Pat Seman – Covid and Amsterdam Photos

Pat Seman
Covid and Amsterdam Photos

For 33 years, Pat Seman has lived in a street that ends at the Amstel River. Every morning she walks along the river and sometimes takes photos with her Samsung smartphone, an SM-G930F. Since Covid, the river path has become much busier with people of all ages exercising, walking, and jogging. As a result, the grass verges have been worn away, as well as the usual spring flowers. River cafes have also been closed; their terraces empty. Seman took the photos of the social distancing poster and electronic message board in March 2020. Her photo of the ice-covered Amstel is from February 2021, contrasted with one a month later, at the beginning of spring.

Pat Seman, City of Amsterdam Social Distancing Poster, photograph, 2020

Pat Seman, Electronic Social Distancing Poster, photograph, 2020

Pat Seman, View of the Amstel, February 2021, photograph, 2021

Pat Seman, View of the Amstel, March 2021, photograph, 2021

Matthew Wood – Tour de Lockdown

Matthew Wood
Tour de Lockdown

Walking brings a meditative escape to what is my busy work life in Children’s Social Care. Photography allows me to appreciate and live in that meditative moment. Tour de Lockdown was photographed on what a year ago would have been a bridge bustling with commuters, tourists, and vehicles. Though it is an eerie scene now, more so with the lighting and mist, it expressed the positive with life cycling into another year as it were. I admit I do enjoy photographing the beauty of bleakness.

Matthew Wood, Tour de Lockdown, photography, 2020

Bryan R. Monte – AQ30 Spring 2021 Book Reviews

Bryan R. Monte
AQ30 Spring 2021 Book Reviews

Kim Addonizio. Now We’re Getting Somewhere, W. W. Norton, ISBN 978-0-393-54089-5, 96 pages.
Colin Bancroft. Impermanence, Maytree Press, 978-1-913508-09-8, 29 pages.

As editor of Amsterdam Quarterly I have the privilege of reviewing poets’ books whether they are just starting out, in mid-career, or have had decades of acclaim. Two poets, one each in the first and last categories are Colin Bancroft and Kim Addonizio respectively. Addonizio’s new book Now We’re Getting Somewhere, is scheduled to be released in March 2021 by W. W. Norton, a well-known, independent, American publisher, whilst Colin Bancroft’s pamphlet (Amer. English: chapbook), Impermanence, was released in October 2020 by Maytree Press, a small British publisher. Both, in my opinion, are well worth AQ’s readers’ attention.
      Now We’re Getting Somewhere is Addonizio’s fourth poetry book from W. W. Norton and her eighth poetry book in total. It is divided into four sections: ‘The Night in the Castle’, ‘Songs for Sad Girls’, ‘Confessional Poetry’, and ‘Archive for Recent Uncomfortable Emotions’, the third section being the most minimal, experimental, and incongruous, which immediately drew my interest due to my graduate school immersion in post-Modernism criticism which places the most emphasis on focussing on erasures, gaps, holes, or inconsistencies in the narrative style to identify the most significant parts.
      Now We’re Getting Somewhere is dedicated ‘To the Makers’ who Addonizio informed me in her interview in this issue, are the poets (from the Greek word poësis) or ‘those who make rather than break things’. It has two epigraphs—the first from Leonard Cohen song referencing a leader’s untrustworthiness and the second by Elizabeth Taylor referring to alcohol, beauty, and sex.
      The first section starts with a bang with the section’s title poem, ‘Night in the Castle’. Danger is present from the very first line with a ‘scorpion twitching on the wall’. The speaker, who is ‘on an artist’s grant’ to write in a medieval, Umbrian castle, wonders if she ‘should slam it with this terrible book of poetry’ (the one she’s writing or reading?) or ‘murder it with my sandal’ since ‘I gave up on mercy long ago’.
      However, in the sixth through eighth stanzas, the focus changes to the poet’s fantasy of what would do if she had the power. She imagines herself as ‘an underage duchess whose husband has finally died / of gout’ … or maybe ‘She might even have poisoned the duke’ to have ‘more secret liaisons with the court musician’. Then she fantasizes about what she would do as ‘a feared & beloved queen ordering up fresh linens & / beheadings’. Her fantasy is re-enforced by further punitive desires of ‘locking up bad poets in their artisanal hair shirts’ and ‘torturing academics with pornographic marionette performances’.
      The poem ends with an imaginative leap in its penultimate and final verses. ‘(T)he scorpion is still there twitching blackly / reciting something about violence and the prison of the ego’ and the speaker imagines ‘the clashing armies on the wide lawn outside / sinking down into history & then standing up again’ as does the castle to this day.
      It’s a good summary of Addonizio’s past themes and concerns, external and internal; her wider awareness of artistic, geo-political, and historical power which is reinforced in other poems in this section. These include the themes of the global travails of people of colour in ‘Black Hour Blues’, ecological, planetary degradation in ‘Fixed and In Flux’ and ‘The Earth Is About Used Up’, migrants working in dangerous conditions in ‘Comfort of the Resurrection’, and gun-toting, religious racists in ‘Grace’. In ‘Animals’, Addonizio explores and destroys Whitman’s naïve trope of the natural world’s beauty and deceptive harmony. However, six poems later she remarks on its surprising comforting in ‘High Desert, New Mexico’ where horses ‘stand outside and wait for you to come / with a single apple’. Moreover, ‘In Bed’ the poet realizes that sex and love aren’t worth as much as lying in a Proustian bed ‘between cork-lined walls / writing very long sentences in French’.
      The second section, ‘Songs for Sad Girls’, contains a series of poems about women’s search for sex and lasting companionship—from the gothic and exotic narratives in ‘Wolf Song’, ‘Ghosted’, ‘All Hallows’, and ‘AlienMatch.Com’ and highly imagistic on-liners in ‘Ways of Being Lonely’, (which I consider one of this book’s best poems), to the more realistic ‘August’, ‘Winter Solstice’ and ‘Small Talk’, the terminal line from which gives this book its title. ‘Songs for Sad Girls’ also contains one of Addonizio’s most well-known poems, the sonnet ‘To the Woman Crying Uncontrollably in the Next Stall’, which is one of Addonizio’s most quoted poems on social media. ‘Résumé, is a tribute to Dorothy Parker’s poem of the same title about suicide. However, instead of listing the disadvantages of using razors, rivers, guns, etc., to kill oneself, this poem discusses the failings of rehab, lovers, and friends to help one stay sober, the poem ending with the couplet:

                  You’ll soon be subtracted;
                  You might as well drink.

      As mentioned previously, the third section’s, ‘Confessional Poetry’ is the most minimalistic and experimental. This poem, with a few lines spread over 13 pages, is a meditation on various subjects such as the real power of writing, the importance the poem’s space to the poet, self-pity, dealing with traumas, public bathroom sex at a conference on pornography, censorship and men’s criticisms, rape, pollution, drinking, and inspiration. Some of my favourite lines in this section are: ‘Writing is like firing a nail gun into the center of a vanity mirror’,… /‘or beating a piñata selfie… so you can pet the demons that fall out’, and five pages later… ‘Not wearing waterproof mascara while you’re being tasered’, as well as two lines, three pages later I quote in their entirety because of their resonance with most poets:

                  I really like feeling something when I stagger into a poem
                  & having a place to lie down & cry.

