. After that,
we forgot about the tunnels of blood,
the months of rocking where we
were the boat and the darkness the only
sea that could hold us without tiring.
Our bodies long for just enough
ferment. For dust to mean nothing
more harmless than what sticks to our palms
as we shape flour and water into bread.
What is our citizenship but the landscape
of bodies dredged out of the same ocean,
all of us stumbling in the general direction
of heat, or that lighthouse pulsing in the distance.
Are you preparing
to count the days?
Everything is more quiet.
On TV, we see the first
pitched in hospital parking lots.
Otherwise it is
spring or beginning
to look like spring.
From the blood
of the recovered, a serum
might be produced in two months.
Bradford pear; first tight
whorls breaking out on branches.
Nothing looks terrible
until it is. The moon,
however, is still bright
for a beat-up skillet.
We swallow zinc.
When we can, we sit in the sun.
used to reveal how fire
sweeping through the continent
was visible from high up
in space——From that ledge
presumably occupied by the gods?
from the cold white bramble
woven of stars? What do they see
now as cities retreat into themselves,
as factory chimneys inhale their last
plumes of dark smoke, as a new-
born child takes its first
breath in this poisoned world——
Today we are staining
the fence a deep shade
of cedar, since the contractor
told us the three month period
of curing is over. What they mean
by curing is that the planks
of new-cut wood have been
left awhile to the elements,
have hardened a little more
after being left like that
by themselves. Soft
traces of green around the grain
have started to darken in spots:
meaning they've tasted equal
lashings of heat and rain,
plummeting cold, blue-
black wind. It's almost peaceful,
following the rhythm with each
pass of the roller and the brush.
But cure is also, in Medieval Latin,
curare—responsibility for souls; or
the restoration of the body to health.
No one in the world as of tonight
knows how to heal the sick,
the dying, the dead stacked in fields
for mass burial. One by one,
quarantined towns empty and citizens
retreat into isolation. In Lobpuri,
where tourists no longer come, bands
of monkeys have been seen fighting over
a scrap of food in the square.
But in Siena, one night the townspeople
open their windows and as if on accord,
begin singing "Canto della Verbena.”