Published: OVUNQUE SIAMO, NEW ITALIAN-AMERICAN WRITING

3/28/20            Disturbing, That…

everything is undisturbed, pared to singlehood and the craves we didn’t know we knew. Such as: absent others’ touch, what are we?

Does our skin not define us? We may puncture and burn it, and wound it with uncounted implements, meant for breaking us open or not, all the way to the top-most: heart broke by heart. Call this invasion and you would be correct.

But we also have openings meant to open. Consider the mouth, the lovely beloved. Where we lick up food and the foreign, nodule and the nod, and the virus, blindly and unconcernedly reducing us to children, abed while the rest outside call, “safe at home!” or “three strikes, you’re out!” They play while you loll, they grow while you stammer, they gulp cold milk while you fever. Sports are cancelled. School is cancelled. The big people have wrapped playgrounds off limits like warfare has struck there.

The world doesn’t care, and a virus doesn’t care. These disruptions are not about your feelings being hurt, it’s too late for polite back-tracking. “I’m sorry” is way past effective.

Pretend instead you’re traveling west, alone because that’s the way you must be now, crossing a bloated river, in a time long before we named Lake Meade and Flagstaff and Yellowstone. You can even call out “Old Faithful!” and see what sprouts from your puddling prayers and all the risk-aversion.

Sanitize, bleach-ify, codify, Covid-die. It can happen anywhere, and, no, we will not be the same. Don’t tell the children, though. Let them play till the shade grows a little deeper, while we keep looking for the Pacific, straight into the sun if we have to, making bets on who will sink first.

3/30/20            We Are Undisturbed…

and that’s most disturbing. Life keeps making things up, the world walks its progress. We wake up today, each day, and say, what will the weather be like and how’s the virus doing?

When I was young and trying hard, when I didn’t know, when I was almost 20, I wrote a poem titled “After God is Gone,” trying to be all apocalyptic, striving for the right word to evoke the exact, truest sense of dread. What did I know of dreadful? It was an act, trying to imagine the worst dread, an act, this writing. Who the hell does she think she is, this writer? She can write? Pfft.

The entire shift absented their posts, the hospital was in free-fall. Take one for the team. Take 100,000, and that’s on a good day. That will be a good day. Ophelia had flowers and her river, but, honest, we’re not crazy, just bored. And drowning in the masquerade.

Play another Don Henley song? No, it’s not the 80’s. But we need a soundtrack. The Corona silence is deafening. No traffic. No playgrounds. Not even a library hang-out for the homeless. Shark versus Bear. Tickle me. Oh, wait, six feet.

3/31/20            Disturbance…

in the force, the universe, the country, the virus. Yeah, the virus. Disturb the fucking virus right out of its membrane or shell or whatever surrounds it. Torpedo the torpedo. Make a big-ass explosion. A virus has no intent but its own survival. We, also.

There is a thread, and we may have lost it. Words mean nothing, and that’s hard for any writer to admit. Sense lies in what’s unspoken. The script bleeds on the page, pours out of our ears, a reverse King-Hamlet-poisoning. So step outside the words, read the white space, create the white space. Focus on what he can’t say, what she can’t say. Study silence.

4/1/20              Fools…

rush in. Or back off, don’t approach, fill the hall with negativity, deny what’s happening, what our eyes confirm. We know better. They know better. What’s in knowing? Know. Know. Know. Another one of those words said often enough it takes a form, parks alongside your cheek, it’s plowing the air right in front of your mouth, disking furrows deep and without yield. Nothing planted. The world has lost its seeds, or the seeds have transformed and what grows isn’t a crop anyone can swallow. Scour the field with your eyes, while the soles of your feet curl on the bump and clod of torn ground to keep balance, while a kerchief covers your lips, your breath, your gusting life.

4/2/20              Withdraw…

your claws, now, and I won’t tell a soul all the bad shit you’ve dragged across our porch. I’m hungry, you’re hungry and we’ll eat ourselves from the inside out if we have to. My belly’s already an inside out pouch, inverted marsupial mama. Check me for lint in the very bottom crease. Dr. Cassini told me long ago that lint between the toes, and elsewhere, in the creases, will break down the skin, especially newborn skin. But I’m so far from baby I wonder if his caution still applies. Things that used to be tried and true, all the rules, what we knew and abided by, they seem to have gone out the window. We have new rules; they make them for us. Six feet. Stay home. Teleconference. Binge watch or, hush, count your blessings, read a book, pray, walk in a circle in your own backyard. Look for your heart’s desire. Be Dorothy.

4/3/20              Outside…

the window, look outside where a day breaks open as blue and cloudless as September 11. I want to believe good of the startling blue, that the piercing new green everywhere bodes well and not ill, but the illness is hidden, the illness is covert, yes? Oh, may the plentiful fragrant wisteria mean something, a promise, a salve on the great big wounded world. All this beauty no guarantee against what’s ravaging, absent from my garden and my backyard, absent as I am absent, as we are all absent from one another, in the time of seclusion. I want to believe the robin pecking out a worm from the compost pile or from the middle of grass has found treasure and not poison. I want to believe people know what they’re doing, the people “in charge,” the ones who may or may not be keeping us from the true truth, who are very likely making bucks from illness and grief.

