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Many have noted how this time of relative isolation suits introverts so well. True, I buzzed through the glorious spring then summer with unusually abundant rain, reshaping four large garden beds, going out very little and writing, largely content in my sheltered world despite the uncertainty of the pandemic. My daughters and granddaughters live in my neighborhood, so we walk and eat takeout occasionally outside. The weekend before the girls began school, they visited for the first time in weeks. I brought some books to the backyard, including The Velveteen Rabbit. What was I thinking? I’d forgotten the Boy’s scarlet fever, the burning of his clothes, bed things, and toys. The farther I read, the more I broke down and could barely finish. The girls were confused, not knowing where to look. We don’t realize the toll of separation and aloneness until something pries us open, something as simple as a children’s story—then the grief we kept at bay brims over and pours out. We become ‘real’ in our emotions just as the Rabbit did, and the mask of busyness falls away. Oh, let me not forget to tap that reservoir of sorrow and grief—and joy—as I go about the tasks of living. Let me never stop being real in my connections, though I sometimes feel stuffed with sawdust. Let my fur be loved off, let me grow shabby and my joints loosen. Because once you are real, the Skin Horse said, you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.
It happened almost overnight. The moldy decorative squashes I tossed last November into the azalea and hydrangea bed are sprouting vines that dwarf the shrubs, budding like Christmas bubble lights. Every day I cut several little crooknecks from the thumb-thick vine, place their starry ends in bowls, on counters, bright reminders of the year turning again to Thanksgiving/ thanksgiving. Some drip a grainy, gel-like residue from tiny holes drilled in their necks and spiny base. Worms burrowing in. Worms spitting out. I wipe it away each morning. Like the rabbits at my rocket and butter lettuce, all creatures got to eat. Although Aquarius is my sun sign, I’m a Libra rising, so it’s my season too, my October of russet and burnt umber, Libra’s scales tilted against February’s coming freeze. All of us unleaving now, a last gasp to live and let live, even more resonant in this time of pandemic isolation. All of us taking in, spitting out, hungered to the core for what we realize is the miracle elixir now so lacking in our lives: human touch. I shed what I wish was true for what I see real and whole before me, even wormy and imperfect. I wait for spring’s green hand.
Everything seems to glow richer before first frost, a last hurrah before the ghostly breath passes over. The shrub and drift roses still hot pink and coral, nandina berries reddening for Christmas, spirea and viburnum blood-tinged at the edges. This sometimes happens in those who are dying, a sudden animation and presence called terminal lucidity. Your mother or great-aunt snaps to, makes plans to renovate the kitchen or travel to Yellowstone, asks for a ham sandwich and a Coke. A cruel joke, a final surge of adrenaline, grabbing the very throat of life. I was not with my father or grandmother in dying but witnessed my stepmother’s passing. There was no going gentle into that good night—she fought to the end. We realized she was tethered past her time when a niece gasped, “The oxygen!” We stopped its whooshing bellow, and soon after, my stepmother stopped hers. Today I walked through the gardens and laid my hands on the forest pansy redbud, mottled myrtles, beautyberry and rosehips, the paperbark maple’s peeling scrolls. Each breathed its name, present and passing. I thanked and blessed them for their bright living even as we go forth to die.
Copyright 2020 Linda Parsons