Essential Workers: Costco, photograph by Jean Zorn.
Introduction: So How Near the End of the Tunnel Are We?
The other reason I am hesitant to mention our doubly vaccinated status is embarrassment and liberal guilt. What makes vaccination guilt liberal? When you can’t talk about your vaccination without mentioning how unfair it is that there are so many people who need to be vaccinated just as much as you do, but have the misfortune to live in countries, cities, neighborhoods not rich enough to command the drug company’s first shipments. But you get the vaccination anyway. And then you excuse your privilege with the smarmy copout that if you’d turned down the shot, it wouldn’t have gone to them anyway.
For all those reasons, I should not mention our vaccinations. However, I can’t tell this story without admitting that, yes, for us, that particular light at the end of the tunnel has probably, maybe, we hope, turned on. We are, we’re told, 96 percent certain now not to get the virus at all. (Well, at least, not to get the original strain of it. Not so sure about some of those mutants.) And we are, we’re told, 100 percent certain not to be very sick if we do get it. (Well, again, not so sure this applies to all the mutating strains now pushing the infection rate upward again.)
That uncertainty is one of the reasons I am not 100 percent certain (or even 96) that we have reached that mythic light. (Remember, during the endless morass of the conflict in Vietnam, one of the war criminals – was it McNamara? Westmoreland? – kept insisting we’d reach it any day. What black, unlit humor we made of that. Was it hubris on his part or an outright lie?)
Despite the election, despite the vaccinations, despite the good sense and compassion emanating from the White House every day, it still feels too soon to hope we are near the end. Is it just that we’ve gotten so used to not hoping it feels like we’re asking for bad luck if we admit to optimism or even to a glimmer of hope? Or are we correct to worry that the lights of equality and democracy might have been permanently dimmed in the United States? There is certainly evidence to support that grim perspective. Seventy- three million Americans still insist they will vote again for Donald Trump, that freedom means nothing for anyone but themselves – and, for themselves, it means endless self-indulgence without a shred of responsibility.
The Republicans in the House and Senate continue to try to turn back any legislation that progressives propose. It was disappointing – is that a strong enough term? – when the wily, manipulative, and totally immoral Mitch McConnell first closed down the Senate so that the Trump trial could not take place until after Trump was out of office, and then instructed his troops to vote against conviction on the grounds that Trump was no longer in office, the very circumstance he’d made sure would happen. And then, as if the gall weren’t thick enough, gave a speech lambasting Trump. That alone might lead to the brighter minds to conclude that the lights went out all over America about four years ago.
If there is a light left at tunnel’s end, we still have to work to reach it and to keep it burning. May the poems, stories, and essays gathered here play their part in making that happen.
A Small Alteration
that woke me this morning—after
the first rain and ten days after
the election—a small alteration
that shimmered on the single strand
of the resident spider web and on
the feathers of the finch, riding
the topmost branches of the pine
outside my window.
A small alteration after the long
drought: the parched hills, the deer
foraging for water downtown,
the stare of an unblinking sun
each day—October turned torrid
as July—and everywhere some faint
trace of smoke in the air as if at last
the consummate conflagration
were headed our way.
When did the stately procession of
seasons turn free-for-all, each day
bearing news of a new injury?
But this morning after the rain and
after the election, a glimmer of shift
in how light glanced off the puddles
on the deck—a small alteration,
but enough for right now.
All the photos on this page are from the
persimmon groves, oven, and camera of Marjorie Hanft.
A Distant Horizon
I sit by the bed, wondering where this will lead. The room is dimmed, the numbers brilliant as they rhythmically move on small screens, beeping and chirping. Respiration, circulation, heartbeats, all a mystery to me. Sinking into the gloom around me, time stands still. I can touch him. Does he know? Does he feel my presence, my love? I have held his hand for so many years. There’s a pandemic, and he has co-morbidities, a word that I never wanted to hear or understand. I’m lucky, they tell me, – I am allowed to be with him for three hours.
