solstice, binding

You’ve picked quite a time to come visit. The weather ripples unseasonably warm, overzealous June heat usually reserved for dog days of August and July. Dog days: a phenomenon concerning stars and ancient Rome more than panting caninesthe transit of Sirius, brightest star after the sun. This fickle summer arrives in solstice and swelter but has already been felt over and over, already sweat out through every pore.

***

[a small breath prayer, composed in motion]

Inhale: You are a great mystery, God.

Exhale: I do not need all of the answers.

***

Each day, I glide among constellations of my own making, webs linking others through mere perception; gaze and assumption operate like twin heartbeats. On the street, I construe, construct, and elude: passerby seen as best friends, father and son, a couple. How many times am I wrong? Naming for convenience, weaving fables in the absence of piercing truth. I do not want to build my life on such inaccuracies, these minute adjustments and formulas. But what else is there? In what other way can we know the world?

***

“I am content because before me looms the hope of love. / I do not yet have it; I do not yet have it. / It is a bird strong enough to lead me by the rope it bites; / unless I pull, it is strong enough for me. / I do worry the end of my days might come / and I will not yet have it. But even then I will be brave / upon my deathbed, and why shouldn’t I be? / I held things here, and I felt them. / And to all I felt I will whisper hosanna for goodbye. / It is sweet to think of myself, alone at that very moment, / able to say such a thing / to all that was my life, / to all that was not.”

Katie Ford, “Psalm 40”

***

On the bridge’s arc, past flickering golden hour and pavement’s radiating heat, I felt peace with tender step come knocking. I said, Come in at last. I said, I am so very tired of fighting.

***

“I lay out under / A separate sun. Both of us are fine / With this. We picked our place / Under the lid of god and we shut / Our eyes to it every night. That’s what it means / To have loved goodlyto meet / Fate in a lavender hall and walk / Right past it, the white train quivering, / Nostalgia in your wake” Camonghne Felix, “Why I Loved Him”

***

I am gazing at the meadow where little cousins sought fireflies, my fingertips raspberry-stained. I am half-sun and half-shadow, twisting away from insects—the ants that infiltrate the kitchen but shun cinnamon, doggedly swarming up the wall. I am reading words I have read before, knowing they will mean something else now. I am turning the page.

How lush the world is, / how full of things that don’t belong to me—”

***

“it might be years / before you turn and stop, startled / by the sweet and sudden smell of sheets snapping / in the sun, and the drunken lilac, prairie purple, / blooming, by the doorway, because you planted it” Marie Howe, “Keeping Still”

***

Ammi: known as false Queen Anne’s lace or bishop’s weed, a member of the carrot family, a cold-tolerant wildflower, that which constitutes the field; when its unassuming sap meets human skin in sunlight, it can scar and blister for months…

***

“even / a small purple artichoke / boiled / in its own bittered / and darkening / waters / grows tender, / grows tender and sweet / patience, I think, / my species / keep testing the spiny leaves / the spiny heart” —Jane Hirshfield, “My Species”

***

One day of sun, and the world is pure again—it has aspirations. My tote bag crunches rhythmically, the spoils of a picnic grocery run shuffling for space. I am here and here and here. I am far from where I envisioned; I am exactly where I started; I am where I am meant to be.

I am a shadow, moving. My presence here evokes an absence elsewhere, and I see my silhouette bob along the leaves and friends of weeds, across from the cemetery walls too high to climb.

***

“But this morning, a kind day has descended, from nowhere, / and making coffee in the usual way, measuring grounds / with the wooden spoon, I remembered, / this is how things happen, cup by cup, familiar gesture / after gesture, what else can we know of safety / or of fruitfulness?” —Marie Howe, “From Nowhere”

***

On the pier, we nibbled snacks like unanticipated communion—a punnet of blueberries and a delicious orange olive oil doughnut, drawn and quartered. One of our napkins blew into the lake, scarcely a lake but a sea, though I soon leaned over to fetch it as we laughed and a watching man on the shore gave us an enthusiastic thumbs up. I have a theory that perhaps the world awakens at sunset; regardless, we were thinking more than ever of color then. You said I am the grey-blue of my eyes, notes assuring calm and clarity. You are harder to place, the effervescent orange and fuchsia of hibiscus and California poppies. Life is but moments: moments destined to end, moments destined to be lived a hundred times over.