      Some lines in this section are more compelling than others, but that’s what one would expect in this rather experimental section. These poems are perhaps not as taut and strong as the surrealist, one-liners in ‘Ways of Being Lonely’ in the second section, but they are more urgent, naked, raw, and personal.
      The general themes of desire, decay, disease and death are interwoven in several poems in the fourth section. More specifically, this section addresses the themes of ageing, alcoholism, the impermanence of love, and the poet’s musings and concerns about her legacy. The poet repeats thrice in ‘People You Don’t Know’ that ‘early love is delusional,’ yet that does not keep the speaker from entertaining the thought of going with a ‘stranger’ at the bar to a room ‘with a creeping mold … with a parking lot view.’ In ‘Ex’ the poet says when she was younger she thought:

                  …nothing could ruin our love which is what everyone /
                        thinks at first
                  but it turns out everyone is wrong

In this section’s title poem the poet adds:

                  The I’m sorry I gave you those blow jobs and did you not understand the
                        meaning of “reciprocal” feeling.

Here the poet imaginatively catalogues other feelings of loss:

                  The trees are no longer my friends feeling

                  The my friends are no longer my friends feeling

                  The once I was a nineteenth-century Russian novel but now I’m a frozen
                        chicken entrée feeling

      Her poem ‘Still Time’ mentions Keats’ last days, and after his death how ‘they take his body out and burn the wallpaper.’, her own loss as a child of a plush lion, her parents, as an adult, and how she ‘finally stopping sobbing in the bathroom at weddings’ and then circles back to Keats’ again, and rues she ‘can’t go back to 1821 and invent streptomycin / or stop the poet’s kindly doctor from bleeding his patient’. She does however, ‘see the flowers on the ceilings, the same ones Keats held / for weeks in his fevered gaze.’, and realizes ‘That’s as close as you can get’.
      Mortality comes up again in ‘Happiness Report’ where the poet writes: ‘I hate the term bucket list’. She also regrets that ‘it’s too late to drink myself to death at a young age’.
      In ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You John Keats’, the legacy theme is especially strong. Here the poet, fantasies she could ‘fall through a wormhole or get knocked in the head or go though / some stones in Scotland… with medicines sewn into my in pantaloons’. She describes how she would make Keats ‘forget Fanny Brawne & the big difference in our / ages … (and) lie on the grass & drink French wine & you lay your / head on my breast’. Later she says she wants to be the ‘woman from the future … changing literary history forever…while you steer our little boat out of Lethe / & into the lilies / trailing my hand in the canonical water,’… and that she doesn’t want ‘to stay in this world watching Truth bound and gagged on the / railroad tracks’.
      This legacy theme is also mentioned in ‘Art of Poetry’ where the poet imagines her work discovered ‘sometime before the death of the sun’, which will be ‘display(ed) in a luminous floating interdimensional sphere’. Her mortality is reflected upon at the poem’s end:

                  The days and nights keep drunkenly arriving, the guests are all dying
                  & I’m starting to feel pretty sick.

Yet another poem, ‘Little Old Ladies’ begins with:

                  We know we’re supposed to shut up now and tremble off
                  Into the wilderness of a golf course on the edge of a retirement community’

      She describes the sight, sounds, and smells of the aged delinquents ‘pissing vodka in our bedpans / Pulling the fire alarm, wandering out into traffic’… no one ‘wanting to breathe us in.’ This fourth section contains poems attempting to imagine and perhaps negotiate the end before it comes.
      On a final note, two aspects of this new volume, of which I personally wanted more, were Addonizio’s inventive sonnets and more poems about Italy. Perhaps her investigation of the strictures of the sonnet and her Italian ancestry might help expand and define her sense of her past, present, and future, and help give the last section a more positive or at least more balanced perspective.
      A poet who first came to my attention when he submitted two poems, ‘Marsden’ and ‘Atmosphere’ to AQ27 is Colin Bancroft. As I read these two poems, the whole room and my usually whirring mind stopped as they captured my attention—which is my test of whether I want to publish someone’s poetry. The bio he sent noted an upcoming pamphlet, Impermanence,, which I requested from his publisher, Maytree Press in Scotland.
      I must say I am very impressed with this collection. Its Turneresque cover, by Kevin Threfall, depicts an autumnal landscape ablaze with soft focus swaths of green, yellow, orange, and red, and a long white house or barn at its centre, reminiscent of Turner’s lone ships in the fog. This cover is definitely an attention grabber.
      And Bancroft’s twenty-five poems inside are just as arresting. Though many are composed in rhyming verse, the range of subjects they cover, and the voices they include, are far from the usual fare. ‘Tethered’, the first poem, describes on one level a channel storm about to blow a couple’s tent down. On another level it addresses the couple’s relational tension. The next poem ‘Pheasant’ the speaker, parked in a layby to clear his head hears a pheasants call, thinks it’s a bit ‘mechanical’ and likens it to an instrument recording of a ‘your broken heartbeat’. The poem ‘Absence’, almost seems to describe the Impermanence’s cover. ‘Just a blank canvas / Of fog primed with rain…Trees loom as ragged patterns / In this fine cloth of mist.’
      ‘Mis-en-scène’ contains the thoughts of a young man waiting to enter an amusement park or museum he visited as a child, with his partner, who is a few weeks pregnant, planning his future family. He imagines ‘The cot, the pram, the bike, the toys, the pets / And all the untold stories that would unfold.’ Unfortunately, ‘Three days later / there was a change to the script and we were left / With our plotlines torn’. ‘Snapshot’ makes an interesting if not common comment on marriage. Set at a café reception in the Borderlands, the speaker comments how ‘that it’s all downhill from here.’ A few poems later in ‘Crown’, Bancroft’s poetic language becomes more inventive, where he compares a dead tree in a hedge to a skeleton. ‘And we let it lie there…Touching the earth at last, where its shadow once reached.’—a fitting elegy.
      His poems ‘Marsden’ and ‘Atmosphere,’ both at the centre of this pamphlet, about gradual and sudden change, the former about an abandoned village on ‘a windswept headland’ and the latter about the discovery of an overnight snowfall and its effect on the speaker, were originally published by Amsterdam Quarterly at and at These still have the ability to stop me in my tracks, which is why I decided to publish both in AQ27’s Beginnings and Endings issue. Other poems, such as ‘Overgrowth’, ‘Ambleside’, ‘The Clearing’ and ‘Criccieth’, all succinctly describe the feeling of the English country-, lake-, or seaside.
      Next however, come three poems, which were real surprises: ‘The Broken Tower’, ‘After Frankenstein’, and ‘Census’. In the first, the speaker steps out of himself and imagines the life of Hart Crane just before he committed suicide, in the second, a young woman who goes to bars, bringing various men with different physical attributes home to try to reconstruct a past, lost lover, and the last, the squalid scene a census taker notes a century or so before. It this ability to step outside of himself into different personae and eras, in addition to his description of natural scenery and relations closer to home, which set Bancroft apart as a true poet.             AQ

Gregory Dally – Void of Souls

Gregory Dally
Void of Souls

Some disasters leave humanity in a shadow so vast that it obscures the tragedy.