A recent meditation: Life is not about you. You are not the center, just as Copernicus corrected that the Earth was not the universe center. Life is not about me, I can only participate in Life, or God, or The Real—whatever you wish to call it. I want to trust in a rescue, that we’ll come out on the other side of this, but the people in charge of rescue, the ones to whom we are beholden, we are stuck with and stuck to, they have us in their beak, and our soft parts are disintegrating. We are poised for their gullet, for mashing and gnashing in their crop, ground to be digested and shat out purple onto the sidewalk.

I want to believe that life returning to the earth, springing forth, that the robin blinking, knowing where to plunge and lift up breakfast and the blind worm that is lifted, that they and we are all under a benevolent gaze. I want to believe in purpose, but we make the purpose, we invent the purpose, our busy clamoring brain, searching out sense like Josh Gates on another trek for famous, storied treasures. Then I have to pull myself up like a horse reined in, me rider and horse and yes even the reins, to re-insist again that Life is not about me, I can only participate in it. Swim in the river, or float, or rest. The river doesn’t care how you put your arms around it. Look, Ophelia again.

4/4/20              You Are Not…

in control. If you could accept that you would be Buddha, you would be Jesus Christ. Azaleas don’t appear to have received the memo about staying small, staying put, staying silent. Their color’s blaring out all over town, up and down streets where nobody’s walking. It’s the old falling tree in the forest. If no one’s out witnessing does azalea color drain? Does it not even flow? Are the plants truly waking and unfurling? Are we?

4/5/20              The Common Wonderful…

Let’s meditate on that. What we hold dearest and most necessary are the same: children, parents, friends, lovers, a roof and food and protection from weather. Add wellness. Well, why not? We sure as hell take that for granted. Or we did, in the yesterday.

On my walk through the near-deserted park across the street there is an amphitheater where music is played in summer to gatherings, public gatherings, and festivals. Remember crowds? Remember jostling? Remember eavesdropping on folks sitting near on their own blankets much closer than six feet? A trumpeter was practicing in the amphitheater, accessing the grand acoustics. I’ve heard him Pre-Covid, same open air, same scales, same mark of joy. Ditto the beautiful North Carolina weekend. I could almost convince myself he played for my pleasure, and his, and for all within hearing range of his song. The way he’d played before, all for delight, for diversion and not salvation.

4/6/20              Part of It Is…

the moon, why I can’t sleep. Its full face floods light right through my window to me on my bed. And birds singing! This is no time to wake. The moon is still high. At 4:30, it’s another four hours before coffee should be reasonably set to brew. Amid my pacing the cat trips me in his escape to the back porch. I stare at the eerie-lit dark where he lurks. Who can guess the number of jellybeans in the jar? This will be the saddest, worst week, they say, so prepare yourselves. Lives lost, like jellybeans, are beyond anyone’s best guess. Cat meows. Hello, Cat. Cat wants out, wants back in, tangles my legs. Have I forgot how to walk, have I lost my balance? Have I mislaid the path to dreaming? Rumors that body over-flow will find temporary graves in New York public parks have been denied. How ironic that we are within Holy Week, that we are awaiting the Risen. More than 10,000, with no finish in view. When the end does come, who will count the ribs of the lost, who will number the many bones?

4/7/20              Deep In the Grain…           

of us runs vast and secret memory. Teachers bank on their children being sponges. Yesterday’s late afternoon shower was enough to invigorate everything green and seedling. This morning’s sunshine blasting — day after day it blasts, in fierce battle with the ill state of the world it has raised from a cold rock—the sunshine infuses the waning wisteria, so it’s a fragrant backyard even if not as brilliant purple as it was at its zenith. Another meditation: Everything dies. You will die. I will die. The wisteria is losing purchase, but it perfumes even more fully as it fades. We bleat out amid our weaknesses, too. The backyard draped in purple kicks off the ingrained echoes of Catechism. Hosanna, Hosanna.

I always thought– when I thought about it at all, which was rarely– that Hosanna meant King, but a friend shared recently it parses out: Help.

4/9/20              No Words…  

sometimes. I completely lost yesterday, its light slipped under the door, the eddy in the drain. Nothing there that could teach the brain or could escape the brain. Another dull shiny day. Oxymoron, that. Again, can’t be explained. Can’t pass the dissonance. What can be on the far side of Covid? Covid as a country, a stumbling block, the dry choking chasm. I miss my boys, old and young, but the young especially. The smell of their hair as we lie three-abed, me reading the stories, aching for nap, but aching more for the salty coconut aura from the tops of their steamy heads, their engines lowed for just a few minutes, aimed toward naps, naps still in the offing, awaiting them, awaiting us.