***

Words scribbled, prophetic, in the beginning of May: “May something come of my emptiness. May the Lord make more of my emptiness than I could with my fullness.”

celandine green

“It’s all with me,” I think. Nothing of necessity has been left behind, despite the phantom fear of loss. Four trains later, Cambridge. Squinting into the sun against my hand, the act creates a tilting plane; devoted light, travelling far, flows around and through.

***

“Life has suddenly become overcrowded. Too many people I can care for are swarming in and filling up my chest. Too many things I want to do are rushing headlong into my new life for reasons unknown to me. All of a sudden my new life is like a field overgrown with strange flowers and exotic grasses or the shimmering, starry sky of my unbridled imagination…” -Qiu Miaojin, Last Words from Montmartre, 30

***

The child tilts forward too fully, face pressed to the daffodil without restraint. His mother laughs and laughs, and I chuckle too, mere passerby to the scene. A robin perches along the path, assessing me from its twig, and I want to reach out, could almost bridge the distance, but I know the gesture would rupture the magic and I would lose its intelligent gaze. I would miss what it might dare to call to within myself. I feel such a well of love towards such things, towards the small woman with the cane in the gallery. She enters and her phone begins to ring, a tinkling music box melody. When she answers, her voice is surprisingly strong and merry, and I glance up from Woolf’s On Being Ill. The division of body and mind, illness as opening a place of interiority. “You’ve caught me at a very good place,” the woman says.

***

“Spring, summer, autumn, winter: / each season brings / its particular birds, whom I feed with crumbs. / …I am alone, I write nothing, / I thank / the gods for this great breadth / of empty light.” -Denise Levertov, “The Poet’s Late Autumn”

***

Regardless of season, the river keeps rushing, and my life decidedly means both everything and nothing. It is the greatest mystery and boundless act of hope. There was ice here before, in that other life. Winter. I remember a tender breaking, the musicality and abstraction of pools divided into fractals. Upon them lies no reflection, no finite substantiation.

***

“God hid himself so that the world could be seen / if he’d made himself known there would only be him / and who in his presence would notice the ant / […] love that is invisible / hides nothing” -Jan Twardowski, “The World”

***

In the atrium filling with shadows, I set down my teacup with a clatter.

Jià 嫁, meaning: to marry out of one’s home.

Gei 给, meaning: to give, given.

Qǔ 娶, meaning: to take a bride.

In Mandarin, men take a bride; women are given, poured out, no longer belonging, a farewell.

“After the ceremony, the bride’s family empties a pail of water as the couple departs,” she explains.

“Why? Is that a form of purification ritual?”

“No, no. It’s a very bittersweet moment. The water from the pail can never return.”

***

There is something even about bitterness that is sweet to me now. Is that what growing up means? To begin to savor all, praising a thing precisely for its absence, realizing what it is not and that this opposite has already been yours in a myriad of ways. The juxtaposition had its joys too, its shortcomings. After years of shunning espresso, now I make the pilgrimage to my local café and order a flat white or a latte and sit, expectant. Last time, the barista, mug in hand, winked at me across the room rather than shouting my name, and I smiled. It was not even the promise of something; it was the assurance of being seen.

***

“This earth, our only / This four-cornered honeycomb / Flooded with nectar and tombed / Foolishly, as bees drown / Tipsy on the sweetness of our little apocalypse / She spoke the Lord’s words without looking / Sound of sandpaper and butter over heat / Sound of butterflies landing / Sound of sweet pea and peony” -Sarah Beth Spraggins, “Crescent”

***

National COVID Memorial Wall, London: Along the Thames, the painted scarlet hearts stretch onward for blocks amid wilted bouquets, tealights, and Sharpie scrawlings: Always in our hearts. Darling. Loved and missed forever. Mum. I’m sorry you died alone. I miss you every day. Grandad. Rest in peace. An extraordinary man. In loving memory. No matter what. Remember them. A year after its creation, so many hearts are empty; so many are full.

***

“Near the wall of a house painted / to look like stone, / I saw visions of God. / […] Love is not the last room: there are others / after it, the whole length of the corridor / that has no end.” -Yehuda Amichai, “Near the Wall of a House”

***

There is a softness I know / and another I might be— / this is an endless parting.