HARRY New Zealander. He has an air of thoughtful containment and melancholy.
LIAM Australian. A reformed wild man, uncultured but loyal.
TORVALD Norwegian. A precise thinker and a reliable friend.

Current era:
AURELIA Irish pathologist. She has the manner of someone used to commanding attention.

Costuming and Staging
The men are in period attire consistent with a cold environment—heavy trousers, duffel coats, boots. Aurelia is in modern sub-zero clothing.
      The performance space has a bisection: the left is the present; the right is late 1918. The men remain shy of the left; Aurelia never crosses over either.
      There is an optional visual effect: the Aurora Borealis.

HARRY and TORVALD emerge. Harry is staggering about, arms folded, coughing profusely.
LIAM enters. Torvald and Liam observe Harry anxiously. Torvald starts guiding Harry towards the front.

LIAM    Harry, cobber, let’s get you some whiskey, eh? Medicinal tonic. There’s a bar on the island.

Harry stumbles away from Torvald’s guidance and Liam’s advance.

HARRY    Better keep your distance.

LIAM    Careful on the ice. You’ll slide into the drink.

TORVALD    (Whispering) It might be a good idea to keep him away from other passengers.

Liam joins Torvald in steering Harry again, towards the front.

LIAM    I think you’re right, Torvald. If he’s got that lurgy they had in Frisco, it’s best to keep him off the ship, isolate him on shore.

TORVALD    I’ll call the captain. He’ll probably get him a bed in a cottage.

LIAM    Harry! Easy. The jetty’s not steady.

Liam draws Harry with him, away from Torvald. Harry collapses near the front. Torvald and Liam sit on opposing sides of him.

TORVALD    Harry, how are you?

HARRY    Not too bloody good, mate.

LIAM    Hell. You look like…

Now supine, Harry shakes his head. His friends share an apprehensive glance.

HARRY    (Upper class accent) Fresh fields, eh, chaps? Tally ho. The Promised Land. (Laughing, coughing viscerally.) This is it—the end.

LIAM    (Suppressed alarm) They did say this was the end of the world, eh.

HARRY    So this is how Captain Cook felt–in Hawaii. (Exhales.) Minus the heat.

LIAM    Minus, alright. Minus ten. (Sniggers.) And you thought Garston was cold. (Pause.) Cook in Hawaii, huh? It’s not that dire, is it?

HARRY    (Laughs, splutters) Hey, Liam.

Harry gestures Liam to approach. The Australian shuffles near.

HARRY    (Confidentially) D’you remember your, um, declaration of solidarity?

LIAM    You’ve lost me.

HARRY    What you said on the journey, that time I whipped your arse at quoits–that we’re like brothers now, like the real Anzacs down in Europe, the ones who didn’t have fallen arches or other excuses like us. (Pause.) You should probably think again about your promise—you know, that you’d die for me.

LIAM    (Quietly) Oh, Haz. You don’t wanna joke like that.

HARRY    I’m out of jokes. The rations are gone.

TORVALD    I think he means it.

LIAM    Come on, Harry. Who’s gonna excavate all that ore now, eh? You came all this way to get it, you silly bugger. You’ve gotta be tough, that’s all.

HARRY    Tough, huh? My Maori buddy Jack always said that. ‘Kia kaha, Harry. Stay strong.’ Easy advice. (Laughing) Not that it helped his mates, all carking it one by one out there in the sticks in Taranaki.

TORVALD    Sticks?

HARRY    Country, Tor. The countryside. In their maraes.

Harry inclines himself away from the others. Choking and coughing, he scrunches desperately into an embryonic position. Concerned, Torvald and Liam chat inaudibly.

AURELIA ENTERS, carrying a book and a steaming mug. Placing the mug down, she addresses the audience as though they are her colleagues. She can sit on the edge of the space or stand.

TORVALD STANDS AND EXITS. Throughout Aurelia’s monologue, the other men are in a silent parallel to her modern era. Harry is breathing heavily, ailing; Liam embraces him comfortingly. Eventually TORVALD RETURNS with a blanket, drapes this around Harry and sits next to them. Liam is distraught, Torvald stoic. Aurelia holds up the book. She is subdued, but determined.

AURELIA    Pale Horse, Pale Rider. Got it in Seattle on the flight up. One of the few novels about the flu. (Laughs.) Man, I really am a virus hound–even in my spare time. I’ve got the bug, ha ha. If you’ve never heard of this book, fair enough. You haven’t heard of any items of fiction about Spanish Lady, have you? For some reason, not many people sat at their keyboards and started out like, ‘Flu killed all my friends.’ There’s minimal homage out there for twenty or forty million—whatever total you accept. In our research for this expedition, some references cited eighty million. (Pause.) And where are the Ground Zero memorials for the Lady’s fatalities? Oh, there are some. Longyearbyen, Boston, Alaska, the Fort Riley Monument in Kansas, where the epidemic might’ve started. There aren’t pilgrimages to them, though, are there? (Recalling.) ‘The most lethal pandemic ever.’ The single most deadly incidence of a virus. One of the plagues killed more, yes, the one-hundred-and-fifty-year one, but the Spanish Flu caused its attrition in a year or less. (Pause.) And apart from our vocation, who even spares it a thought? (Sneering) You’d think everyone should be into it, not just pathologists. (Pause.) You try to stay detached. They’re just subjects, not people, yada yada. There’s something about these ones, though–so pristine after all this time. (Raises her mug.) Salut, permafrost, an ally to our profession—and to the world, if the tissue samples we glean here yield a preventative or cure. (Smiles.) It’s impossible to understand why such a scale of horror hasn’t osmosed into the global consciousness more than it has. Covid’s given it cameos in the news. Yay, the pandemic. (Snorts.) It’s like no one wants to know about it. ‘Bring out your dead’ was almost a romantic slogan by comparison. (She looks right, through the adjacent tableau of travellers.) Where’s the romance for these wallflowers, the inhabitants of that illustrious little boneyard over there, our extractions? (She waves the novel.) Pale Rider is a measly epitaph for so many losses. (Pause.) The plagues, Dub Dub One and Two, AIDS—you name the calamity, there’s a buttload of fiction to eulogize it. (Laughs.) And then there’s this unexpressed vacuum that these poor sods fell into, and countless others globally. It’s like the rest of us have left them void of souls. They’ve been deleted from our minds, God help us. That’s quite a trick. Los Desaparecidos. They’re the out-of-mind experience for humanity. (Quietly) You know how you dislike someone just because they remind you of aspects of yourself that you despise? (Laughs.) You’re thinking, ‘What’s Aurelia on about now?’ (Pauses, sighs.) I reckon those forgotten tens of millions are like that. A curtain’s been raised against them, for fear of even recognizing something so…so insufferable. Maybe we comprehend evil in ourselves—or our human enemies—but can’t take the reality of such ruin from the invisible inside us. (Pause.) But plagues and AIDS and Covid were inside us, you say? (Chortles.) Plagues? Everyone blamed evil spirits and bearded ladies, then fleas and pets. AIDS? Monkey phobia, homophobia. Covid had the amplification of modern media. The flu? That’s sort of just us, to the standard logic. (Pause.) The original microscopic massacre—a tragedy too insidious for us to glorify.