4/10/20            With More Time There’s Less Time…

to do things now. Stuck in place, sheltering, as they’ve ordered, carves slivers off every hour. How can we fit in all the exercise, house cleaning, yard work, email, pandemic updates, prayer? A walk in the park, literally, daily, with sun humming our skin, turning us brown. We are all revolving on this rock, one mighty flock. Why isn’t the power to change in our own tiny hands? Might we out the damned spot? Revise the program? Change our majors? Too late. We’re burned down with our own matches. But you heard, didn’t you, that fire purifies? Is that what they say when they recommend Hell?

4/11/20            Eclipse…       

your righteous feelings that you deserve this or that, that anything is your due. All is gift, is accident, is random, sickness, battle. Are you up for it? As a puny game player, tears are my go-to.

What did the women and the apostles do all Holy Saturday? Sit around waiting for the promised third day? Good Friday they cried grooves into their cheeks and bashed their balled fists into stone walls, and on Sunday they expected all savior dreams would come true. But Holy Saturday was for waiting. Did they crouch around in their caves, self-sequestering, streaming Netflix, binge watching, bleary-eyed, obsessively thumbing their phones, looking to Facebook for, if not revelation, perhaps comfort?

Rally ads on TV say: We’re all in this together. Hashtag. We are so goofy, twenty-first century humans, hash-tagging when we should be drilling for truth.

Come Sunday tear off the tops of our heads with Your wonder. Make us relevant. Draw us near. Dear Lord, draw us out into the open. In the Rising make us yours. In the Rising let us rise.

4/14/20            Can’t Get Beyond…

the incredibly stunning bright of this day, harried alongside death, real dead, people, persons, their mourning friends and lovers, the saviors barred from their children, more lovers left empty-armed. How can I feel right about setting seeds under the earth, when innocents are being interred without their deserved ceremony? The rites to set things right.

There’s reduction in autos and thus the combative air we’ve been breathing for decades. Few to no airplanes. But the trash men have been by. They took the crap that fell from last week’s wind storm, which tore a hole in the curtained backyard, revealing absence, a lace of dead leaves around where a leader might have hid with the snakes in the ivy before escaping to Brazil, the Nazi-way. As a country we’re gobsmacked, paralyzed, infuriated, dying. And it seems that is not even enough to cue change. The miasma lives on. Go binge watch something. Auto-pilot down to the soft landing you know is there because the pillows are still cobbled into your fail-safe position, a coaster beside you for your water glass.

4/15/20            Favorite Garden Flower the Rose…          

was my grandma’s, while she favored the scent of Lily-of-the Valley. We bought her the lily perfume for special days such as Mother’s and birth. She doused herself as a newborn amid baptism every time she came visiting, Sunday after church. The triumvirate: Uncle Joe, Grandpa and Grandma, parked in our driveway, venerated like the Three Kings. Catch us genuflecting on the blacktop.

Uncle Joe, the driver, the handsome tall unmarried son, Daddy’s brother, with arm tattoos from his Navy stint, his exotic days in post-war Japan. Grandma rode shotgun, Grandpa behind her, the entire back seat for his silent kingship. Queen Grandma, lovely battle ax that she was, short and squat, the anchor of the three. Her bosom was indeed the prow of their ship. She floated on her breasts, I mean they went before her, preceded her movements, like an Oldsmobile’s front end, stacked and bridled in her maneuvers. When she died in her sixties, early for a woman even in 1974, Father and Son accepted their old bickering couple fate, their salty, tethered situation. Uncle Joe saluted Grandpa, “Heil, Hitler,” upon the old man’s demands. Uncle Joe carried out the wishes from all corners, a subservience he took to his grave.

Why these three haunt me during Corona Days? Because of the word, grave. The many in their graves. More dead than from terror. More casualties than from war. What we think we know; what we don’t. But this battle? And resting? Language mocks us whenever we try to set it down.

4/18/20            We Have an Owl…

making himself known, audibly only, sort of like God, out there, invisible to our eyes but solid and aware on his perch, occasionally swooping I don’t know where. His voice is low, subhuman but soothing. After several hoots he stops, and I never know when, or even if, he’s to re-start. Even a hoot owl has become unpredictable. In the way our eyes widen as we try to hold our tears, his peepers occupy half his face. His neck in its odd rotation takes it all in: the swathe of death; stay home orders; our impatience; our misunderstandings and fears; Dominoes and Apples rising and falling.

4/20/20            Call April…

the lost month because it simply is so. Run-together days and nights where dark blends into light, repeat repeat repeat, no other definition. Oh yes, the pandemic updates, the Corona drone we both note and tune out. No wonder I can’t sleep. Day and night might as well be the same. What difference between writing at 4 AM or 4 PM except for one I need to turn on a light? The sun has been remarkably present, the way springtime can be. Like Camelot, it seems it only rains overnight. If the virus had struck in a time other than spring I don’t know that I could take it.