***

In the crisp evening, shivering beneath my coat, a book nestled beneath my arm, the thought arrived. I was unprepared. I had been waiting, mesmerized by illuminated windows.

I’m going to write a novel.

***

By the river, your fingertips rest upon my shoulder, and I am so thankful. To be here. A friend.

chimera, subdued

No one ever leaves me. On the street, almost daily, I pause for a second glance. Even in this city an ocean away, I see lookalikes of old professors and classmates and friends. My heart skips. Often, I want to call out, wondering if by some miracle their name might be the same. How heavy, how wonderful this burden. This is a tale I am telling myself.

***

Walking through the valley of snowdrops, the forest looked so much like childhood. Moving among wilted leaves and fresh shoots, our guide was singing in French: Bois epais redouble ton ombre / Tu ne saurais etre assez sombre / Tu ne peux trop cacher / Mon malheureux amour. (In English, “Somber woods, double your shadow. You cannot be dark enough. You cannot hide enough my ill-fated love.”)

***

“The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much [manna], some little. And when they measured it by the omer, the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little. Everyone had gathered just as much as they needed. Then Moses said to them, ‘No one is to keep any of it until morning.’ However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell.” -Exodus 16:17-20

A lesson I will learn someday: when a good gift is kept beyond its intended time, it rots.

***

It’s Tuesday. I’m in the city, and I’m alive. I repeat this internally to the beat of my footsteps, without knowing why and without ceasing for blocks. Placement. A sense of orientation. Where am I in time, in place, in light of eternity? Richard Siken’s words, singing: “From the landscape: a sense of scale.”

***

With my students, I try so hard to explain, distilling wonder into theories and graphs. It’s as if the earth itself is a magnet. It has two poles, right? North and south. When you use your compass, you tap into this magnetic force, this relationship already existing. You navigate with what comes from the earth’s core, but it’s all around you. Powerful and invisible, sensed but not seen.

I miss the little girl who once asked me how each flower receives its color.

***

Glancing up from my laptop, I see a fox in the dark of the garden, its nose almost pressed against the glass of my window. Dully, thinking of London, my brain murmurs, “I didn’t know they were here too.” As soon as our eyes meet, it is gone—its tail a flicker in the night. I am terrible at endings.

***

“Called to, a thousand times, I never looked back. / At fifteen I stopped scowling, / I desired my dust to be mingled with yours / Forever and forever, and forever… / The paired butterflies are already yellow with August / Over the grass in the West garden; / They hurt me. / I grow older. / If you are coming down through the narrows of the river Kiang, / Please let me know beforehand, / And I will come out to meet you / As far as Chō-fū-Sa.” -Li Bai, “The River-Merchant’s Wife: A Letter” (translated by Ezra Pound)

“So, which line is the decisive line?” Her gentle gaze meets mine across the table, “The final one. She loves him without losing herself. She says, ‘I will love you, but only this far.'”

***

“It’s good to remember how to forget. I’m interested in the oral tradition: what keeps the poems alive is a little forgetting. In Homer, you get the sense that anything could happen because the poet might not remember.” -Alice Oswald

***

“Two sons were born to Joseph by Asenath… Joseph named his firstborn Manaseh and said, ‘It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and my father’s household.’ The second son he named Ephraim and said, ‘It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.'” -Genesis 41:51

In all my terror of remembering and yearning to be remembered, I forgot forgetting can be a kindness. Forgetting as a harbinger of fruitfulness, as a mercy to the body and mind.

***

“My body / able to respond again, remembering / after so long how to open again / in the cold light / of earliest spring— / afraid, yes, but among you again / crying yes risk joy / in the raw wind of the new world.” -Louise Glück, “Snowdrops”

I am trusting in dividends beyond what I can see.

starling murmuration

These words have been fully formed since October, but I felt they needed a little extra time to incubate. As I walked the streets of Edinburgh a few days ago, I spotted starlings coalescing over rooftops, swirling in shapes and mystery—there for a moment and then gone. Quietly, strangely, I knew it was time.

