Ghosts of the Coming World

photo by Mihály Köles

Last night we sat under the almost full moon between the apple trees and garden in a friend’s backyard. I have been lonely in all of the usual pandemic ways. Underwater swimming upstream. How are you? I have taken to sketching birds during Zoom meetings–there are so many. Sometimes I walk to the pumpkin patch alone just to stand beside their fairytale vines on the hill and look out. Every week a new sorrow.

Mostly I want to live in the smallness of the world. To knit a story of the land, to make my own rituals that don’t involve capitalism, buying, making things look a longed for way. I want to gather before the bonfire to perform a ritual as old as dirt. But we have none. We have buying. We have the gods of stuff. We have more and better and slimmer and less wrinkles; we have music lessons and soccer and what’s best for my child. We have gear. Endless amounts of gear sold to us as though we too might scale a mountain free solo or become that woman in the Athleta catalogue serenely poised on a mountain in mountain pose. We have all the Patagonia in the world isn’t going to save the world and our sadness can’t be eradicated in perfect picture squares of neutral shades, raw wood, and white linen.

We bow down to the Gods of Capital like no other society in the history of the world. “Capital,” my colleague Nina reminded me the other day during a phone chat, “doesn’t care about gender or race or ethnicity or class. Capital uses them to get more capital.” I am not immune to any of this. Maybe I am writing this to myself, dear reader. There is nothing, it seems, untouched by consumerism. Nothing that can’t be repackaged and sold to us. And our refusal to see the way this has taken hold of all we do is killing the world.

Underneath the misshapen moon around the bonfire in late August, the three of us shared warmth. In the window from the house, my friend’s daughters peeked out, shining their flashlight like a tiny beacon from across the sea of the lawn. “Go to bed, girls,” she called. And suddenly they were gone, swept back into the comfort of their old wooden beds and fluffy quilts, their fairy books and stuffed animals. Perhaps, like I did as a child, they line their beds with stuffed animals before they fall asleep, a ring of protectors. Their silent prayer to the night fairy: please don’t let them fall into the dark sea of floor where the unseen disappears. Keep them safe.

This morning, endless crying, fights over the kitten. Pancakes shaped like chickens, maple syrup from a mason jar. This morning, coffee while we sit in our chairs, my husband telling me his dreams before work. This morning, the same ache of loneliness that never leaves like a phantom girl I refuse comfort or just from looking again and again at the way it all shapes and reshapes who we are, who we might have been, and what we will become.

~with love

Shelter in Place

sap boiling

My husband and I take turns sleeping in everyday. He is careful not to stay up too late on nights before his wakeup day. He’s like that.

Our littlest climbs into bed beside me around 6am. He takes most of the pillow.

By 6:45, our oldest wakes and wants a bath or a podcast. Today I roll under the covers like a bear and sleep on while my husband tends the children.

Sometimes mid-day I wonder if I’ve already drunk my coffee. I want more of everything.

Outside I feel more alive.

in the woods

My children find certain things exciting: a paper airplane they fly into a bonfire, a documentary about the wolf pack in Yellowstone, ice cream with maple syrup they boiled in a pot on the bonfire.

We are bracing for the death of at the least 100,000 of us. Probably more.

So far, most people are in the denial stage of grief.

No one panics anymore because it’s too exhausting. We’ve acclimated.

During online AA meetings people complain about work or grocery shopping.

Showing our homes to each other feels like a shameful exposure.

I watch a video of the author Glennon Doyle saying, “This is grief.” I find her intimacy difficult. I find intimacy difficult right now or maybe always. Maybe I just find her difficult.

But it is true. This is grief.

I’ve eaten chocolate covered coconut bars every day, sometimes two a day. They were a gift from a friend. But I just ate the last one. Now I’ll eat the chocolate chips. I think my husband has a bag of oreos hidden somewhere.

