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.

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.

sweetbitter (4/1/20)

Happy National Poetry Month!

meditation #1:

a handful of berries in the morning,

bitter then sweet in alternating grace.

they lie, smooth as pebbles, trembling slow.

these are the days that must happen to you,

and these are the fruits placed in front of us:

the chaff and Chaucer’s sentence al sooth.

you are you, neither Socrates nor Persephone.

you are the grinning totem, the lodestar.

 

so the sunlight falls across us in waves,

cleansing us for we expect nothing in particular,

tugging us nearer to the start of all things,

and nearer still to the stirring of branches above,

of wildflower yearning and velvet bees abuzz.

in the realm of sweetbitter, think not of me.

isolation & the in-between

“The world has been turned upside down.” Everyone keeps saying this, and I acknowledge the rattled sentiment — I feel it too — but something isn’t quite right about the statement’s rise and fall. Then again, I’ve always been too particular about words. What would I prefer? I have no exact answer, not yet. Perhaps: The world has been adjusted to some inferior angle. Tilted just so. While everything at first glance appears remarkably familiar and mundane, all of the books are slipping off of shelves. The plates and cups are tumbling, shattering upon the floor. A disturbance subtle but devastating. People must grope their way forward, clutching slanted walls and doorknobs, tripping, alone, in slow motion.

✤ ✤ ✤

Nature is winning our staring contest. I awoke the other morning, startled to see a stink bug atop one of my grey pillows, its antennae bobbing up and down. Its gaze was level with my own, and we remained in a cocoon of silence — until I rolled out of bed, unnerved. I did not see it again. This happened with a bird also. Perhaps it was the mockingbird that lives in the magnolia tree outside and sings at all hours. It was there, in the rain, when I arose, looking in from its perch outside my window. When it saw its gaze was now returned, it departed in a wingbeat. Is it an intimacy to be so surveyed?

✤ ✤ ✤

I miss my roommate and I’s shared silence. She would awake early to an alarm that sounded like birdsong and slip into the kitchen to eat the oatmeal she set out in preparation the night before. She would sip her tea in the living room’s quietude. I would awake later to a song from Moonrise Kingdom, the instruments entering one by one, softly and then in crescendo. I’d grab a protein bar from the kitchen, then shower — with music if especially tired, maybe Tennis or the Pride & Prejudice soundtrack. Then, we would swap. She would use the bathroom to get ready while I had my tea and put on my makeup. Such simple, seamless formulas. I did not realize until the end how gorgeous the morning light was, filtering through our sheer white curtains. I remember how we both giggled, eyes wide, when we looked around the bare room at first, tallying what we would need, and spoke in unison. Curtains? Yes. Added to the list. “Sheer.” We both said. A pause. “White?” She asked. I nodded, amazed, “Yes, you read my mind.”

✤ ✤ ✤

There is a cardinal that keeps flying into our downstairs windows. When I arrived home for quarantine, I was mystified by our house’s new haphazard decorations. My parents had crumpled up scrap paper into butterfly shapes, tying them to strings to hang outside. This effort, however, proved to be no deterrent for the persistent bird. I believe she is protecting her nest, though we have seen no sign of it. Perhaps she sees the glint of red in the window and rushes forward, in vain, towards herself, thinking she will defend her young. When I hear her slam against the glass, my heart sinks. At first, I was determined to charge forward each time she approached, distracting her and sending her flying away to safety. Now, I have grown tired. She will go away but always returns — thump, thump, thump. Maybe she has a death wish, but surely there are easier ways to die.

✤ ✤ ✤

What is a group of ladybugs called? I Google. A loveliness. A group of ladybugs is called a loveliness. I really cannot believe I didn’t come across this knowledge earlier. Well, the loveliness of ladybugs will not leave my bedroom. They fly into my hair with a low hum and fall into my tea whenever I leave a mug unattended. They gather on my windowpane as if in gossip and circle each other like bumper cars, buzzing when they happen to meet. I desperately want to like them, but I can only think of the odd pink ladybug that bit me on the arm as a child.

✤ ✤ ✤

I read a thread on Twitter from a historian in Boston encouraging people to document these tumultuous times, especially women. “You are living through a major historical event.” To do so digitally is acceptable, but writing with paper and pen is preferred. You can donate the diaries to archives when you die. “Personal stories don’t make it into the history books unless people are writing them down in the first place.” So, I suppose I am writing for me and for her and her and her. “Throughout history, women’s letters and journals often provided the only real information of their lives in different eras.”