“To love God through and across the destruction of Troy and of Carthage—and with no consolation. Love is not consolation, it is light.” -Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace

***

The two small children, boy and girl, screech in glee as they race each other across the grass. Their mother follows behind as they raucously, inevitably, stray too far. They are babbling cheerily and pointing at the towering buildings as bees rustle in the flowers. The mother takes their hands, leading them away from my perch on the stone steps and the book I’ve glanced up from in enchanted interest. She smiles apologetically, “I’m sorry. I hope you didn’t come here for peace.” I smile and try to reassure her that all is well. I want to say: No, I did not come here for peace at all. I’ve seen enough of that.

***

Second rain. Is there a word for the drops that fall from trees, belated and too soon? When the clouds have parted and drifting passerby are caught unawares. I cannot help but flinch as a cold droplet falls upon my head, betrayed even as the sun peeks through truant autumn leavesthese boughs, a vessel of shelter then exposure. I think of how God must feel all of our suffering firsthow He has and didages before it reaches us and again when we meet.

***

It spins like a wheel inside you: green yellow, green blue,
green beautiful green.
It’s simple: it isn’t over, it’s just begun. It’s green. It’s still green.
-Richard Siken, “Meanwhile”

***

Illness. Ache in the chest. Do not bend, do not speak.

Listless, in bed, a return to Plath’s “Fever 103°:”

“Love, love, the low smokes roll
From me like Isadora’s scarves…

Darling, all night
I have been flickering, off, on, off, on…

I am too pure for you or anyone.
Your body
Hurts me as the world hurts God. I am a lantern——

Does not my heat astound you! And my light!
All by myself I am a huge camellia
Glowing and coming and going, flush on flush.”

***

Solace:

If I am sad, I can walk in any direction and find a bookshop, a church, a sculpture, a garden.

***

Praise God for bookshops with interminable hallways, slanted stacks, and mysterious basement catacombs. Praise God for conversations on Woolf and contemporary poetry. Praise God for all of the friends I haven’t met yet, for a family that can be hinted even in a day. Praise God for the grace in offering a teapot, a cup, the everyday mercy of honey dissolving in tea. Praise God for and through the hardest no. “It’s a shame as I’m sure you would have been a great success.”

***

“How privileged you are, to be passionately / clinging to what you love; / the forfeit of hope has not destroyed you. / Maestoso, doloroso: / This is the light of autumn; it has turned on us. / Surely it is a privilege to approach the end / still believing in something.” -Louise Glück, “October”

***

to desire / to turn

“Instead of ‘desire,’ [Katherine Bushnell] preferred to translate the word in Genesis 3:16 as ‘turning.'” –The Making of Biblical Womanhood, Beth Allison Barr

[Middle English desiren, from Old French desirer, from Latin dēsīderāre, to observe or feel the absence of, miss, desire : dē-, de- + sīderāre (as in cōnsīderāre, to observe attentively, contemplate)]

The original sense perhaps being “await what the stars will bring,” from the phrase de sidere “from the stars,” from sidus (genitive sideris) “heavenly body, star, constellation.”

***

Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
. -T.S. Eliot, “Ash Wednesday”

***

In the dream, I am a filmstar and the scene begins and I don’t know any of my lines, never knew them to begin with. In the dream, there is a murder to solve and a house of many corridors and something lurking in the shadows. In the dream, we are slow dancing in an empty room and tears begin to fall silently, abstract on your shoulder.

***

“The train to Aberdeen is delayed. This is due to… a person being hit by a train.” The automated voice ricochets, repeating its dirge over and over at intervals, bluntly, blindly. “They really don’t need to say that every time, do they?” the older woman next to me murmurs on the platform. As strangers, we exist in the shadow of grief, a forlorn obituary for the unknown traveller.

***

Siken’s “Scheherazade” plays often in the background of my mind, pure autumn notes:

“Tell me about the dream where we pull the bodies out of the lake
and dress them in warm clothes again.
How it was late, and no one could sleep, the horses running
until they forget that they are horses.
It’s not like a tree where the roots have to end somewhere,
it’s more like a song on a policeman’s radio,
how we rolled up the carpet so we could dance, and the days
were bright red, and every time we kissed there was another apple
to slice into pieces.
Look at the light through the windowpane. That means it’s noon, that means
we’re inconsolable.
Tell me how all this, and love too, will ruin us.
These, our bodies, possessed by light.
Tell me we’ll never get used to it.”

dewdrop architecture

It is the weather for dreaming, for forsaking obligation,

for hiking one’s skirt above the knees, for basking in the sun.