Days go by. There are updates and consultations, good ones, frightening ones. I move through these days in a trance, buffeted by hopes, and fears, retreating into memories of good times. The shadow of loss lurks. Each day I fill my notebook with medical terms and specialist names, as if recording the details will be helpful. I have no voice in this world of medical professionals. There are rules and procedures that must be followed. I am relegated to observer and reporter. What will life be, as a wife, a caretaker, a widow?
As I gaze to the east, coffee in hand, dawn brightens my world and all things seem possible. He’s awake. Hallucinations take hold of him. He struggles with reality. I learn the drill: What’s your name? Where are you? Who is this woman? We laugh gently at his responses. He’s twenty again, at boot camp. He’s in the white hotel. He has very young children. His dog is in bed with him. His mind is scrambling for answers. The lack of oxygen, the coma, have taken bites from his brain, synapses left sputtering.
Finally, discharged, the hum of the oxygen concentrator a reassurance through the night. Our first car ride together feels so good, so normal. We are cruising into a future together. A first visit to the doctor goes well. The family physician is smiling, joking and encouraging.
Until I ask when I will have my husband back, the person he was before this infection invaded every part of him. The doctor looks at me, not smiling. “It is a journey, maybe three or four months down the road.”
I brighten, visibly encouraged. “That’s good,” I say, exhaling the tension I have carried. The days of dark despair and fear will be behind me.
The physician steps a bit closer to me speaking softly. “No one can say what the recovery will be. The horizon is always there, somewhere, but maybe it will always be a little further.”
The lights at the end of the tunnel seem smaller and elusive. I now understand we may never get there.
I Dream of Dead People
They visit me mornings, early, before first light.
Seated at ceremonial tables, chatting with neighbors,
my Uncle Clint wears a smart tan leather jacket and plaid tie. He usually dressed in old overalls.
I pat his shoulder. He turns and hugs me.
Pleased to see me, but not especially surprised,
My Aunt Agnes smiles, waves, and continues her conversations.
She always was very chatty. And as a child, I cherished her stories.
My cousin Marjorie, dead now for decades, reminds me this is a celebration,
a memorial for her father, John, the butcher, who never had a sendoff.
(I never knew why.)
I remember him tall, with strong hands, and kind eyes. His mother-in-law Mary was
my grandmother’s older sister (all nine children came from Larne, in steerage,
in batches, in the 1880s. Made a new life in Brooklyn, Dallas, and New Jersey.)
Marjorie terrified me. She was stern, head of school, and
a close friend of my father’s. But she brooked no favors for relatives.
I was always in trouble.
Our elementary school, Absalom Grundy, was eventually named in her honor.
I preferred Absalom Grundy, which always had a ring to it.
That night in my dream, Marjorie greeted fancy couples downstairs at their lovely home
where she’d lived all those years with her parents.
An “old maid,” she’d never married.
She spent summers on the Maine coast with a woman “friend.”
And when her parents both died, she retired, then moved up there year-round.
With one of her “friends.”
In my dream, I tried to tell her that night with excitement that I was “one,” like her.
But she never gave me the chance. Just ushered me upstairs to the dinner
Where I greeted my beloved uncle and aunt. They were glad to see me.
On another night, my father-in-law came for a visit, at a conference in Wisconsin.
Wayne and I ate lunch at the counter, just the two of us,
while Sue, my wife, impressed the others with her wise words in small rooms.
Wayne and I sat on stools, eating tuna fish sandwiches, drinking lemonade,
making small talk. He never knew what to do with me.
He thought he’d failed Sue because she’d never married.
“Wayne,” I’d say, “You never failed Sue! She found ME!
He didn’t know what to do with that either. But he was wearing
A gorgeous jacket made of cream-colored, coarsely woven fabric, looking very handsome.
He usually wore old hunting pants. And Pendleton wool shirts.