The gardens, the yard, are the saving graces. Long-thought transplanting and meticulous weeding. The gardens have never looked so good so early in the season. I pace there often, four, five times a day. At first light, with coffee mug steaming. Mid-afternoon, when the work happens. Pre-late-dinner, when the sun has mostly fled, when we’re sometimes even into the gloaming, toting my beer or a cup of wine. There’s time for trying new recipes, if I can thoughtfully enough plan out shopping expeditions. It’s not prudent to run up the street for a can of coconut milk on a whim. The month mostly erases itself, it has no definitions, the edges all blur. And we as a nation are sick. The barrier between living and dying gets erased with every new shouting, unmasked person boasting their red-faced yell: Live free or die.

For most of my life I kept a diary or a journal. I quit about ten years ago. But in the logging of circumstances I felt parceled, defined. I’m a list maker and it helped me to know what I’d accomplished, even if it was laundry. Now, I don’t know, I’m craving that diary-like order. Otherwise I’m just inside time, bleeding and limitless. I know we have to make our own meaning, but does it have to be so lonely?

4/23/20            Lack of Ground…    

has me free-floating. Much to dislike there. Old Terra Firma ain’t so firm. Clueless to day, date, even time of day, unless it’s defined by dark or light. They say pretty soon it’ll be May, but what does May even mean? May may may.

Mother, may I? Yes, you may. Social distance, self-confine, mask up. Lay down. Is it night again? One night of many any. More TV. More Covid. The crick in my neck deepens. How much yoga and walking might a person accept unto herself? I can’t find anything that’s not tiring, even sleep, especially sleep. If the library were open I might find me a book, lose myself, forget for a while the world and its misery. I know, first world problems, middle class problems.

Just that today’s rainy , keeping me from the garden. What else is there? Oh, my babies, from whom I am barred because I’m the at-risk one. They are quite well, I am quite well, but the world’s droplets are out there gunning for me and my beloveds, all of us of a certain age.

4/24/20            Spoiled…

I know, but the day and ½ of rain makes me crabby. I moved south for sun, for warmth, for the babies I cannot hold or touch or be in the presence of. I acknowledge the many worse off outside my sphere of longings for weather uplift and sea change in society’s rules. But the universal is personal. That’s all I got, people. Me me me.

At least at this early hour my eyes aren’t itchy. Allergies don’t care for Covid, allergies want equal time. Allergies mimic the virus and show up as sinus, headache, malaise, send my heart racing over what if. Then I talk myself down, and remind myself, hey, it’s allergy season. You feel the way you feel every spring. Tough it out, sister. And when it’s dark again, and it will be, it will be, I guarantee, then close your eyelids and let those suckers rest. Tree pollen is part of the survival story, and so are you.

4/26/20            Sifting Through Static…

is part of the process, no doubt the initial step, and step is the correct word, in locating the ground you walk on. The earth is always there, in whatever rag-tag shape she exhibits today. Today, a day like every day before it and probably the many to follow. The virus, unlimited in swathe and scope, influences your outlook, kind of explodes it really into the limitless. Sky and ocean, those are the big things you considered as a child, amazed at their lack of boundaries. Even beaches seemed to go on forever down the strand, and stars too many for your basket-head to collect. You kind of have to close your eyes on it to see it. Don’t be discouraged by more of same, more insane. The mighty have might, but what you have is your burning eye into the future, that scorches the earth today where you stand, your patch of soil, your own little wildfire-in-place. Not a biblical burning bush; just the stuff that will suffer, but where eventually—we don’t know how long or when—flowers will spurt through and be stronger for the blackened areas from where they erupt. But first there is the waiting and the static and the standing still, so very still.

4/27/20            Head and Shoulders…                                

are just the passengers, says the yoga guru. He’s insisting my twist pose lengthens out my middle section, instead of my wrenching with head or neck (dontcha know the neck bone’s connected to the shoulder bone…), the way my body might rather. Always imposing a will on what the flesh craves. And we crave what’s easiest, yes? What’s pleasing. We want food and drink and the taste of sugar and chocolate. Even white flour is a delicacy, it seems.

Discipline, my friends. Teach the body what it wants, anew. Reform. Teach by denying, or replacing, or repurposing. No longer a slug, a lay-about, you are a marathoner, or at least a stroller on a fine summer evening. The limbs like movement? Really? Coz I feel pretty good simply lying on the couch with my head turned to the TV. Only the eyes swivel. No! Don’t let that head be the boss of you. Head and shoulders are mere passengers. That goes for whatever’s inside the head, too—carnal desires, your greatest imaginings, your prayers, your eyes, just passengers. The vessel is you. 

4/28/20            Hungry?

Yeah, something might taste good.

Are you eating?

I could eat, but didn’t we just?

You wanna eat? Who’s cooking?

Are you?

Do we have leftovers? What about chips and salsa? Chips and dip?

I could go for some chips. Chocolate chips, straight from the bag, handfuls. A good amount of chocolate filling my mouth. Chocolate explosion. Chocolate diversion.

Can ya dig it? Are you diverted yet? Didja forget the Covid, just for a minute?