Give me my girlhood again, freckles and scarred knee, with calloused bare feet and eyes bright.

I’ve read the dictionary through, and, all things considered, I would rather be a rainstorm.

***

“And when they fly an airplane, they use something called a gyroscope,” the old man explains to the little boy. The canal is blinding in the sun, and two women are paddling a kayak, chatting about a garden party. I walk without a sense of destination, passing sunbathers in parks and small dogs. It is enough to exist on an unsullied afternoon, to drift in spite of self. The houseboats bob gently, and church steeples rise above the fronds at the water’s edge. Seated under the bridge, a group of men are speaking an unfamiliar language as they eat their lunch, and I rest in the words I cannot understand, in the sweetness of language as muffled melody, free from connotation. And the Word was good, the reversal of polarity guiding me homeward.

Precession – a change in the direction of the axis of a rotating object, as seen in gyroscopes

***

We stumble over the term, squinting in the sun. Désindustrialisation. Cognates, but the cadence is different between our languages. “Deindustrialization,” I say to her, noting the crisp rise and fall. Then, j’essaie in French, syllable by syllable. The ending is familiar, but, somewhere in the middle, the word becomes unwieldy in my mouth. The mind falters. We are like children then, laughing and puckering our lips and slowly pondering the unsayable.

***

When I desire to unlock my front door with the glacial key, I must unpack everything else first—the lanyard perpetually moored in the bottom of my tote bag. Rummaging, then removing: water bottle, books, wallet, laptop. These relics sit in scattered array on the ground as I fumble for a glimpse of Monet’s waterlilies, plumbing the depths of receipts and tissues. My Eiffel Tower charm is gone; it fell off weeks ago. And isn’t it always the same? Before entering every new thing, I have to remove the old, feel its heft, examine what is left and why. Who was I then? Who am I now? What do I want? What am I carrying? I know how to twist the skeleton key now, the proper flick of the wrist. A trick that took me ages. Can you tell me if there is any other way?

***

Tell me what you know of rot. The phrase births from nowhere and haunts me for days, demanding tribute. I am scribbling on the back of an envelope in the hushed library. My feet pounding on the pavement. I am sprinkling sugar over sickly fruit. Plath’s wedding ring is up for auction, and, in the case of unlimited funds, I would buy the letter she wrote Ted on her typewriter: “A clear miraculous guileless blue day with heather-colored asters, shining chestnuts breaking from green pods (I wait till after dark to collect these) and rooks clacking like bright scraped metal; I find myself walking straight, talking incessantly to you and myself… I have very simply never felt this way before, and what I and we must do is fight and live with these floods of strange feeling; my whole life, being, breathing, thinking, sleeping, and eating, has somehow, in the course of these last months, become indissolubly welded to you… I love you like fury.”

***

I shelter beneath the canopy of giant prehistoric plants, maneuvering carefully to avoid the barbs and thorns that snatch. I am chlorophyll-stained with light in the dress with the mended sleeve. “You’re green,” he says suddenly with a laugh, looking up from the camera. An unearthly emerald halo filters through the leaves, and I sneeze for the rest of the afternoon, baptized in pollen. Seek me in gilded gardens, vines unfurling like hidden ink in candlelight.

star shatter

welcomed, born without invitation

entering into inevitable dance,

stumbling, beckoned further than thought,

held, awakened to the sound

of a new tomorrow, trembling.

you said “fear not.”

you said “be still.”

and I recall something: a not yet.

so why all this star shatter,

why quake and thrill,

why the abysmal chatter?

why Hemingway and orchids,

bee buzz and dark matter?

motion and light quickening,

racing into piercing darkness

perhaps not dark at all

but merely such brightness

we are blinded and know no more.

Anthem of a Finite Forever

The second part of the French musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964):

L’absence.

The film has been described by critic Jim Ridley as containing an “anthem of a finite forever and an eternally preserved present that never loses its ache.”

***

“Catch if you can your country’s moment, begin / where any calendar’s ripped off.”