Sue and I were given a dragonfly token that allowed us
To park our camper while Wayne and I ate lunch,
Sue conferenced, where later we slept.
On another night, when I couldn’t sleep (or so I thought),
there was my beloved Ruth, a dear friend who’d died last April.
She lounged in a damask armchair, her arm draped insouciantly over the chair’s back.
I did a doubletake: “You’re HERE!”
(“But I’m not asleep,” I thought. How could you be here?)
Not one to miss an opportunity, I asked her,
“Why did you die? How could you leave us all to mourn, to go on without you?
Why did you have to die?
Tears streamed down my sleeping face, which was wet when I woke up.
She gestured as she’d often done, palms up, arms extended, shrugging her shoulders.
She looked me in the eyes and smiled. But did not apologize.
Willie and Jake
Willie and Jake did not know each other before they both were forced to downsize and share dreary living accommodations in a shabby complex. They soon realized, however, that they had a lot in common. Jake was a competent construction worker. But Jake told Willie that he had been fired from his last job because he complained that the job superintendent had ordered incorrectly-sized beams for the building they were constructing. (Jake continues to insist they were not up to code). And Willie, a formerly successful realtor, told Jake that he had lost his job because his boss had filed allegations in court, accusing him of committing some minor violations of his state license. (Willie continues to vehemently allege his innocence.) These dreary accommodations in this shabby complex were located close to the menial jobs they were now obliged to accept, jobs for which they were both over-qualified and dismally under-compensated. Jake looked around at his bleak surroundings and lamented, “This place is a dump. A tunnel of despair.”
Willie responded, “Well, buddy, I’m here to tell you there is light at the end of this tunnel of despair. We’re young, and we won’t have to stay here forever. We’ve got experience and skills. I’ve got plans for our future. Let’s look for an old house that needs some work or pick up a foreclosed house at an auction. We’ll fix it up and flip it. We’ll splash a little paint on it, throw down a few area rugs, place a few ficus plants around the rooms, and sell our designer dream house for a profit. Let’s start with the paint – basic beige always works.”
Jake paused for a moment before he spoke. “I like your idea of renovating a house, but builder’s beige is boring and cheap. We should paint the rooms with complementary neutral tones to create a flow throughout the house. Let’s head over to the library and find some information about popular color choices and other tips for flipping houses.”
Although the library was conveniently nearby, they were disappointed to find that it had a musty smell, shelves that were understocked with relevant reading matter, and overstocked with outdated technology. After three hours looking at paint samples and disagreeing about which to use, Willie became impatient. “Let’s decide on the paint later, Jake. Let’s move on. How about looking for some flooring samples?” And so it went, day after day. They bickered and argued over furnishings, cabinets, light fixtures, appliances, and whether they should install a peninsula or an island in the kitchen. Jake wanted to consider all possibilities; Willie preferred to make quick choices.
At one point Jake threatened to move out, and Willie countered with threats to throw him out. But after they considered the difficulties of re-locating, they dropped their futile threats and resumed their bickering.
Their simmering aggravation toward each other intensified when Jake insisted on using quartz rather than a cheap grade of granite for the counter tops. Quick-tempered Willie punched stubborn Jake in the solar plexus. Jake spent three weeks recovering in the hospital.
Their suppressed anger surfaced again as they hovered over a collection of artwork in a catalog, trying to decide which one they should place above the imagined stone fireplace in the living room. Jake favored an abstract rendering of multi-colored swirls of paint flowing across the canvas. Willie favored a framed and matted print of Andy Warhol’s tomato soup can.
“A soup can above a living room fireplace! It’s deplorable! It’s kitsch! It’s cheesy!” shouted Jake.
Willie moved closer to Jake. “Blobs of paint swirling around in space are what’s cheesy! And you know who is even cheesier than the blobs? You, Jake. You are cheesier than the blobs swirling willy-nilly around in space. You’re a ‘your way or the highway‘ type of guy. A know-it-all. That’s why the job superintendent fired you, for taking it upon yourself to haul those perfectly good beams to the city dump.”