4/30/20            Gagging…

on TV. Episodic episodes ad nauseam. The plot lines blend, so there’s not truly a hook or cliffhanger at the end of the 20 min (minus commercials). Do they anymore even have commercials? I’m talking of—now back to the embedded hook—my master instructor/storyteller Luke Whisnant, who said, the end of each chapter will ideally hold the hook/leap/embedded need to read the next chapter. The what happens next, in other words. Bread crumbs there.

So, pandemic-wise, what happens next? The big comfort boat floats back to Virginia. The dead are not so many. I mean, bow your head, there are many, still many, very many, but not so many, not as many. The old plateau everybody’s been seeking. Not a spike like Cuomo dreaded, one plateau, please, and a side of fries. You got it. Like a diet. Not losing pounds but not gaining pounds. The fucking plateau. What’s to do on the plateau? Is there food, food with a view, more TV binging, plasmas galore? The embedded. In the ending is the beginning. So again, Covid-wise, the way forward will be? Slowly open your eyes, sense your surroundings, the gauze of time, the birds sniping your ears and the limited, limited light. Awake yet? The trains are never late; but then again, the trains do not even leave the station. Well, I didn’t make the world! Parking in the roundhouse, so cozy, so Covid.

5/1/20              Deathstalker…

that’s a scorpion. They label it yellow but it looks green to me. They say it comes in several colors, like a pair of shoes, but with eyes full of trickery. You may see pink where I see pale. Red and green shuffles so that some men run traffic lights. Color blind is just an excuse, and we are full of excuses, pardon me.

An unseen speaker can make us blush, that’s how blanket-bare we are these days. We’ve shed our hard shells, many of us molt inside our sequestration. Maybe we’ll develop more empathy, feel more deeply, emerge from our caves, our eyes wincing, but seeing. Light and truth can hold painful reckonings, even as we say we avidly pursue them. The old “be careful what you wish for.”

Check our palms, they are not marked. The days of tattoos may be ascendant, and everyone bears their lingo on their skin, but not me. I set my words to paper. Along with the diacritical marks, glyph added to basic glyph, the story unfolds like a drape in the breeze. We all need new shoes, we all need shoes. And defend us from the Deathstalker, O Lord.

5/2/20              America’s Belly…

is growling. Or is that the Underbelly? Anyway, we’re overeating, eating crap. When haven’t we been guilty of poor choices? What we miss isn’t food, but touch, the Beloveds in another far away room. Tis the Catastrophe of Loneliness, a cascade of it. Buck up and read your lines, sissy. Backyard actors, that’s what we’ve become. The birds applaud, their beaks let loose so much noise, and not much else happens.

5/4/20              May Would Be…

in another time, of any other year, more than a bump on the calendar. Even from earliest memory it felt different, it had its promise and small happiness-es, the look-forwards-to. School would be waning, and the playground smelled of lilacs and blacktop, the kickball fields shed their autumn meanness. Baseball was the game then, where the boys horsed around and the girls watched them. We didn’t need to be involved. What relief in being sideshow, and not part of the score. No pressure. We could be as sorry as we were and not fret for it. On the grass hill, with plaid uniform skirts demurely belled out over our knees, we looped chains of clover flowers and our hands held the fragrance through tomorrow. It stained our pillows and made our sleep hopeful. Now I don’t sleep. Six or four isn’t too early an hour to rise, is it? The birds are announcing the return of the light. The return of the light. I might as well get up to see. I’m not doing anything else, I can’t reconstitute my sooty dreams, or the past, or easy yesterdays. This May lacks ease—there, I put my finger on it. Usually the door to summer, this May is all locked up, churning an abundance that has nowhere to spill.

5/5/20              Put Me…

on the threshold the wise ones talk about. Really. Isn’t that where we all stand in this new world, a jumping off point? I dare you, I dare myself, to sit the way gurus sit, just sit, and in their antsy-ness and discomfort reach that place where they are seeing something new, or seeing the old through new lens. All our old lies before us, surrounds us, smothers us, and in the struggle for breath there is the fear that it is the last breath. Facing that, call it Corona if you like, eats up the little last oxygen, erases the lintel where our fingertips cramp. Say good bye to the door, which was never yours, only borrowed from another’s dream, whichever savior you signed on with. The freefall blackout is the way? Ah c’mon, no, that can’t be.

The way we move our garden to a new plot of ground to try and soak up the best ingredients, so’s to not let it go all barren. We have solutions, the best scientists working the numbers. Something has eaten the rare lettuces and dark greens, but the peas, they curl up from their prehistoric-looking anchors. Telling us It has to be ugly before it can taste like the divine.

5/6/20              Good Sleep..

is hard to find. With apologies to Flannery O’Connor. She was more Catholic than I ever. Seems those converts not chrism-ed as infants project faith’s greater zeal. Me? I clutch the old rituals, in my memories, more so than any post-Vatican II shifts, or the more recent word and phrase and prayer amendments, new liturgy trying to strike fire in 21st century hearts. You can keep it.

