Everything Is Waiting For You – David Whyte

On July 20, Victoria recorded 341 new coronavirus cases. That same day, France recorded 350 new coronavirus cases.

Just over two weeks later, Victoria, with some restrictions in place, registered 725 new coronavirus cases while France, with minimal restrictions, had more than twice that at 1,695.

Melbourne went into a hard lockdown. Restrictions included a curfew between 8pm and 5am, a requirement to stay within a 5km radius of your home unless you were a worker with a permit to be outside of that radius, and you could only leave your home for one hour per day for exercise and one hour for errands such as grocery shopping.

Children had to stay at home and return to remote learning, parents had to work from home if possible, retail and hospitality venues closed and there was nothing to do and nowhere to go.

It has been eleven weeks, and from today, restrictions will ease a little. Because unlike Europe, our State government took extreme action. Difficult action, yes. Action with consequences for business, for workers, and for mental health. Absolutely.

But on October 16, France recorded 25,086 new coronavirus cases. Victoria recorded 1. On October 17, France recorded 32,427. Victoria recorded 2.

Lockdown has not been easy. I don’t pretend that it has. But the alternative, tens of thousands of cases per day, is incomprehensible.

And now, as we ease slowly into a covid-normal summer, everything is waiting for us.

Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into
the conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

David Whyte

Deterioration

I wrap myself into my quilt like a burrito. I’m sleeping on the couch which, while not overly comfortable, doesn’t induce the same anxiety as having an argument with myself about going to bed. Instead, when I become sleepy, I close Instagram, blow out the candles, turn off the salt lamp and roll over.

I am not sure why going to bed holds such angst for me but it always has. At least, until I met G. For the first time in my life, I looked forward to going to bed because I felt safe. Held. Loved. I try to replicate this feeling now while he’s not with me but the best I can do is to stay awake until it is impossible not to sleep.

In the last week, there has been another infection, two surgeries and blood counts that still aren’t following the predicted path. My OCD has fixated itself on his illness and now intrusive thoughts of blame drive all manner of compulsions, day and night. If I haven’t given him covid, I must have given him cancer.

Life is random and unfair, I tell others. Bad things happen to good people for no reason. And while I almost believe that is true,  intrusive thoughts still swirl that this is somehow my fault. My punishment. For what exactly, I haven’t determined. It could be a range of things and my brain is providing plenty of options. As a result, my anxiety is out of control. Today I had a telehealth appointment with my GP who has recommended blood tests, an ECG to check my heart which has lingering issues from my years of being underweight due to anorexia, and some medication.

“This is the only prescription I will give you for this medication,” he tells me, “due to it having addictive properties. You must be sparing in your use but it will help with the panic attacks and anxiety. I will give you a second prescription for something that you can use long term but the effect won’t be noticeable for two to four weeks.”

It’s been seven years since I took medication for my mental health and while I suspect I need it, a new fear has surfaced during the pandemic and my husband’s illness which will likely prevent me from doing so; I cannot take any medication for fear of the masking of covid symptoms or because I may have a bad reaction requiring treatment. I will no longer even take paracetamol or ibuprofen, pain killers I have taken for years, especially when I have severe cramps during my period but now I am afraid they will mask the symptom of a fever and I will never know if I accidentally acquire covid. I will not take new tablets, not even vitamins, in case they cause some sort of reaction where I have to present to a hospital because the more places I go, the more likely I am to come into contact with someone with covid. My anxiety is pushing me towards never leaving my house again, unless it’s to travel to the hospital where my husband is having treatment. Home. Hospital. Home. Hospital. That is the extent of my world right now.

And all of it seems justified.