“Oh, yeah, Willie. You know those supposed allegations about your minor license violations? I happen to know they were embezzlement charges. You’re a con man, a thief, a scum bag.”
Willie landed the first punch, but Jake came back with a powerful blow to Willie’s right temple, sending Willie staggering and falling to the concrete floor.
As the warden and two burly guards broke into the cell to haul them off to the solitary unit, the warden grumbled, “You each need a few days in a time-out booth.”
Willie and Jake were released nine months later. They’d often said the first thing they’d do would be to have a beer or two together. But on that day, as they parted at the Bailey Prison entrance, neither suggested the name of a bar, looked the other in the eye, offered his cell phone number, or confessed that he was grateful that, together, they had lit a candle of hope in that dismal tunnel of despair.
Light(s) at the End of the Tunnel
There must be a reason I’d rather listen to women
poets these days Valentine mentioned strange lights
beyond the hospital room (may her memory
be for a blessing). Lowell saw only the train
Bukowski was all about how there isn’t even
a tunnel. Rukeyser on the other hand always
saw the tunnel believing no one ever needed
to stand inside. If you do happen to hang out
in the tunnel of oblivion festive illuminants
could be strung from one end to the other.
Putting My Mind Down for a Nap
touch I take
by the hand
its frayed surface
it to breathe
from its belly
I can calm
to speak to it
tell my mind
to go its own way—
but I need it
for a while.
So I lay it
on a padded surface
with a queen-size
and tuck it in
all the while
a few bars of
You Can Close Your Eyes.
that I will soon
return to rescue it
from my mind
the newly open
as it fills with light.
Bix, our older dog, wakes me before dawn. I knew he would, because he and the younger one were sleeping so soundly I hadn’t wanted to disturb them for their usual late-night walk. Bix’s muzzle is more white than sleek black now, he no longer has the exquisite hearing that used to bring him careening from the other end of the house the moment I placed his food dish on the floor, and he doesn’t really sleep peacefully any more. In a younger dog, his small nocturnal seizures might pass for dreaming – taking off after the fox that lives in our woods and finally catching her – but these shivers persist past a dream and make it hard for me to get to sleep in the bed I share with him and our irrepressible, scruffy Pippa, a mutt who came to us from the Deep South.
I feel for my glasses on the bedside table and glance at my phone. It’s already a quarter to six, not an ungodly hour to arise, but still dark in these northern parts, so I need a flashlight as the three of us tramp across the hoar-frosted lawn and down the hill toward the woods where the dogs prefer to do their business. A soft light appears on the horizon, but not yet the striations of orange and pink that announce the day is breaking; the line from The Mamas and The Papas’ song – about the darkest hour being just before dawn – plays in my head.
But I’m glad to be out in this keen, crystalline morning and don’t resent the dogs for waking me so early. Venus in the east is as bright as an approaching headlight. No cars pass in the street and for a moment, it’s just me and the dogs in the cold and the dark; I look back up the hill at our cozy, lit-up house and feel immensely grateful for all I have been given: the surety and the safety of that dwelling, the man snoring within, and the two dogs who have brought me out to this wintry morning in the not-so darkest hour just before dawn.
in striped rep ties and wingtips,
but I’ve become allergic
to stuffed shirts and vested suits.
My skin breaks out in raised red welts
when bigshots flash their greenbacks,
metallic scent of silver
turns my porridge inside out.
I can taste the sweat of weavers
on my thousand thread count bedsheets.
Cozy chairs and comfy beds
no longer ease my ache.
The only Southern Comfort
that I crave these days is sunshine,
not too hot and not too bright,
tenderized by mist.
Emptiness does not get full
flirting with abundance.
Doing nothing well not what
the Buddha meant by clear.
I sit in lotus pose and trust
enlightenment to fuel me.
Carpe diem. Let the minnows
feast on others’ crumbs.