Remember in June the Forty Hours Devotion? How our fathers would be gone so long from us praying? Like they couldn’t pray at home? That it had to be all and only men? That it was overnight, one continuous long worship, always some contingent of men in church awake and lisping the Latin, like a patrol on watch? Or God like a football you better not drop, and only continuous prayer could keep Him lifted. Can you imagine in any way men of today doing such things without smirking? Fervently, honestly, their souls stripped and searching?

Something about post war time, many WWII veterans, and men of the 1950’s, so….not fresh-faced, because they’d seen horrors and inhumanity and suffered blades of fear, reeking. No, not fresh-faced, because they had horrible knowledge, but they hid it. War was the old and they turned their backs on it, or they at least internalized it and did not speak it.

They were the work force, the dedicated, the provide-for-your-families kind of guys, and they believed in it, gosh darn it. Mow your lawn. Light the backyard grill. Pitch a game of horse shoes. What the boss says goes. And that included what the Pope said, your pastor’s advice in the confessional, how you should worship, the gold shining on the other side of the communion rail, where you dared not step, to where you barely lifted your eyes because you might see God, or flash on your burned up buddy from the aircraft carrier, and those were terrible thoughts to stray on. How you turned him over to spare your eyes from locking on his face– like a big piece of burnt meat, you said. How you rolled him on his belly, the way doctors do crashing Covid patients.

5/7/20              Poison Ivy…

gives us a new work-around. Pandemic misdirect. Adjust. Additional will power is now required. You thought quarantine was bad? Try resisting itching. Covid directs us to keep hands away from eyes, nose, and mouth. Same place the rash has landed. Plus on my arms and torso, which is absurd because I wasn’t clearing vines shirtless. This plant allergy depresses me each time it strikes, which is reliably annually. I can’t stay out of the weeds; don’t ask me to. The last time the rash broke across my eyes was the summer my dad died. So there’s that miasma of loss rising with these new welts. The nose floods, the eyelids peel. I bite my lip, imagine the scratching relief, but I don’t let loose. I push my fingers inside gloves, I have snipped my nails against need. In this Time of Corona, YouTubes are instructing do-it-yourself haircuts, dog grooming, landscaping. Tools for shearing and scraping sound especially good to me. Rescue has always included a smatter of self-discipline, yes? Hold back. Wait. Kill desire. Refrain. They say we’re all in this together, until the focus shifts to me me me.

5/8/20              In the Cemetery…

where I walk, mourners align themselves like chess pieces before strangers’ headstones, the whole burial ground a chessboard, and the distancing for survival imperative. Men in suits with their hands held loosely in front of their guts, and women with their skirts blowsy in the wind. The clouds scuttle an otherwise brilliant blue sky, the trees wave, everyone bids goodbye. So long. Farewell. The dead don’t know the tribute is amended. The dead don’t know Covid from a hole in the wall. The dead wear their own masks, a Death Mask. Grim, and never removed. The funeral director awarded them a face of repose, even if at the end they were grimacing or straining full of fear. Their hands, like the men-mourners’ hands are clasped, and they will never re-open. Closed for good, like some businesses who will fall into their own holes of loss. The earth accepts all the endings, and with clay-coated mouths we still manage to moan our surprise, our despair.    

5/10/20            Tired Begets Tired…

Mama, I know this. I watched it on you, since you rarely folded to sit, stay, rest. The kind of orders we give to a dog, or a favorite pet. The lesson: if we stay busy we needn’t think much beyond the next task to shape with our hands, eh? I took my cues from you, and when I gained your size everyone’s needs absorbed me, too. And along with it, a mother’s share of loneliness, the vast measure of joy in being taken for granted, for being shelter and shore. The acreage of love, the exhaustion and the sleep sacrifice, and the worry, oh the worry. And the embrace. The welcoming arms I practiced, emulating you and offering to my children as you did to me. The never not-there. Even on the last day, you were my mirth, you were my planet.

5/12/20            Capitulating…

finally, I caved in and met a doctor for the allergy. Poison ivy endured this long, spread this far, with no end in sight, more breakouts and the itching a constant, I find myself waking with the scratching. The luxurious giving in to breaking open my own skin, like I might be a fruit and the ooze wants to spill and make more of itself. Like a virus, yes? The unholy rapture of scratching. A kind of maiming, the cells’ little deaths, maybe scarring. Feels so good to make myself bleed—that can’t be right, can it?

5/13/20            One Day…

I’m hoping, we’ll look back on the things we’ve been denied by Covid, and will have forgotten more than half. Didn’t need that, that or that, until what remains are the few majors, many of them intangibles– the auras of loved ones bunched together, raising the temperature of the room via nothing to do with fever, the many delighted exclamatories to a joke or a recollection in real time. The loved ones, their voices clear and boisterous and spoke in your presence, not blipped by Zoom-drops, you can watch their lips. How about live music enjoyed in a crowd of more than 10, even you dancing as part of a circle, be it to the wails of Sly Stone or Toby Keith? Am I dreaming here? I fear some strains of the-before-life will never return. Like essence of will, and freedom to sit in that empty chair at the crowded table, and the eavesdropped conversation, the life of proximity vanished. We marinate in our six foot bubble, all the more tender for it, cracked open by the meat-mallet of solitary.