As the men’s scene reactivates, AURELIA EXITS reverently, taking her book and mug. Harry sobs. Leaning away from the audience, he splutters uncontrollably, seemingly vomiting. He gazes abstractedly past his friends.

HARRY    I’d left all this behind. All those bodies slung across Hagley Park, my brother somewhere in that festering heap. Standing there, (Snorts.) I couldn’t help thinking about us playing tiggy with mates, and how he always got caught. Me? Never. (Pause.) I thought I’d escaped it.

LIAM    You made it here. You’ll make it through.

HARRY    Look at them, our lucky fellow passengers.

TORVALD    (Sympathetically.) The captain should be here soon, and the doctor.

HARRY    Oh, look at your face, Tor. You know you are looking at your deaths in mine, you and Liam. You know that this (Pointing at himself.) is your future.

Leaning away again, he makes a rasping, guttural cough.

TORVALD    Oh, Harry. Soon you’ll have no blood left.

LIAM    Is there nothing we can do to help him?

Torvald is looking at the area into which Harry is coughing.

TORVALD    It’s no good, Liam. The blood is coming from his lungs. (Yelping.) Herregud! The snow!

LIAM    What’s that stuff? Torvald, hold his head up so he doesn’t choke. Let’s get that crap out of his mouth.

Torvald obliges. Liam is facing away and Harry is partly obscured. Liam appears to be clearing Harry’s mouth.

HARRY    (Deliriously.) This is my halo, yes? (Laughs.) Liam, I’ve got a holy glow in the snow—a nice red halo.

Harry shrieks, an uninhibited outlet of grief. Liam and Torvald scoop Harry up. Carrying him, THEY EXIT.

Optional visual effect: a suggestion of the Aurora Borealis; kinetic, psychedelic tones. This can last until the finish.

AURELIA RETURNS, carrying some flowers and a sheet of paper that has text on it. She stands facing the audience and conducts a self-styled memorial. Sometimes dropping flowers, she refers to the sheet only cursorily during an eloquent address.

AURELIA    God bless these people we study. Unlike many unrecorded ones, at least they have the dignity of identities, the integrity of names. (Reading) Royle, Henry—brackets, Harry. Jolly, Stella. (Pause.) Armitage, Liam. (Pause.) Stigsen, Torvald.

She bows her head devoutly. TORVALD ENTERS coughing and stands near the front. He has a Bible and flowers. He stifles his coughing and delivers a tremulous eulogy. To him, the audience are other mourners in 1918. His composure is fragile; his strained English has an impassioned elegance.

Aurelia stays in a venerating pose, observing a period of silence.

TORVALD    This is…How would Liam say it?…a shitty little place. If we stand here much longer, we will freeze to statues, as still as him and the others.

Torvald almost seems to regard the modern day scientist for a moment, then readdresses the audience. As he continues, Aurelia looks up. Softly, restrained, she hums ‘Danny Boy.’ This is a consonance to Liam’s conclusion. As his requiem finishes, she might sing several lines.

TORVALD:    I could never forget that awful complexion they had, the colour of extinction–a strong purple, like lavenders. (Pause.) I’m sorry, Harry, Liam, that we can’t give you anything better than terrible crosses of wood to value your terrible deaths, your wonderful lives. You and these other unfortunates from the ship and this island deserve much more. But, dear ones, your deaths were so huge, we had to use dynamite to bury you! (Laughs.) It’s a pity you missed the explosions, Liam. You loved a good…How’d you say?…scrap, a fight. We had to fight to get you all under this cold, hard ice which has no life in it but yours. It freezes the earth and it holds you all, young always. (Coughs, places the Bible down, starts throwing flowers.) Liam predicted that the Aurora would appear by this time of our arrival. Heavenly colours fill the sky to honour our friends, to farewell them. (Pause.) In the end, we can offer them only flowers…and our love, which soon may vanish too. Harry would call me insincere if I speak of a God, (Snorting) as he put it, a godforsaken God. So I’ll just say,…you take with you the grace you brought to this world. I think he would accept that.

Aurelia’s humming or singing diminishes.