—Adrienne Rich, “An Atlas of the Difficult World,” Later Poems (1971-2012)

***

A Black woman passes by the two of us as we are seated on a patch of grass, our eyes trained on the vacant sky expectantly. She walks along slowly, coming to a halt further down the sidewalk and keeping her distance all the while. A babbling family with two dogs, one large and one small, does not. After the fireworks begin, crescendos of red and green and blue interspersed with shimmering showers of gold, I glance over at her again. Her mask, printed with the American flag, hangs limply from one ear. In her left hand, she is holding a cigarette, which she brings to her lips before exhaling slow. In the right, a drink with ice cubes that tinkle lightly against the glass rim. The smoke begins to mingle with the haze from the fireworks, and the full moon looks on overhead. (I would later learn it was a “buck moon” and that the evening held a lunar eclipse and the planetary nearness of Jupiter etched in the night sky.) The scattered groups around us hum and buzz and cheer, but she remains steadfast and silent, gazing at the explosions as if she has already felt them somewhere in her very marrow. As if they have nothing to teach her. She is unmoved or, perhaps, only mildly thoughtful. Cars begin to stop haphazardly in the middle of the street as drivers whip out their iPhones from warm denim pockets, aiming to capture their next Instagram story. All I can think is “This does not feel like the land of the free. Not yet.” and “Why must protection and poison follow each other so closely?”

***

“I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of your glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice; I must mourn…”               —Frederick Douglass, July 5, 1852

***

We pace around our city, heads bowed. We pray. We worship. Then, we are told to clap for the police officers surrounding the perimeter of the State Capitol, to thank them for their sacrifice. The Black woman beside me does not move, keeping a steely gaze, her hands in fists. Dignified. Outraged. My hands—a flurry of motion—numb.

***

“The cross and the lynching tree interpret each other. Both were public spectacles, shameful events, instruments of punishment reserved for the most despised people in society. Any genuine theology and any genuine preaching of the Christian gospel must be measured against the test of the scandal of the cross and the lynching tree. ‘Jesus did not die a gentle death like Socrates, with his cup of hemlock….Rather, he died like a [lynched black victim] or a common [black] criminal in torment, on the tree of shame.’ The crowd’s shout ‘Crucify him!’ (Mk 15:14) anticipated the white mob’s shout ‘Lynch him!’ Jesus’ agonizing final cry of abandonment from the cross, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Mk 15:34), was similar to the lynched victim Sam Hose’s awful scream as he drew his last breath, ‘Oh, my God! Oh, Jesus.’ In each case it was a cruel, agonizing, and contemptible death.” ―James Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree

***

There is a balm in Gilead
to make the wounded whole;
there is a balm in Gilead
to heal the sin-sick soul.

Sometimes I feel discouraged
and think my work’s in vain,
but then the Holy Spirit
revives my soul again.

***

A church sign spotted beside a winding serpentine road, homeward bound:

“He is in the searching and the waiting. He is in the suffering and the healing.”

healing: midsummer

“I think that I am here, on this earth, / To present a report on it, but to whom I do not know. / As if I were sent so that whatever takes place / Has meaning because it changes into memory.” —Czeslaw Milosz, Unattainable Earth

***

Every summer, I scuttle down the front porch steps without shoes, propelling myself towards our gravel driveway, where I make my way tentatively over the crumbled, jagged forms of scattered copper rocks. By the end of the season, the soles of my feet become calloused and strong, and I stride without wincing, without any hesitation.

***

The thing I remember is the feeling of dirt beneath my feet. Stepping gingerly into the garage, looking for a terra cotta pot or the like, I had left my sandals inside. After scanning the laden shelves, I noticed a tin watering can with a withered brown plant inside. We quickly removed these brittle remains, and the budding green thyme plant nestled itself happily within its abode, supplied with new soil. It overspilled its bounds.

***

“All that matters is to be at one with the living God / to be a creature in the house of the God of Life. / Like a cat asleep on a chair / at peace, in peace… / feeling the presence of the living God / like a great assurance / a deep calm in the heart.” —D.H. Lawrence

***

Inbox (1 unread): “Dear Mattea, I am delighted to inform you that your scholarship application has now been processed, and you have been granted a postgraduate award in the School of Art History. Congratulations! If you have any further queries, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.”