Voguing in Heat
Even during this last strange, clouded wet season, there were still summer nights. Last night I stumbled on a haunting improvised dance concert, one that might happen only on a strangely overheated night. My favorite kind of theater piece is the one I might never have seen except for chance, say because the son of a friend— the writer, director, actor, set designer—sends out a notice and I find myself in an old bakery, or the back room of a bar, on a street that I had no idea existed.
My friend Terry and I decided to have a sushi and white wine picnic on the Charles Street Pier, and we arrived just as that psychedelic orange ball slipped behind Jersey. We were so sweaty and sticky we didn’t really even want our wine. We sat on a picnic table at the end of the lawn where some small boys were racing furiously, their chests punched out, competing up and down for the win.
Behind us and to our left were grouped a beautiful tribe of teenage boys dressed in tight tees and perfectly fitting jeans, wearing dark head wraps or perfectly cropped hair. They were different shades of dark: African American kids, some speaking Spanish, maybe some Caribbean accents there too. But they were of one tribe – a group of lost boys whose beauty and bodies bound them together. I’m sure this same tribe of boys is in the outskirts of Paris, probably Rome, Algiers, Istanbul, Tunisia, and Naples.
What adult hands had likely touched them that led them here I wondered. They had tight gorgeous bodies, in perfect deadly trim. About a dozen or so of them sat along the wall on the left of the lawn. Two at a time they got up and performed in front of the crowd. Their bodies were fluid and clenched, undulating into twisted, crazy angles and shapes, which expressed at once impossible structures, pain, and beauty. Their arms and legs moved with deep grace into positions as if someone were twisting their arms and legs where limbs shouldn’t go. As if someone was hurting them, but here it was self-willed and wildly beyond elegant. There seemed to be some music – though we could barely hear –coming from a portable device that drove their rhythms and beats. They were performing for each other and for strays like us, but essentially they were partaking in their own clan ritual, enacting the wild otherness their lives were bound up with.
My friend and I had unwittingly invaded their territory; we wanted to stay respectfully to one side. Our voyeurism was both intrusive and necessary to them. On the other side, a smaller group of young men called out commentary, singing out praise and disdain for the dancers. Perhaps the disdain was meant as challenge: each and every move I saw was more breathtaking than the last. Most of the dances ended in the same terrible way – their bodies twisted into more and more crazy positions and more and more impossible postures until they fell to the ground inert, their arms and legs positioned as if they were broken dolls tossed aside on the burning concrete. A ghastly and essential end to each of these performances.
where we bathe our temper,
our drenched spirit,
when the drought’s over
you come laughing:
plip, plip, plip,
your dancing shoes
skip like stones
across the lake.
you bubble into brews
of strong aroma,
roots and herbs
lose their substance to you.
Pathway for fish that wait
to enter our bellies;
they mate and flourish,
learn your depths and currents,
and the small children
wring you from their eyes.
Mozart for Spring
Janet loved casting charts for people. She met with clients on Wednesday nights at a local diner called Diana’s. Her booth was toward the back and the seats were plastic and worn, with masking tape covering tears. The place was a neighborhood fixture; everyone knew Rocky, the owner.
Janet wanted something different since retiring. She didn’t miss her old job but the passing of time felt like one long vacuum, especially after her mother passed away. Janet was an upbeat person who always saw light at the end of the tunnel. But now the light seemed a little dimmer. Janet found herself thinking about the ring she had lost years ago, her grandmother’s ring. It was a diamond engagement ring with a dome setting and pretty filigree carving.
Most of Janet’s clients wanted to know if they were going to meet someone or how their current relationship was going. Many wanted to know the winning lottery numbers. It had been a quiet night at Diana’s when Kathy walked in. Janet remembered her from high school. She was perfect and pretty and cool. Janet had always been on the fringes, peering in from the sidelines. But this Kathy was too pretty, too young. Years had gone by for them both, but this Kathy looked like she was still eighteen years old. Her hair was short with an upswept flip in the bangs. She wore platform shoes and a fringy vest.
