“We sew new watering holes into our online ecosystems and drench ourselves in data. Hand sanitizer is our new holy water and even our greetings have become bone.”Tweet
Gaston Bachelard said that we should “trust poets” and I take this to mean that in times of global distress, we should listen to the ones who are always listening. I am not always listening but I am often borrowing, so today, I borrow small notes from the internet. These are Instagram captions I weave into snapshots from my busy-busy home during South Africa’s lockdown. It isn’t poetry, but it is my way of taking the wheel when you’re too tired for this leg of the journey. If I can’t do that, at the very least I can entertain the kids. Are we there yet?
In The Beginning (of 2020)… Before we knew what this year held, before the romance of singing from balconies and the slippage of streets turning to funeral processions, blue was chosen as the Pantone colour of 2020. Blue is the colour of the throat chakra and of communication and even of Archangel Gabriel, who loves it when we speak our minds and express ourselves without fear of judgement. Blue is the colour of my son’s eyes before they turned that lustrous green and it’s the colour I decided to wear often, before I knew that my work uniform would soon be my boyfriend’s T-shirts and no pants. In Proposition 181 of ‘Bluets’, Maggie Nelson writes that “Pharmakon means drug but as Jacques Derrida and others have pointed out, the word in Greek famously refuses to designate whether poison or cure. It holds both in the bowl.” and “Plato does not call fucking pharmakon, but then again, while he talks plenty about love, Plato does not say much about fucking.”
Blue, I chose you. Now, I wait.
We relearn the art of reaching out in a new realm; socialising without touch and retreating into our nests and shells and storerooms of home. We sew new watering holes into our online ecosystems and drench ourselves in data. Hand sanitizer is our new holy water and even our greetings have become bone. We are cooking, panicking, slowing down and speeding up; we are lathering and counting and phoning our parents, our friends. Asking for extensions, questioning the validity of a deadline in a world that will never be the same again.
Our homes are now—
where we are all things to our lovers and our children, where we sit on the veranda of our minds and drink the tea of good-view when there is none, stare at the clouds in spine and fluff and dragon and be happy for the rain but sad for the way it closes the door to the garden room. We are building the nest, we are settling into water.
“Stories are the way spirit is exercised,” says Manuelito to Robinson Sr in Alice Walker’s By the Light of My Father’s Smile. I can’t stop thinking about climate collapse and New Apocalypse poetry and how pigment bleeds into water and the lost art of the answering machine message and underwater internet cables and learning about CFC’s in 1997 and playing snake on my old Nokia.
One afternoon my son and I burn wax crayons in a candle and watch the rain come down. This morning my partner occupies our boy so I can sleep in and wake to the sound of them giggling and play fighting and then my partner saying, ‘Let me make some coffee.’ We are thanking sky gods for our working lungs and praying away ventilators. We are hearing angels singing in the kettle’s hissing so we cross ourselves in Dettol for luck. We are shedding the skin of all of our lives, while our screens become skins and our skins thin to light. We are feeling weight lift. A centuries-old ghostweight. We are putting our fingers to our mouths and scolding ourselves. We are singing happy birthday twice. We are making spiders kiss.
The water is captured. This virus takes it in analogy and metaphor: Corona pours into our streets and seeps into the soil; its droplets live in spittle and spitting, as each day’s wave of infections drenches us in cool anticipation, in cold sweat, in turning our veins to ice. We are drinking the last of our alcohol and diving into work in bed; we are sinking into debt and swimming in a sea of bounced cheques and debit orders; for some of us there is staying afloat, for some of us, there is drowning, too.
I recall living in a world that wasn’t on fire. Or a world whose fire I could still ignore. When we could eat and eat and wash when we wanted and not clutch our inhalers to our chests and swallow our fear in warm water with lemon and honey, and say quiet prayers, even though we’re fighting with God.
I have been dipping my forefinger in salt and drawing symbols in my dreams, in the houses that are lined in hospital linoleum and filled with sacred vials of surgical spirits. I could ask, as I did on social media, why we ever bitched about a thing but perhaps the answer is not so important as the question—which says enough about being human, about wanting, and not having enough, and craving, and seeking, as any other.
A dream of a life 40 years from now: there is no apocalypse. Billionaires have fled to Mars and the rest of us mere mortals live amphibious lives, bound neither to land nor water, sinking into the lush greenery of dreams or floating up into endless skies of feathered bliss. Nobody is hungry or afraid or cold. Nobody owes anybody else. I have six grandkids and they love me and spin clay into life and all sorts of shapes: octopus, coral, sunshine. We bathe in lotus flowers and eat seaweed bake for dinner. They live in a country away but apparating is free and they come over for dinner, always. And Jesus comes back like the Christians said he would, but only for a little while and to turn all our water to wine. He hastily retreats to his yacht and deserted island in some ring of his father’s heaven, leaving us on our home planet, the only place there is, really.
All poetry is prayer disguised, and this is a prayer for the future: for different decisions, for new thoughts, for mothers in governments and children who are grown not to praise the golden blood of our earth’s crust but to love the way ice could turn breath to light and ocean could make salt swim, if only to relieve the world we know right now of a century of industry exaltation. So we pray for lakes and rivers and seas and all moving waters of the heart. And mostly we pray for forgiveness. For our lungs, and for our blood, and for the cloth masks we wrap around our mouths.
I told you this isn’t poetry. It’s just some captions I cut out and Pritt-pasted in a funny order. But maybe if I let it sit a while, let the pieces find their old hearts in their new bodies, I’ll hear what I’m meant to. I’ll hear you. I don’t know where we’re going, what strange city is around the next bend, but I’m borrowing time where I can. I’m borrowing peace, too. Planting padkos for the road. Filling up the tank. I guess I’m quieter now.
First published by Praxis Magazine in Through the Eye of a Needle: Art in the Time of Coronavirus Volume II, edited by Darlington Chibueze Anuonye.
Megan Ross is the author of Milk Fever (uHlanga Press, 2018) a collection of poetry, and several short stories and essays that have gone on to achieve critical acclaim.
She is also an editor, journalist and graphic designer, working on both the copy & art aspects of book production for publishers across the African continent. She is a recipient of the Brittle Paper Award for Fiction (2017) and an Alumni Award for the Iceland Writers Retreat in Reykjavik (2016), as well as a finalist for the Gerald Kraak, Miles Morland, Short Story Day Africa and Short. Sharp Awards.
Featured image: Ricardo Gomez Angel (Unsplash)