Oh, the embraces we took for granted, the grabby little hands, the soft head upon collarbone, and reading aloud from a book in bed with small ones digging into your ribs. Even standing in line next to your neighbor or a stranger and seeing their smile, that had been formerly masked, is a well wish. You tell me, where’s that wishing well? I’ve got a fistful of pennies.

5/14/20            Distractions Are There…

to distract. In the unlikely-hood of no distraction, I would invent. Prayer and work are my go-to distractions, with their subcategories, their wormholes, you can never be done. You can recite the Our Father or the Hail Mary so fast, so many times, run one into another into another until it’s like the tigers running around the tree so fast they turn to butterscotch in that old story no one tells anymore. Who’s listening to those run-on prayers? Imagining the Apocalypse, for me, is not possible. Benign, goody-two-shoes-me can’t fathom it. I fear the dark, for Chrissake. But. What if the Bumbler is the Anti-Christ, unwittingly even? Judas didn’t know he’d betray until he did it. We all have a chance to redeem ourselves, until we don’t.

The kitchen dials up baking. I bake cake every day. The freezer is filling. As is my belly. Fill in the blank: Covid is making me so______.

Fat. Mad. Angry. Lonely. Fit. Tired. Elastic. Hungry. Stressed. Ache-y. Antsy. Hungry without knowing hunger. Sleepy. Sleepless. Sleepy after too much sleep. Zombie-like. Piqued. Ravenous. Looking for wine. Drinking too much wine. Head-ache-y. Pekid. Sick. Under-estimating the hours in the day. Under-estimating the dark hours. Exhausted. Up-to-the-brim with narrative from binge watching. Binge eating. Binge drinking. Stuffing my own stories deeper. Blame it on Covid. Shit-kick the Covid into next Wednesday.

5/16/20            Depleted…

caregivers continue giving care. Revved up researchers go all night racing for the cure. Round-the-clock Covid depletes even the most valiant. And us? We’re bone tired of hearing about it, distancing, allaying any old whim, living in our boxes. We skirt around the Apocalypse; that word is too abundant for our brains. The experts do warn us of a bitter winter, the virus rounding third and heading for home again, a grand slam in the making. But coming on summer the beaches beckon, as do the mountains, and the trails that some of us take run me right within your six feet. We all have our border walls to acknowledge. We don’t dare greet or even breathe in another’s direction because the breath is what it’s all about, and like all greedy Americans, we want to keep what’s ours.

Mine are first world whinings. I’m not sharing a bathroom with six other Bangladeshis. I’m not residing with extended families, who have relied on their intergenerational homestead for child care, emotional and financial support, meals, love. Now living with grandma is sticky. Grandma, like me, being of the most endangered, as in the Siberian tiger or polar bear. I can fathom me at-risk, but old? The third world collapses family by family as I contemplate my temple’s gray strands, while I still have a mirror to see my flaws and while I still dare to look.

5/18/20            We’d Find Corona…

at any other time, a pretty word. The corona of the sun, crown, oh the luminous body.

Bleakness creeps where it wants, but I’m still Queen of Me, and I can pop the shade on gloom, stand toe to toe with the light once I shed my covers to another day’s horizon. Day like yesterday, day like tomorrow. Calm seas are the mariner’s worst nightmare. Though this is nothing like calm, it is solo and silent and absent. Calm is at least something; this is nothing, hollowed, without. We’re breath inside a nothing spring where gardens prep for explosion, but all the normal people sounds from the park are stuck in a bucket, the rope is cut, they’re taking the depth of the well down there. All we know at top-side is that it’s some deep shit. We listen for their shenanigans, they at the center and down down down, but our attention span, people, you gotta admit, it’s nothing to write home about… They may have to build a whole new structure to get back what we once had; they say it might take two or ten years. They give themselves lots of leeway. Our lives (and loves) will have already changed back and forth and back. For we are nothing if not fickle. Tell me, in this new light, how the heart pales, how we can measure absence, how we can be transfused if we need newness, if we’re already too bored with the 24 hours in this day.

5/20/20            Is Not All Blue…

here. Believe a week of rain can restore our faith. And if simple rain fills the lack then why not simple hi, simple outreach, simple rhyme, simple lyric, simple sample of today’s best. Whatever you got, we want it. Senses crave what they crave, we will not apologize—touch, sweet, salt, warmth, drink, the embrace and the shrug from the embrace, the great whoosh in of cool air. Unencumbered. Give us.

This, the American people. Them, the American people. We, the American people. None of us in charge. All of us obeying the law, the lockdown, the restrict. Except some more than others. Still Land of the Free, right? You can’t make me wear a mask, or close my business, or not buy this shit if I want it. You better sell it to me, you better not take this weapon off me. My God-given right, goddamnit. You all make me so goddamn sick.