Franz Jørgen Neumann – Earth Year

Franz Jørgen Neumann
Earth Year

That Susan. She was right about catastrophe. And having planned so meticulously for its arrival, she’s not alarmed now that it’s here. She’s calm around the girls and around you and even when alone, like now. You watch her kneading dough, her lips singing a song you can’t hear through the window. Her hair is streaked with flour. She’ll still be lovely when she’s gray. You’re outside chopping wood and shooing biting flies, out of her league but somehow her husband and father to three girls. And yet you’re not completely on board with Plan B.
      For one thing, the five of you have only stayed here at the cabin during the warm summers, and never for more than a few weeks. Susan wants to remain through winter and then some, until the pandemic is over. There’s nothing you can say that will talk her out of it, especially as she’s already turned the cabin into a walk-in pantry. There are more dry goods here than in the nearest store, enough propane tanks for a thousand BBQs, toilet paper that could stretch to the moon, plus two packed refrigerators and a deep freeze, all powered by the solar array. And, whenever you finish splitting the wood, there’ll be enough fuel to get you through a Sierra winter.
      It’s not cabin fever you fear. There’s an old TV with a VHS player and plenty of tapes, and a wall with hundreds of books that Susan has brought up here on each visit to this getaway built by her grandfather on a grandfathered plot just within the border of Sequoia National Park. Susan has placed the unread books pages out so they’re not judged when it’s time to pick a new read. Reading is Susan’s thing. Your oldest, Amelia, is already reading at a high school level even though she’s only eleven. Millie, at eight, is hitting middle-school targets. Pearl, four, is right on track. She prefers drawing and building things with sticks. You would never tell the others this, but Pearl is your favourite daughter for being, like you, exceptionally average. Pearl, you’re certain, would also have reservations about Plan B, if she wasn’t four.
      Take it in. No redwoods, but plenty of lodgepole pines. There’s a decent meadow edged by a stream with a couple pools deep enough to swim and fish in. Right now your daughters sit out on the edge of the meadow having a picnic as you stack wood. It’s idyllic here, despite the ticks and flies. There’s no hint that everyone, everywhere else on the planet is—but Susan’s forbidden you to talk about it. First not with the kids, now not even with her. One of Plan B’s requirements is calling this time away from your lives in Sacramento Earth Year. Susan told the girls that everyone has agreed to take a year off from working, studying, travelling, and buying to help combat climate change and allow the planet to heal. It’s the reason she gave the girls for pulling them out of school a month before the shut down. If the girls have heard talk of the virus, they still haven’t put one and one together. Earth Year is a large fib, but not necessarily a lie, and Susan sees no point in the girls bearing the pointless burden of bad news. They’re safe here. Nature documentaries on VHS, but no internet; walkie-talkies, but no phones. No word can reach them to glum up their existence. You, of course, listen to the news from the jeep, parked at the end of a spur a quarter mile from the cabin, where the nearest fire road passes by. You, alone, know the shape of things.
      You wash up in the outhouse, which is far nicer than the bathroom in the rental you left. Here there’s a heated tile floor you installed a few years ago, plentiful light, even a tub that was a pain to lug in by foot, though it’s still hard to hide the dusty smell of primitive plumbing. You enter the cabin just as the soup is ladled out. There’s fresh bread laid out around sunny pads of butter. The girls talk about the scorpion they found in a rotted log that day, about the dam they built of stones, about the fool’s gold they’re collecting and which they’ve asked you to assay. ‘Could be, could be,’ you say. ‘There is gold in these mountains.’
      As you clean up the kitchen, Susan begins packing for tomorrow’s hike. The girls have wanted to go exploring, and you’re looking forward to a couple days without chopping wood, though you’re not the biggest fan of sleeping on the ground. That night, in bed, Susan tells you to be careful. You’re sure the girls are asleep up in the loft. Careful, she says again, but it’s because she’s out of pills—the one thing she didn’t plan for. You end up laughing at her oversight until the girls wake, climb down, and you have to come up with another joke to satisfy their curiosity.
      Susan’s prepper side didn’t arise until after Amelia was born. You forgave this quirk because Susan continued to have the optimism, beauty, and generosity that made—and continues to make—her seem ten times as alive as anyone you’ve ever met. Who wouldn’t want optimism, beauty, and generosity in their life—and once offered, take it? So pay checks have gone where Susan’s directed them: into extensive cabin repairs, the solar panel array and batteries, the new outhouse, generators, the jeep—while all other aspects of your lives have been put on hold or fallen into neglect. You remain the kind of family that exhausts their cutlery drawer by the end of the day. The kind of family not bothered by worn clothes or cracks in the walls or a little mould on the edge of a block of cheese.
      Still, in the last few years you’ve begun to feel that the investments in the cabin have gone too far. You’re both well past the age where you should already have a sizeable retirement savings, in addition to college savings for the girls. Instead, all your money has vanished into preparing for disaster. This is not how you feel now, though, not with disaster come calling. You’re grateful you listened to Susan. Any retirement or college investments would have been lost. Buying a place in Sacramento, Plan A, your plan, would have sunk and entrapped you both. And yet. Plan B. It has its flaws.
      You worry about having enough food, about being trapped, about accidents. Maybe the highway won’t be plowed come winter—the fire road certainly won’t be. What if there’s an accident, a fall, a burn, some incident that requires you to leave the mountains for help? You’d all be trapped in misery. Not Donner-party misery, but dangerous all the same. It’s not the bears or mountain lions you’re afraid of. It’s little slips, spills, and pricks of misfortune, and the snow that will say: no, you have to deal with it. Here. On your own.
      After breakfast, you all head out for the overnight trip, pack on your back, Susan and the two oldest girls ahead of you with their hair in matching bandannas cut and stitched from window curtains. Pearl sits on your shoulders, hands on your cap. You gave her a haircut last week and you’re glad you can’t see your handiwork. You follow the trail to the fire road. It’s always a relief to see the jeep parked there, even though it’s been only a few days since you snuck out here to listen to the radio. The car’s still covered in dust. Wash Me, Amelia wrote a month ago. It hasn’t rained since. Please!, Millie adds now, below. She underlines the plea, then shows you her fingertip, like the dirt is something you did.
      You walk the fire road until it intersects a park service trail. Susan sings camp songs as you head into the shade, the girls listening, joining in, making requests. Where the first sequoia appears, Susan tells all of you to breathe deeply and experience how clean the air is. You all breathe deeply. You see no one. Not even when the trail rises up to a curve of Highway 198. There’s not a single car, not even a construction crew using the opportunity to repair the roads. You walk in a row down the highway, under the dark shade of the towering Sequoias. A coyote jogs ahead of you for a good five or ten minutes, almost like it’s happy for the company. You imagine summers haven’t been this quiet since Colonel Young and his Buffalo Soldiers journeyed up here to build this road well over a century ago. Or maybe you’d have to go all the way back to when only native people were here. To re-energize the tired girls, you pretend you are all members of the Tübatulabal; you’re the chief leading the tribe here for the relative cool of summer. But you’re too tired for cultural appropriation, and anyway, what it really feels like is that you’re the only family left alive in the world. It’s spooky. You’d love to have to clear the road for a passing tour bus.
      At the General Sherman, Susan lets the girls climb over the barriers and hug the world’s largest tree. You do, too. You smell the bark, see the tiny cobwebs in the cracks, the wood fluid, flowing a few inches a century, every square inch a universe. You camp not far off and sleep under the slivers of star-filled sky. It’s not as dark as it could be; the light pollution hasn’t abated. You are a little relieved.
      In the morning you make coffee with the Primus burner turned down to a whisper, but in the forest it’s loud enough to rouse the others.
      ‘Shh,’ you say as they emerge from their bags. You point to the grazing deer.
      When you resume your hike, you let the girls go ahead, just out of ear shot. You try to tell Susan what you last heard on the jeep’s radio: that the virus spread rate hasn’t just levelled, it’s plummeted. Schools are set to reopen, some businesses, too. You might be able to get your job back. A harsh winter in the Sierras isn’t necessary or even wise. There are other reasons to head back down, too. Millie broke her glasses at the beginning of summer and needs new ones. The girls miss their friends.
      ‘Shh,’ Susan said, and gives you a quick close-lipped kiss. ‘Don’t tear yourself apart. Is there a vaccine yet? Then it doesn’t matter. Earth Year, Dan. Earth Year.’
      ‘But work.’
      ‘No one works during Earth Year,’ she says, reminding you of the rules of the game.
      And so you try to be here, try to take in the majesty of the sequoias, try to buy into Plan B completely. At the locked visitors centre, Susan commandeers a maintenance cart and backs it up. The noise of the beeping must carry a mile. There’s no one to hear it but you. The worry is within you. Imaginary.
      ‘All aboard,’ she says.
      She drives all of you the short distance to Moro Rock. You get out and climb the narrow twisting trail of steps to the top. There is no one coming down the other way. The air is cleaner at the overlook, but not entirely. There is still agricultural haze. Maybe already next week, with schools and businesses reopening, the tide of vehicular smog will wash back in. Staring the other way, across the width of the Sierras, you see flecks of snow on Mount Whitney. Come winter, snow will cover everything. White is also the colour of doom.
      ‘Have you ever seen such a view, girls?’ Susan says.
      It’s a strange question, because, yes, you’ve all been up here many times before. But never alone. You suspect that Susan hasn’t been preparing for disaster, but for this: a national park to herself and her family. She is a misanthropist in disguise, a glutton, an Eve back in the garden. You descend Moro Rock and return to the untouched cart. Susan drives you all to the nearby meadows. There, you watch a bear dozing on a log, its cubs rummaging through the tall grass, unseen. Marmots wait for the bears to leave. Woodpeckers hammer away in the high trees. There are wildflowers, thick and bee-rimmed, in blue and red and cream. And you feel it, suddenly: this is yours. Yours and no one else’s. Sharing isn’t caring. Sharing is contraction, noise, a trample of destruction. This here is yours. A gift. You should accept it until it’s taken away.
      You see no one on the long hike back to the cabin. No one stumbles and sprains an ankle. No one cuts themselves and suffers an infection beyond the healing ability of a squirt of antiseptic. Everything is good, as Susan said it would be.
      You see no one else for the next month, or the month after that. You finish chopping up winter’s fuel, you read endless books with calloused hands. You now know more about the Enlightenment, the Korean War, and the Raj than you ever thought your brain would ever come to know. The history of the world is a history of struggle and progress and the debt of that progress. You run the jeep once a week so the battery won’t die, but you do the right thing and leave the radio off. Mornings are cold, with a curious rainbow of frost on the meadow before the sun melts it.
      Just after the winter’s first light flurry, Susan breaks down to the girls’ daily requests for milk and sends you on one final run down into the valley before the first real snow comes. You take Pearl with you, planning to also get her new glasses. Pearl should be in her car seat, but there’s no one on the road. It’s safe when you’re the only family around. You turn on the radio when you’re out of the forest. Like the last time, there’s music and commercials, no hint of the pandemic. It’s over. It’s over. It never was Earth Year, of course. Your stay in the Sierras was a flash of fool’s gold. Though it’s curious that the roads are empty. You switch to the AM band, the frequency of disaster.
      That Susan. Correct again. Schools closed once more. Businesses shuttered. The financial report contains numbers both so enormous and so small that they would make you tremble if you had money to lose. Your investment is in the cabin, in your stores of food, in the solar array, the clothes, the cash that’s hidden in, of all places, the outhouse.
      The nearest optometrist is closed, but also out of business. As is the next. You didn’t tell Pearl you were planning on buying her new glasses, so she’s not disappointed. She’s happy you’re driving straight again, so she can get over her car sickness. You try to explain that motion sickness is a conflict of the senses, between what you see and what your body feels, but you’re not doing a good job explaining it. Maybe it’s better that the world around her is slightly blurry and more like a painting then a photograph; maybe it’s better she has, on occasion, a slight unease in her stomach so it’s not a stranger. She, like you, belongs to the average clan, and the average clan is not immune to feeling uneasy.
      You stop at a farm stand at the base of the mountains. You buy more than you can eat. The rest Susan will have to can. They sell milk and eggs here, too, out in the open air, and you buy half their stock of eggs and enough milk to reconstitute a cow. Behind the man who takes your money stands a woman braiding her daughter’s hair. None of you are wearing a mask. You can smile at each other, and do, and you realize you have fallen into fantasy, again. The world is far from ending. Not when it offers any stranger that might appear a cornucopia of fruit and vegetables, a taste of things that have not ended. Disaster would be fields dried to dust, no sign of life. This is the very opposite of disaster. This is plenty. You thank them and load the jeep. Inside, you wipe the dust from a pluot and hand it to Pearl who nibbles on it for a while before falling asleep on the long drive. She wakes again when you park as close to the cabin as you’re able. She feels absolutely fine, not the least bit car sick.
      You carry what you can and follow her on the trail. This is now Plan C: to live as though the world beyond exists and doesn’t exist, that you are safe and unsafe. You will try, as hard as you can, to not let the contradictions make you unwell. You give Pearl an egg to carry to teach her care and attention. And when it breaks, halfway to the cabin, you give her another. On your last run you remove the jeep’s battery, cover the vehicle with a tarp for winter, and carry in the last of the season’s fruit. Snow begins to fall. AQ