✤ ✤ ✤

Just in case. We go just in case, driving to the small building on the outskirts of town, guided by the orange traffic cones. The cough has lingered for a week. No fever. It is raining hard, and the nurse approaches with a black umbrella. She asks a few basic questions and writes my name down incorrectly. Matteo. Another nurse approaches, the one who will perform the deed, and asks me to tilt my car seat back. We have had the car for years, but still I fumble along the side of the seat, confused. A single lever. Nothing works. The nurse sighs behind her mask. “That’s okay. I just wanted to make it easier.” The panic begins to flutter, vacillating just below the surface. So, now it will not be easy. “Can you take your glasses off, sweetie?” I do, folding them up slowly and feeling more naked and defenseless by the moment. She wants to start with the left nostril first, and this, for some reason, throws me off guard. Why the left? I’m left-handed. I want to blurt out, as if that makes any difference. Does that mean it should be the opposite order? I am so used to things being opposite what they are. I clutch the notch in the car door and brace myself, but I am not prepared. The entire process burns, and I can feel myself pulling away, giving in to some inner instinctual part of me born to protect from pain. The seconds stretch on. It feels as if she is reaching upwards towards my brain, like a stubborn parasite. Once she is done with the left, she says the right nostril must follow, with the same oozing swab. This side is somehow worse, and, later, I spot blood on my tissue when I sneeze. A constant metallic smell. I thank the nurse, several times, though I am not sure how I form the words to do so. As we pull away, some strange tide within me surges upwards, and I collapse into sobs. I do not know why I am crying, and this alarm only makes me cry more. I think there is something about the process of taking that demolishes me inside. Blood samples. My wisdom teeth. It is all the same. Each time, my body fights. My body loses. It mourns in waves.

✤ ✤ ✤

Dodie sings softly live, strumming her ukulele on my phone screen. A friend leads an impromptu worship session with her husband. I realize more than ever that there are bridges spanning all these isolated in-betweens. “Find comfort in that we are all in the house of God.” The pastor says on Sunday, “One house with many rooms.”

Holy Week: Curious Communion

The wind skimmed over the lake and tousled our hair, tugging at our billowy clothes and uniting us all in a delicious shiver. There would have been the linger of a characteristic Chicago chill if there had been no sun, but, praise God, the sun made a triumphant appearance for the first time in ages, and we were eager sunbathers, spread out upon the soft picnic blanket like languid tortoises. Everything was adazzle — the concave landscape, the bottle of sparkling cider, the slim, mature glasses we borrowed and tried so very hard not to break, us. We were incandescently alive in the fullest springtime sense: doubled over with laugher and squinting amiably with uplifted hands to block the sun’s rays or wave at passing dogs tethered to their owners as we talked about the future in between fistfuls of ripe blueberries. We had all brought what we could, each person with something unique to offer; it was not much to behold, but it was a merry little feast, steeped in gratitude. It has been ever on my mind since — the preparation, the retrieval, the unfurling, the reveal. I had wrapped the delicate glasses tenderly in white cloth to prevent their clinking and rolling and the blueberries from leaking violet. As I carefully unwrapped these picnic treasures and set aside the unsullied white linens, I couldn’t help but think of Easter and the empty tomb and the risen Christ, of a broken body and broken bread. How fitting that it was a blissful Sunday afternoon when we so unwittingly partook of our curious communion. I recently read (and deeply enjoyed) Andre Dubus’ Meditations from a Movable Chair, in which he writes, “The Communion is with us and it is ordinary. To me, that is the essential beauty: we receive it with wandering minds, and distracted flesh, in the same way we receive the sun and sky… The Communion with God is simple so we will not be dazzled; so we can eat and drink His love and still go about our lives; so our souls will burn slowly rather than blaze.”

Attrition & Acquisition

Chasm

I now see that you have become fluent

in a language I cannot communicate in.

Though I pause and murmur and laugh,

all these signs and symbols

are jarringly out of tune,

                                                         disjointed,

reeking of a foreign, clumsy tongue.

I am unversed in you now,

and it was not always so.


Chaos

We are perched on the edge of our seats

within a dim room, reverberating with rhythm.

Waiters bustle frantically by,

whirling our words into the shadows

where they feebly sink,

weighted down as soon as they are spoken.

When the blonde child at the adjacent table,

wiggling impatiently, abruptly turns,

wide-eyed with a clairvoyant honesty,

what can I do but shiver to my very soul?


Companionship

Honey, drizzled across my fingertips,

cascades lazily into the fragrant tea below.

The blonde girl before me abruptly turns,

brightly smiling and petite —

faerie-like in the sense of her smallness

and the ethereal way she glows and moves.

She should be elsewhere, but she is here.

A cheerful introduction, and then I know:

we speak the same language.

Meet Me Next to the Nymphéas

My feet know the way,

and I trust them.

It is a humble, everyday sort of magic, I suppose.

And so, at last, with their guidance, I wander into the hushed gallery

and am bewitched afresh — utterly, completely, hopelessly.

My eyes blur with sudden tears,

and I am alchemy of emotion.

I breathe in greens, lavenders, golds;

I exhale serenity.

Hello, old friend. It’s me. I’ve come to stay awhile.