God has nothing to do with America. God is not leading us, as a country. God is who we meet in our hearts, and we meet her there as we like, wearing head covering or not, kneeling or not, penitent or not. We can be in America and meet God in our hearts. We can be Americans and meet God however we meet her, on what terms we care to meet her, and that’s our business. God is not the business of America, my God-terms are not yours. America is not everlasting, America is not world without end, America is on the shoals, mister. America is wrecked, man. But God transcends, God sits astride the universe, arms out at the edges and opening the windows wider. She begs you to come unto, she begs you don’t quit yet.

5/22/20            Are We Pretending…

to normal? That sounds passive, or underhanded. Not pretending. We are acting. Not acting a part, I don’t mean a role. We act as in taking action; I mean we wake another day. Our gaze lifts to the window, noting sky and weather. We step to light the stove, with no understanding of the time, the world past our yard, and the bell jar in which we live. Call it: The Unprecedented Time. Not long ago there was Christmas, like any other, there was winter vacation, the park, the zoo, the movies and days on the couch with the children. We made pancakes then, remember? We spent the night together.

Larder and pantry. Scant meat (especially chicken) and dear paper products. Cheap gasoline. Cotton masks, and soaping with hot water, Happy Birthday to you. Wave to your neighbor from the mailbox. Everybody’s looking for their government money. The news shows post their Covid update, every hour on the hour, wanted or not. I wrench myself from the beat-about-the-head of the 24 hour news cycle. Flatulent press conferences. The Bunny Hop. Fangs.

What they keep from us, we don’t know. We follow rules and cautions uttered by the insistent doctor with the Italian name. He trusts implicitly what he is advising, so I do, too. Science lies at the heart of him, and kindness, humility. And the virus swirls around science and the heart of science like a maelstrom, the virus illustrates science for us, and, reciprocally, science illustrates the virus. Call in the art students and the illustrators, let’s get this down: The Unprecedented. The Time of Covid. And what all we have on our collective conscience from the tortured decisions we make now? The ground shakes with it.

5/25/20            Changeable…          

That kind of day, that kind of life. I’ve bemoaned the same old-same old life in confinement, but weather adds interest. Today’s back and forth: Gardening under lovely sun. By later day, the straight downpour during which clouds half clear and sun shines streams down, along with the rain. Mommy would say the devils are getting married. She had her sayings, I don’t know where they came from, whose lore they dredged. We called them her old wives’ tales.

As in the annual pilgrimage through Georgia on the drive to Florida vacation, where invariably ground was tore up in the far off, and she’d say, “There’s the red clay of Georgia. You know why it’s so red, right? Because of the blood of the many confederate soldiers.” Oh, Mama.

Her caution: “Don’t touch a plant while you’re bleeding, or you’ll kill it.” Kill with my menstrual touch? I feared it as much as I wanted to see it. Imagine sparks fly from the end of my finger, the plant shrivels, hisses, wisp of smoke from the pot’s soil like from one of Daddy’s stubbed out Winstons.

In Memoriam…          dear Daddy, dear Mother. Mommy called it Decoration Day because we decorated the family graves with flowers. That also would die.

5/27/20            Contagion…

winding down. Fear receding. Stay-at-homes released. Pandemic vanished, or faded gray into our collective frontal lobe. Everybody wants their fresh air. Everybody wants to be with the ones they love, or love the ones they’re with. So, to reconcile with what was, is, and will be. How the three weigh in on safety, truth, and dangers we pose to others. Your rights are my rights. Party like it’s 1999. It’s my party. You don’t own me. No nervous tune-ins or daily briefs from the gov, the doc, the surgeon, the buffoon. We’re back to police murdering and violent storms across the South; conspiracy theories and Chinese threats, or threats against China, or the same threat, just attach it to whose mouth moves in the current news video.       

We celebrated those who served and died, and all who died, really, noting the most recent 100,000, in particular, the poor and the invalid and the oppressed alongside the hoity-toits and the accomplished. Nice that we did that. The mosquitoes are rising. Covid staggers. Covid goes into hiding. Lots of mealy disgust under the backyard tarp, in the underground. Something taking stock, mutating, we just don’t see it yet.

Donna D. Vitucci - Author

Donna D. Vitucci - Author

Donna Vitucci is Development Director of Covington Ladies Home, the only free-standing personal care home exclusively for older adult women in Northern Kentucky. Her stories have appeared in dozens of print and online journals, including PANK, Fifth Wednesday Journal, Front Porch, Watershed Review, Gargoyle, Hinchas de Poesia, Contrary, Corium Magazine, Southern Women’s Review, Change Seven (Yay!) and The Butter. Her novel AT BOBBY TRIVETTE’S GRAVE will be published by Rebel E Press in 2016. Her unpublished novel FEED MATERIALS was a finalist for the Bellwether Prize and waits with other finished novels in a trunk.

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