Algo – An Unknown Track

An Unknown Track

The currency of fear does not devalue
Nor does it enrich our lives.
Huddled behind closed doors,
Not unhinged,
But getting there,
And at the same time getting nowhere.
Everywhere forbidden unless essential.
Contactless and reverential.
The washing or wringing of hands.
Alcohol part of the ceremony.
Heading down an unknown track,
At great speed.

Lawdenmarc Decamora – Quarantine: A Song

Lawdenmarc Decamora
Quarantine: A Song
Somehow the cure is kept
in the hips of the wind,
in the neck of the trees
in your village where
you waited for me
to declare, oh, my mouth’s
a closed souvenir shop.
There was in my breathing
an image long quarantined,
a feeling squirming
through tiny cracks
and tight checkpoints.
A fresh start to trace
my path to your fever
dream’s thousand tremolos.
I kept silent, my lips fuller
from your pain’s sweet
medicine. They’re wet
with what you’ve overcome.
And like sugar in the new
normal’s breath, you gave
me morning, my dear,
as you gave abundance
to agriculture. Light
would embrace the shades
again. I thought I saw you
standing by the silver lake,
and then I thought
I found the cure.

Darya Danesh – A Day in Isolation

Darya Danesh
A Day in Isolation

The outside world is shut down, and while his morning commute is non-existent, my husband, Fedde, still sets the alarm. He’s always awake by 5 a.m. anyway, so I wonder why we use an alarm at all. It’s late spring, and I can hear the birds chirping and chimps at the zoo down the street screaming for breakfast. They’ve been at it since sunrise.
      We wake up to Radio538. The morning show with Frank Dane. Listening to morning radio feels the same, but somehow different. It’s like waking up after a night out in uni, everyone speaking a little slower, trying to make sense of the night before. There is so much to talk about and somehow nothing at all.
      While the traffic report is non-existent, the news of the morning comes in the form of shortages at the grocery store: pasta, rice, toilet paper. I imagine in a few years we’ll joke about ‘The Great Toilet Paper Shortage of 2020’, not because it’s the most important thing to remember, but maybe because it’s the only thing we’ll have been able to process.

Time to get out of bed. For my husband, anyway. I only know what time it is because I hear Frank say: ‘It’s 6:45 and we’re picking a song to fit the news. Who’s got one on toilet paper?’ Just like every other morning, Fedde springs out of bed and prepares for the day. I linger in bed just a bit longer.
      The light goes on in the bathroom, the automatic fan coming on a few seconds later. I hear some shuffling and the water goes on. I pray that he’s put down the toilet cover. Our bathroom is so small that the shower is fit snug into the corner. There’s no room for a door or a shower curtain so the tiny square meter of sea-glass coloured tiles remains open and the toilet, placed just a few inches away, gets soaking wet. I’m not in the mood to slip off the toilet seat. Again.

I turn over, sleepy, and cuddle with our tuxedo cat, Bonky. He loves a morning cuddle. He lies on his side and waits for me to put my arm across his chest and belly so he can wrap his legs around it. I scratch his little chin and he purrs with delight.
      Just as I’m getting comfortable, the purring putting me back to sleep, Fedde is back in the bedroom, indulging in a particular morning routine that drives me mad. As he gets dressed, he likes to take a moment to look out onto the street. It’s always now, almost to the second, that the shining sun’s rays bounce off the windows of the building across the street and beam straight into my tired eyes.
      ‘Ugh, love, the sun,’ I groan.
      He apologises and closes the curtain, but never quite far enough. There’s still a sliver of bare window right where the sun is shining through. Annoyed my attention has shifted, Bonky gets up with a jump. I groan again, and sit up.