“Are you going to a retro themed reunion?”
“Your clothes look, well, kind of ‘70s.”
“Well, it is 1975, isn’t it? You look familiar.”
“We went to the same high school.”
“We’re still in high school. Aren’t you the one who is always hanging out in the art room?”
“Yeah, I did.”
“I’m here because you have to find the ring. My brother gave the purse to a resale shop. I found it at Wieboldt’s and put it in the purse.”
Kathy got up and walked out of the diner. Janet called several resale shops the next day. A place called Second Wind Resale said that a seller had just brought in a box full of vintage items.
“They could be from the ‘70s,” he said, “Customer said his mother had just died. The box was stuff she’d kept ever since his sister died in a car accident. Years ago. Night before her high school graduation. Her mother kept her things all those years.”
Janet was haunted by Kathy and the ring at Second Wind. The shop owner showed her a macramé purse. But there was nothing inside, even in the compartments and pockets. No, wait. Janet’s probing fingers felt something stuck deep in the lining. It was a ring – a ring with a dome setting, and a diamond and carved filigree. The light at the end of the tunnel didn’t seem so dim.
I Dwell in Possibility
To Emily, eternally possible
welcomes me to step through.
lead to possibilities.
I don’t know where the paths lead
but I want to go.
I am in doorways, the forever possible,
to step through.
A fairer realm than within,
sunlit paths through cedars, or sky-kissed streams.
Dwelling in the bleak cage of indoors,
let me step through
(pressing roofs and dimmed chambers),
to gather paradise.
I’m No Damsel in Distress
He knocked because he needed my permission to enter. He hadn’t given twenty-four hours’ notice. It was the law. When I opened the door, he barged past me to peer into the bathroom. Sunlight shone through the stained glass window beside the sink.
The landlord had claimed in an email that my bathtub had overflowed. He lived next door, but it took him an hour to respond to my invitation to come look for himself.
“I have video.” He pushed his cell phone inches from my face. It glowed with the image of water gushing from exterior pipes. “You know what you did.”
I was momentarily mute. “I did nothing. Are you accusing me of lying?”
“Yes,” he hissed.
I shook my head in disbelief, opened the front door, and extended my arm. “I believe we are done here.”
“I’ll be back in an hour with the Flood Control Specialist to assess the damage,” he claimed as he walked out, making zero eye contact. I left for the afternoon. When I returned a three by three dehumidifier dominated my bathroom. A sign on the door indicated it would be there for four days. Two days later it was gone.
I found myself mentally enacting a melodrama from my youth: I mimic the Evil Landlord growling Pay the rent! The Damsel in Distress wails I can’t pay the rent! Evil Landlord snarls Pay the rent or get out! In a firm reasoned voice the Hero shouts I’ll pay the rent! Damsel in Distress swoons, My Hero! Evil Landlord snorts, Curses, foiled again.
A month later my front door was plastered with a three-page letter stating that I owed $20,000 for flooding the bathroom. I called the local Rent Board and was referred to Eviction Protection Center. How would I pay for it, living on my pension from my county social work job? After twenty-five years in this rent-controlled apartment, my income hadn’t allowed for much savings.
The EPC agreed to represent me pro bono and wrote a scathing letter to the landlord, denying my responsibility for any damage, claiming that he was trying to displace me any way he could so he could increase the rent. The final sentence about prosecuting to the full extent of the law was like balm on an open wound.
The landlord hired a real estate attorney. A formal Complaint for Damages was filed. Pay the rent… I can’t pay the rent… Pay the rent or get out rumbled in my head.
Maybe I didn’t have a case at all. Maybe I was suffering from undiagnosed dementia. Maybe I would flood my whole house, the whole neighborhood. Maybe I already had and couldn’t remember.
A friend took me aside. “Do you know what gaslighting is?” I did not. “Google it.” I took her advice.