***

Juneteenth: an annual holiday observing the end of slavery in the U.S. and marking the day—June 19, 1865—when the news of emancipation reached people in the deepest parts of the former Confederacy in Galveston, Texas. They had been free for two years. They just didn’t know it yet. Their lived reality didn’t align with the words scrawled upon the page, skeletal, black upon white—by a man who confessed he cared more about saving the Union than he ever did about slaves. On September 18, 1858, Lincoln assured an audience: “I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races.” No right to vote, to serve on juries, to hold office, or to interracially marry. Who decides what freedom looks like and when it is won?

***

Memento (2000):  “How am I supposed to heal if I can’t feel time?”

***

To the gentle baker who remembered my name after only meeting me once, the one with the gentle eyes, the one who insists that I take a box of pastries home with me after my shift so they will not go to waste: thank you. I wish the world was wholly made up of such kindnesses.

***

I am reading, and I am waiting. I am healing. Colette, Annie Dillard, then Fitzgerald. This chapter of untethered postgrad life with abundant time for contemplation has awakened me to the deep need for healing in my own life—in areas I thought I had already surrendered, in issues I thought I had processed and put behind me long ago. I have also had my eyes opened anew to the desperate need for healing and reform throughout my own nation. My heart is heavy, but this is no excuse to turn away. Each Instagram story is the face of a precious child of God we have lost too soon, a linked resource, a petition, a plea. So I read up on environmental racism, dietary racism, misogynoir, police brutality, and the intersection of race and mental health stigma. What is the difference between simply breaking and breakthrough? How can we make this last? What seeds are we planting? What will they become? How many will stay to tend the garden and how many will be left to partake of the fruit? I’ve been clinging to a quote by Rilke about loving all our unresolved questions so we can live into the answers. Lord, come.

attention, art, & love: quarantine thoughts

“The mystics say you are as close as my own breath.
Why do I flee from you?

My days and nights pour through me like complaints
and become a story I forgot to tell.

Help me. Even as I write these words I am planning
to rise from the chair as soon as I finish this sentence.” —Marie Howe

***

“Daddy, she looks like a good person. Doesn’t she look like a good person?” The little boy chattering in the Target shopping cart, gripping a toy shaped like a beige egg, suddenly turns his clairvoyant eyes towards me. A good person. I smile broadly behind the gray confines of my mask and hope that a timid wave and a softening in my eyes can somehow be enough to convey a burst of joy. Soon, their cart rolls out of view, and I realize with a start that I will never know what was trapped within that egg, aching to emerge.

***

“Art. Love. What’s the difference, really?” My friend says with a shrug, and when he smiles his eyes crumple into celebratory lines, like confetti mid-descent.

***

A few nights back, I had a dream that I was running, breathless, from something or someone. The only shelter was the church ahead, but I was barefoot; I couldn’t enter without shoes. My friend appeared in an adjacent doorway and kindly gave me his sneakers without a second thought. I rushed inside, only to see a face turn away in hurt.

***

December 9th, 2019:

“I bumped into a friend today, dressed brightly and carrying an umbrella. I rushed over to huddle under too, and we laughed when it bopped my head. We spoke of those graduating in December and exchanged a mutual frazzled look. We both expressed how charmed we are to be waiting ’till May, delaying the inevitable, taking our time with growing old. We parted ways. The rain fell.

Now I am sitting at Blackberry Market, and, though it is echoey and empty and strange, it is altogether like a second home. I think the baristas know me (embarrassing or flattering?) and my signature mug by now. I’ve settled in, to this seat, yes, but also here at large. It is making sense to me now. I drove friends to the store yesterday and knew the twists and turns and street names—no GPS needed. More friends stayed in my apartment until 2:00 am because they couldn’t bear to leave; they told me it felt like home, and I could see in their eyes that they were hungry for belonging. We listened to my Frank Sinatra Christmas vinyl and jazz and then fell into comfortable, companionable silence. I went off to bed, and a few still lingered there. As I drifted off to sleep, I bemusedly thought about this feeling—like that of a parent with children sleeping over. I fell asleep to the lullaby of whispered conversation and spurts of contained laughter. Tenderness.”

***

Lady Bird: “Well, I was just describing it.”