I haven’t left the house in two weeks now, and I’m both annoyed and happy to have this sense of normalcy. I slip out from under my blanket and hang my legs over the side of the mattress. I bend down to grab my pyjama bottoms from the night before which are on the floor next to my feet. Left foot in, right foot in, hold the waistband, pull up as I hoist myself up off the bed. Like a zombie, I walk towards the kitchen.
      Bonky’s attention is back on me as he snakes through my legs. ‘Yes, honey, I’m coming, I know you’re hungry,’ I exclaim in the sweet, high-pitched voice I always put on when talking to him. I grab the can of dry food, take off the lid, and pour it into his bowl.
      The pot, pan, and dishes from last night’s dinner are piled on the counter next to the sink and I try to ignore them as I fill the water tank of our coffee machine. Fedde is rustling around in the living room as I scoop our Douwe Egberts signature Aroma Rood coffee grinds into the coffee filter. One scoop. Two. ‘Do you want three or four?’ I lose count as he yells for three, empty the grinds from the filter back into their green canister and start my count again.

The coffee machine has done its job for the morning and I’ve poured our morning java—strong and black, just how we drink it every day. Before meeting Fedde, I always put cream and sugar in my coffee. ‘XL triple-triple,’ I’d yell through to the Tim Hortons drive-thru employee. Now that I think of it, coffee in North America just isn’t really coffee, is it? I love a strong cup now, but do I enjoy it because of the taste, or is it just easier to take it black, especially since my bowels can’t handle milk or creamer as well as they used to?
      Recently, Fedde has spent breakfast moaning about another day of not being in the office with his colleagues, dreading the monotony of never-ending Zoom calls where he can’t actually get anything done. When asked what my day looks like, my answer is the same as most days, ‘I didn’t sleep well so I’ll probably take a short nap, then I need to do a bit of work to get my hours in, maybe go for a walk.’ I’m scared to go outside. I haven’t been for months now. What if, as I go for my walk around the block, I walk by someone who has Covid and in the seconds before we cross paths, they cough into the air without covering their face, and I in turn walk into the cloud left behind their mouth—a Covid cloud, as I affectionately call it—and then I catch it and die. It’s not like I have much of an immune system since the treatment for my leukaemia. I don’t mention this to Fedde though, as he kisses me goodbye, grabs his coffee-filled travel mug and heads upstairs to our attic-turned-home-office for his workday.

I crawl back into bed and check my phone for the first time this morning. Almost a hundred messages from my Court of Rants and Moans group chat—in other words, my group of girlfriends who happen to also be writers. We live on different continents, so WhatsApp is always busy. While I slept, the girls were having their nightly writing session. It’s nice to have them to chat about writing in real time. My regular critique group only e-mails now. The girls are nighttime writers though. I only function in daylight hours.
      I do my morning news check, too, to see if there is any more information about the terrifying virus taking over the world. In Italy, there’s a total lockdown! Videos have been popping up of neighbours sitting on balconies playing instruments—violins, guitars, pots, pans—anything to join in. You can see whole streets bustling with joy and music despite the strange, deadly times we’re living through.
      As I scroll through the news, I also click through to an article talking about how deadly this new virus can be for people with pre-existing conditions. My heart sinks. Here I am, asthmatic, immune-compromised, with weak lungs, trying to survive in a world that’s being overtaken by an acute respiratory disease.
      Before I fall into a panic, I toss my phone to Fedde’s side of the bed, coax Bonky to come in for a cuddle, and try to fall back to sleep.

I wake up from what feels like a fever dream. I knew it wasn’t real even while I was in it—my hair was long, flowing down to my lower back—and yet, as I wake up sweating and confused, I reach for my head, just in case. I always seem to see other me’s in my dreams. Moments from memories locked away, wishes for the future—never the normal me I see staring back in the mirror during waking hours.
      A little disappointed, I climb out of bed and change into day clothes. Well, clean hoodie and sweatpants, at least. What’s the point in anything more when I’ve nowhere to be? Groggy and annoyed that I’ve woken as bald as I’ve been these last five years since treatment, I drag my feet towards the living room to fold the never-ending pile of laundry waiting for me in a basket beside the couch.
      Gilmore Girls keeps my mind from running to its deepest corners, waiting for me to slip into them. This is the sixth time that I’ve started this series from the beginning. There’s something about Stars Hollow and the Gilmore girls that makes me feel safe.
      From the laundry pile, I pick up a dress I bought three years ago on one of those shopping trips in the city we used to take to quell my sadness. It was a few buildings down from the American Book Center—my favourite bookstore and the home of the Amsterdam Quarterly events, where I met my critique group. Esprit, the store was called. As I looked at scarves and handbags, Fedde moseyed off and picked out this flowing, teal dress with purple and orange paisley for me to try on. I had lost so much weight from a year’s worth of treatment and not being able to keep my meals down. Even though I’ve gained weight from the steroids and multitude of medication, the dress has grown with me. There’s a flicker of gratitude as I pull it right side out. Short-lived as, in the movement, my wedding and engagement rings fall off.
      ‘Ugh, not again!’
      I feel through the dress to see where the rings have gone until I hear them fall onto the ground. I think about how my weight has changed in recent years. First I was so thin you could feel my ribs, then so bloated my belly was streaked with purple striae that I felt ripping my skin. The steroid-related weight gain refused to budge, so we had to get my rings expanded, paying over €100 for the extra gold that had to be added. Once I came off the steroids, my weight went back to somewhere in between those two extremes. Now my rings have loosened… Again. I try not to think what might have happened if they fell off as I pulled my wallet out of my handbag to pay for a coffee at the café around the corner.

At noon on the dot, like every day since he’s been forced to work from home, Fedde comes down for lunch. I’ve warmed up some vegetarian schnitzels filled with satay sauce and have slipped it between a couple of slices of bread with lettuce, mayo, and sambal. Next to it, I’ve smeared some butter onto another slice of bread and loaded it with old cheese, Fedde’s favourite. It’s become one of the core routines of our new normal to sit on the couch for lunch, eat, and watch an episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
      I’m having a bit of a hard time watching a police sitcom these days. I’ve been putting my energy into listening to activists and learning about how Black, Indigenous, and other ethnic minorities in Western society are disproportionately disenfranchised not only through the crisis that this virus has unleashed upon us, but also in the everyday, pervasive ways that systematic racism exists in our society. This came, in part, from the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, but also through my recent need to get in touch with my own roots as a woman of colour myself. I’ve been thinking a lot about the micro-aggressions I’ve faced in everyday life. Things I shrugged off as ignorance. But isn’t that part of the problem? I try to keep my thoughts to myself, not wanting to start a conversation about race with Fedde right now. There’s just too much to talk about and while he’s happy to discuss issues of race with me normally, I don’t want to overwhelm him with such a big conversation when he’s already going stir crazy from his tiny home office amongst boxes of Christmas decorations and furniture that doesn’t quite fit in our living room.