We filed a Response.
It wasn’t long before the three-inch thick packet of interrogatories arrived. I felt like I was being grilled by the police for a crime I didn’t commit.
We filed our own voluminous pretrial interrogatories, motions, and affidavits, including the name of a well-known Expert-Witness Home Inspector who would testify, with photographs and documentation, that the damage being claimed was not from my bathroom.
I was advised to expect to be unmercifully questioned on the witness stand. I feared I would babble incoherently. I lost sleep. I gained weight.
The day before our trial the landlord’s lawyers settled for a payment to me of $35,000 on the condition that I move out. I took it.
On March 1, 2020, I moved into an unbelievable find of an apartment with everything I wanted and more. I have sheltered-in-place to the date of this writing, grateful for my health, grateful for such a lovely – and peaceful – place in which to shelter. Rumor has it that the apartment I moved out of has remained empty for eight months.
of other jabs — though
not at Mt. Sinai and
not in the very week
the parashah in Exodus
says Moses went to Sinai
for the Ten Commandments
Thou shalt not
Thou shalt not
jogs a memory of jabs
we bore in March
stabs of delicts/restricts
do not touch, do not kiss
do not hug, do not, do not
enters my right arm
distal she says as her
needle messenger rna into
the me that no longer
that fears elevator buttons
washes off wayward touches
soaks me with spiked armor
I re-sleeve my sore arm
and walk home
brimming with visions of
how I’ll swaddle and coddle
the baby boy coming in May
A New Kind of Light
It was a Thursday. With warmer weather, we’d had weeks of gloom with no definable light. Just pale, deeper gray, and then dark. This day brought blazing sunshine for a change, and bitter cold. Boots, down parka, scarf. It felt special – like Christmas, or Valentine’s Day, or my birthday – so I put on makeup. I was double masked, so the makeup was certainly more for my psyche than for impressing anybody who saw me.
If we even saw anybody. There would be a pharmacist and probably at least one clerk. It was, after all, a pharmacy – a family-owned corner drugstore in a town 35 miles from where we live. We had appointments, so this would be very different from the marathon wait in a sports stadium many of our age group elsewhere had to endure.
A year ago we had been packing for the trip of a lifetime with my children and grandchildren to celebrate my 70th birthday: an entire week at a house on a Florida beach. This moment at a small pharmacy in Bemidji, Minnesota, would be the beginning of the end of the wait to see them again. Maybe to see them at all.
My arm would hurt. It always did when I got a shot. I might get sick, but I’d planned a day off in that event. I mopped my eyes, looked at my significant other, and saw his eyes were wet, too. I have both of my lungs intact. He doesn’t. I’ve never endured chemo. He has. Still, it might have been me who succumbed to the insidious drowning by a vicious, always-morphing virus. Hundreds of thousands have.
The sunshine was blinding when we pulled into downtown. It was not just sunnier, it was a whole new level of brightness, of lightness, of being. We both fussed with our masks. “Here we go,” he said, a phrase I’d heard from him so many times. But this time, it came from a deep, private well he’d guarded for months. Relief had opened it up, and at long last, hope came pouring out.
The First Thing She Will Say
into death’s corridor of light,
the first thing she will say is Zuzukám,
a riff on my Hungarian name—
Zsuzsanna, Zsuzsi, and the Zuzu
I called myself when I couldn’t yet
pronounce the zs—as in Asia,
What I will hear will not be the word,
not my name, but how she says it—
the give and give of how she pulses
each Zu, Zu, and the endearment kám—
the kiss of k, the ah of welcome,
the hum of its mum, come, m.
I will be weeping,
because she always wept with me,
wept for my weeping,
wept to be weeping with me,
as she rocked me on her lap
when my mother didn’t come home.
And I, who have brought her back to life
in hundreds of thousands of words
I tapped, like code, black on white
screen and page— as I tapped
the black and white piano keys
she so wanted me to play for her—
will remember only one word—