Sister Sarah Joan: “Well, it comes across as love.”

Lady Bird: “Sure, I guess I pay attention.”

Sister Sarah Joan: “Don’t you think they’re the same thing? Love and attention?”

***

January 13th, 2020, four months ago, first day of final semester:

“I make small talk with the girl beside me at the CPO window. We shared a ride together once from Midway; her friend drove us and insisted on me not paying. I smile and turn to leave, and she shouts after me: ‘Take care!’ I didn’t expect it, but it rings in my ears as I step out into the grey afternoon.

I drive to Twice as Nice and find that the dress I’ve been pining over for weeks is gone. I buy a cozy grey sweater instead and pay in all quarters. The woman at the register excitedly exclaims that they are just what she needs. She is almost out of quarters, she says. And pennies.

We are always filling in the gaps, whether we know it or not. I am amazed today by how we are able to be so many things to so many people, shifting and morphing in and out—how God stitches us into the complexity of His story. We may never know when our presence, our words, or our actions turn out to be exactly what someone else needs.

Earlier, in chapel, Dr. Ryken said, ‘It is when we reach the end of our own limited resources that God is able to do all that He can do.'”

***

“We have so little of each other, now… Only these brief moments of exchange. What if they are the true dwelling of the holy? These fleeting temples we make together when we say, ‘Here, have my seat,’ ‘Go ahead—you first,’ ‘I like your hat.'”—Danusha Lameris

***

Another dream: On a road trip, I suddenly realized my luggage had mysteriously vanished from the car. Then, I could see it, there, waiting for me along the sidewalk. We were in bumper-to-bumper traffic, so I jumped out of the vehicle and barreled after it. The black form kept getting further and further away, and I turned to see the car had left me behind.

***

JO: “Perhaps… perhaps I was too quick in turning him down.”

MARMEE: “Do you love him?”

JO: “If he asked me again, I think I would say yes… Do you think he’ll ask me again?”

MARMEE: “But do you love him?”

JO (tearing up): “I care more to be loved. I want to be loved.”

MARMEE: “That is not the same as loving.”

JO (crying, trying to explain herself to herself): “You know, I just feel like women… they have minds and they have souls, as well as just hearts. And they’ve got ambition and they’ve got talent, as well as just beauty. And I’m so sick of people saying that love is just all a woman is fit for. I’m so sick of it, but… I am so lonely.”

***

“I know you are reading this poem / as the underground train loses momentum and before running / up the stairs / toward a new kind of love. / I know you are reading this poem listening for something torn / between bitterness and hope / turning back once again to the task you cannot refuse. / I know you are reading this poem because there is nothing else / left to read.” —Adrienne Rich

very blessed

“I’m very blessed,” you say over the phone and mean it.

It is Good Friday, and one of the lines from Eliot’s “East Coker” has been ricocheting in your mind for hours. Last year, you knelt before the cross after a three hour long service and cried. Your hand was over your friend’s. A stranger’s cupped your own. His body was broken. Crumbled bread, spilled wine. Your body felt broken, limping slightly towards the stage with a tender inevitability. You have been thinking about lost things and about how Eliot, regardless of your own opinions about his overly-lauded oeuvre, is a prophet. A month from now, graduation. A month ago, Scotland. A kind of eternity between.

“Beneath the bleeding hands we feel

The sharp compassion of the healer’s art

Resolving the enigma of the fever chart…

To be restored, our sickness must grow worse.

The whole earth is our hospital

Endowed by the ruined millionaire,

Wherein, if we do well, we shall

Die of the absolute paternal care

That will not leave us, but prevents us everywhere…

The dripping blood our only drink,

The bloody flesh our only food:

In spite of which we like to think

That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood—

Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.” — T.S. Eliot, “East Coker”

4.10.20

the curvature of a spotted feline back

shudders against crossed legs. she is

asleep, purring and dream-twitching.

very blessed. you remember in physics

learning about sound waves, how the hum

of a cat’s purr has special healing properties,

can strengthen bones, lessen the risk of heart attack,

abiding within the frequencies of 20-140 Hertz.

very blessed. like the berries, cherries, and peaches

blending together just right to bless the body.

like the long-awaited phone call, like light streaming

through the window onto these small potted plants,

as they reach heavenward, grow without striving.