As soon as the episode is finished, Fedde drags himself back to his ‘office’ and into a meeting. I grab my laptop and sit at the dining table to try and find the motivation to work. An e-mail has come through titled ‘Changes being made due to Covid.’ I try to speed read the Dutch text to get to the point. There. In bold. A sentence that translates to: “Your expected work time will be cut from two days down to one.”
      I am fuming.
      I was looking forward to having something to hold my attention through these long weeks of being at home and, to be frank, I need the money. We have car payments and are saving to buy a house. Sure, Fedde brings in the majority of our income, but the little I do bring in allows me to help with our bills, groceries, and health insurance. It seems out of left field since just yesterday we were planning a bunch of new small projects at work. Two weeks on, I’ll get a Skype call from my only direct colleague letting me know that she’s found a new job. Great! Not only am I stuck here, but I’m stuck here alone.
      I decide I’m too angry to work, so I take my laptop back into the bedroom, cuddle up under the duvet, and turn Gilmore Girls back on.

After a couple of episodes, my Netflix has started glitching, so I’ve moved on to YouTube.
      A pastime I enjoy equally as much as reading itself is watching videos of people talking about what they’ve been reading. What I’ve noticed in my own reading habits, and in those of these booktubers, is that we’re all reading nearly double what we were reading before we were stuck at home. I was so proud of my four books read last month. Then I started to watch these videos of people reading closer to twenty. My jaw dropped, and I felt a small pang of shame. Why am I not spending more time to read even more than the ‘more’ I’m already reading? What I don’t know now is that in a few months, once I’ve discovered the joy of audiobooks, I’ll finish eight books in a month!
      I finally close my laptop and pick up my current book club read.

As I walk into the living room, Fedde comes storming in. He’s mad, and swearing under his breath. He’s just received news from the homeowner’s association about using our storage space as an office. Apparently, using the attic for any reason other than storage, as is written in the bylaws, can be subject to legal action. He closes the living room door to ensure that our voices don’t travel into the hallway as he rehashes the conversation he’s just had.
      ‘Do these people really think I want to be working in the attic? Do they think I’d be doing this if I had any other choice?’
      Right then and there we decide to rearrange the living room so that he can put his home office into the corner beside our antique china cabinet. We were planning on moving anyway, but this really is the cherry on top. We decide it’s time to call a realtor. Tomorrow. First thing.
      First Fedde was wound up, but now he’s tired too from bringing his office downstairs. I’ve made the executive decision to get a takeaway for dinner tonight. We’re trying to support our local restaurants, so we order a pizza from the Italian place down the street. While we wait for it to arrive, we put on the Dutch/Belgian crime drama that’s gotten a lot of attention lately. Undercover. It’s about a couple of detectives who go undercover in a trailer park trying to get an in with the local drug lord.
      When the pizza arrives, we pop it in the oven for 10 minutes at 150° Celsius, the temperature and time suggested by a virologist in an article I read about the possible transfer of Covid through food. It turns out the risk is super low, but my anxiety tells me I have to do everything and anything to make that risk nearly impossible. I’m just not ready to die yet, especially not from this monstrous virus.

We put our dishes away and head to bed, more lethargic now than we’ve been all day since the pizza caused us both to have bellyaches. We remind each other that this won’t last forever, and that we just have to continue on as best as we can. Hou vol, as the government and various adverts keep reminding us.
      As usual, Fedde falls asleep within seconds of saying goodnight. I lie awake for at least another hour, every thought I’ve ever had racing across my mind. The last thing I remember before I fall asleep is wondering which version of myself I’ll meet in my dreams tonight. AQ

Daun Daemon – The 2020 Christmas Cards

Daun Daemon
The 2020 Christmas Cards

Dear Aunt Jean,

The whole family misses seeing you and hopes you are well. Everyone knows the staff nurses at Sunset Pines take extraordinary care of the residents. I hope to drive the four hours to stand outside your window and wave at you soon.

Dear Bob and Laura,

I heard through the grapevine that you plan to leave California — and move to Arizona of all places! The fires were really frightening, but I’m sure you’ll miss those hills, the wineries, and the house you rebuilt so magnificently after the previous fires. You’re leaving at a good time. Too many people out there are having big parties and running around unmasked.

To my sweet sister and her husband,

Christmas will not be the same without our family gathering this year. Please keep Mama safe — you really shouldn’t let the kids and grandkids come over.

I know our politics often clash, but one thing we can agree on is that we love each other no matter how misguided in thinking we believe the others are. I won’t gloat this year because I recall how I felt four years ago.

My cherished BFF,

Thank you so much for the wonderful Advent wines! I know I’m supposed to sample one a day, but I’ve already pulled out a few bottles to “taste test” as I write. (I just finished the card for one of the sisters, so the wee bottles are exactly what I need right now.) We WILL go on our Caribbean vacay next year! Let’s spend time planning all the wonderful future adventures we’ll have and not crying over the ones we missed this year.

To Dr. Shannon and staff at We Care Cat Clinic,

Many purrs to you this holiday season from da boyz: Maximus, Boris, and Dude! All of us miss our sweet Josephine, and we thank you for taking such good care of her at the end. Though February was many months ago, it seems like just yesterday that she crossed the Rainbow Bridge.

                        (← sorry about the wet spots there)

I wish I could drop off a tin of cheese straws this year, as usual, but I understand why you are letting only the kitties come in right now.

Dear students who are no longer my students,

HAhaha. This isn’t a real card but I’m writing it anyway. Wish I could send it. Ha! That was a sentence fragment. MMmmmmmm this pinot noir is really nice. Better than the cabernet. Ooooh . . . the next one is a prosecco. Anyway, I just read my evaluations and want to say thank you to the ones who understood that online classes are JUST AS HARD FOR ME as they are for you. The rest of you seem to think the world revolves are you. It does NOT. Try harder to appreciate what your teachers do and offer CONSTRUCTIVE COMMENTS not petty diatribes. Oh! nice rose this is. Ha! I just Yoda talked. OMG is that a BAROLO?

Deap Ptraiec,

mY bets freend EVER — thnak you or the vines. Dudes snffffing hte merloo. LOL alreefy wrot youre card!!

[cat paw prints tracked from wine]


Dear Mama,

I wanted to send you a separate card from the ones I sent everybody else. Isn’t the photo of the sleigh pulled by eight tiny kittens adorable?! I want to come visit, but I’m staying away to make sure you stay healthy. Please wear a mask when the grandkids and great-grandkids visit. I know you want to hug everybody, especially the babies, but you need to stay healthy. Your 89th birthday is just a few months away! If the vaccines work a miracle for us all, I’ll see you then.

Lisa Ashley – Angling Down

Lisa Ashley
Angling Down

I’ve been angled all day, bent.
Sharp-cornered by the dying
in hospital beds, swathed in tubes and lines,
drips and vents, I see them
flattened, tilting at death.

The nurse intersects with daughter, son, wife,
holds out the hard, black rectangle
that delivers their last, off-kilter words,
sharp declarations of love, keened
out in the hard-lined hall.

She turns back to the bed, listens
for the apex breath that tips
his life from now to after.
She holds his hand.

In the glaring break room
she slants against the wall,
slides down until she meets the floor,
pinned below her grief.

I reach into the broken frame,
take her in my arms,
one brief moment of rest.