The president is mentally ill. I shouldn’t write this. It’s offensive to those of us with mental illness. Daily we get a report from him on how well he is doing. What a great job. It’s embarrassing. I don’t watch.

Here is a secret: I rarely cry because I’m on an extremely high dose of antidepressant medication. I don’t really like my therapist. I have felt stuck in my life.

Today I’m listless.

Only five students show up to the online Zoom checkin for class. Seven in the second class. I don’t blame them. I did say it was optional. But I miss their faces. I miss their thoughts and jokes and complaining. I miss their stories.

We make bonfires here. Today we’re burning brush. The smoke billows. Last week we boiled sap for the first time. I love the smell of campfire. I love fire.

Burn it down, is a phrase we once used: patriarchy, capitalism, rape culture, racism, homophobia … fear, I suppose we were talking about the way fear gets manipulated or used against others in greed. Or the way greed destroys everything that is good here, including people. The way some think they can take what they want but their wanting consumes us all.

We may know this. But we can never agree on how to change it. So, now we have a dictator and a pandemic.

I’m not saying it’s someone’s fault. But it is.

Every day the children spread their toys across our home. In every corner of the house a pile of toys, pillows, peed pants freshly stepped from, dirty socks, pajamas, towels, cracker wrappers, empty cups… it’s unreal the spread.

Mostly I hide in my room or go for runs. Avoiding work.

There are two sweaters splayed on the floor beside the closet, one on top of the other–arms outstretched but also piled. They seem to be making love. The rusty brown cardigan kisses the nape of the deep rose cowl neck, my current favorite.

Last night I couldn’t sleep, worrying that the children would die, thinking of their small bodies alone in hospital beds. How I wouldn’t be allowed in to see them. Every other death pales in comparison.

Yesterday, at my desk, I saw my little boy gallop by the window. The older one followed, giving chase: a wolf hunting an elk. I don’t see the wolf take down the elk, wrestle it into the grass, pretend to devour… but I picture it and know this is the best part of the game.

I’ve always wondered what it was like to live through a pandemic. It’s not as scary as I imagined. As movies and TV imagined. Not yet.

I stare out the bedroom window at the field, the dead tree standing, the forest of pines, and gray sky. Soon spring will arrive and green will rise up like a god.

How is anyone getting anything done? Only what’s necessary.

How many will starve, lose housing, die by the hand of abusers, overdose, work themselves to death? How many? What do these numbers mean? I keep a running tally in the back of my journal.

In the middle of the day I fall asleep. It is the kind of half conscious sleep that feels delicious.

Greif exhausts us. I will not feel ashamed for sleeping.

sleeping child

I wait for night. The long dark beauty of sleep. The Netflix, Hulu wash.

I listen to birdsong. Follow the mourning dove through the field. Chase a flock of starlings that swarm the trees. We find the stream. My son falls into it. We tromp home to take a bath.

War games are their favorite.

An old cabin in the woods beside the stream leans earthbound. Inside, a floor covered in droppings, walls torn and insulation shredded. A photograph of an old man holding a little girl lays on the floor. I pick it up but do not take it.

My husband disassembles a shed in the woods near the cabin. The work makes him sweat, his muscles sore, his heartsong red like a fierce hawk, a warrier.

We are all warriors now.

I run up the hills in the woods. Up the mountain. I run out to Black Pond and Half Moon State Park. For days I run and then, suddenly, I quit. I don’t want to anymore.

It rains. Then the sun. It’s cold then not. We can’t remember what day it is. We can’t remember what we had hoped for or planned or what we had worried about before now.

I wish I had a thing of beauty to offer you. I’d lie it down at your feet and weep.

The geese collect in the sky, long bodied and fluid on their return migration. The water rises in the creek. The frogs awaken. We are close to the earth now. We are waiting. She’s calling us back. Calling us forth–resurrect yourselves, transform or I will shed you, she whispers. Her love like that of a womb where we wait quietly in the darkness, unknowing.

Bless you all.