Fate

Fate, Federal Court, Moon
by Anne Carson

The fate of the earth. The fate of me. The fate of you. The fate of Faisal. The fate of the court where Faisal will plead his case. The fate of the court’s bias. Every court has a bias. It sifts to the surface gradually. The fate of whomever we drink to after court. The fate of that branch of mathematics that deals with ‘dead-end depth’. The fate of Yemen where Faisal will probably never return. The fate of the engineering job Faisal had in Yemen before the events in question. The fate of the ‘simple random walk’ and its difference from the ‘homesick random walk’, concepts from a mathematics textbook I read once about dead-end depth. The fate of Montreal where Faisal lives now. The fate of his family, the ones still alive, back in Yemen and the fate of the bridal couple, still alive, whose wedding was the target of the drone pilot (a mistake). The fate of the others, not still alive (a mistake). The fate of the moon that rose over us as we drove through the mountains of Pennsylvania to be present at Faisal’s day in court. The fate of the silveriness of the moon that no words can ever describe. The fate of the bright sleepless night. The fate of our phones, which we decide to take to the courthouse at 9 a.m. and relinquish at the door. The fate of two guys doing a job interview in the cafeteria where we stop for coffee on the way to courtroom 31. Been around the block, says one guy. Army does the billing, says the other guy. The fate of so many men in suits and ties. The fate of being lost in marble corridors. The fate of being much too early at courtroom 31. The fate of the knot of lawyers who surround Faisal as he enters in a new suit. The fate of congratulating him on his new suit. The fate of his smile. His smile is great. The fate of the numerous clerks who pour glasses of water for the judges and generally fuss around. The fate of the appellant whose case precedes Faisal’s, which concerns a warrant ‘so lacking in probable cause’ that [something to do with ‘Garcia’] [something to do with gangs and ‘a constitutional path’]. The fate of the pearls worn by Judge Dillard, who sits on the far right of the bench, which curve like teeth below her actual teeth. The fate of straining to hear what Faisal’s lawyer, with his back to us, says to the judges. The fate of him perhaps saying that the government is asking the court to refrain from judging, asking the court to step back without knowing what it is stepping back from. The fate of proportionality, a matter of context. The fate of what is or is not a political question. The fate of the precedent called ‘al Shifa’, with which everyone seems familiar. The fate of a publicly acknowledged programme of targeting people who might be a danger to us. The fate of inscrutable acronyms. The fate of me totally losing the thread of the argument as we distinguish ‘merits’ from ‘standing’. The fate of what Faisal is seeking, which is now given as ‘declaratory relief’ (new phrase to me). The fate of ‘plaintiffs who have no chance of being harmed in the future due to being deceased’, a wording that gives pause. The fate of how all this may depend on her pearls, her teeth. The fate of the sentence, ‘We are really sorry, we made a mistake,’ which Judge Dillard utters in a hypothetical context but still it’s good to hear. The fate of the government lawyer who is blonde and talks too fast, using ‘jurisdictional’ many times and adding ‘as the relief sought is unavailable’. The fate of wondering why it is unavailable to say, ‘Sorry’. The fate of Judge Dillard’s invitation to the government lawyer to tell the plaintiff how he might ‘exhaust all administrative avenues of redress’, as the government claims he should have done before bringing this case. ‘Where would he go?’ Judge Dillard asks with apparent honest curiosity. ‘If you were he, where would you go?’ The fate of our bewildered conversation afterwards about why she said this, whose side she is on, what she expects Faisal’s lawyers to do with it now. The fate of the tuna sandwiches eaten with Faisal while debating this. The fate of his quietness while others talk. The fate of his smile, which seems to invite the soul, centuries ago. Serving tea, let’s say, to guests. The moon above them. Joy. The fate of disinterestedness, of joy, of what would Kant say, of not understanding what kind of thing the law is anyway, for example in its similarity to mathematics, for they both pretend to perfect objectivity but objectivity is a matter of wording and words can be, well, a mistake. The fate of the many thoughts that go on in Faisal when he is quiet, or the few thoughts, how would I know? The fate of the deep sea diver that he resembles, isolated, adrift. The fate of him back in his kitchen in Montreal next week or next year, sitting on a chair or standing at the window, the moon by then perhaps a thin cry, perhaps gone. The fate of simplicity, of randomness, of homesickness, of dead ends, of souls. Who can say how silvery it was? Where would he go? Sorry?

Published in the London Review of Books
Vol. 39 No. 6 · 16 March 2017

I was once given this poem as the introduction to a writing exercise. Write or re-write a paragraph of your work-in-progress beginning every sentence with the fate, our tutor said. Notice how commencing with these words changes the way you shape your story. Notice what impact fate has on your narrative.

I do not like fate. I refuse fate. I want to scream at fate to fuck off.

I do not want to think about the fate of the earth, the fate of me. I especially do not want to think about the fate of you.

I do not like fate having an impact on my narrative.

And yet. Here we are.

The fate of me. The fate of you. The fate of the hospital where you are having your chemo. The fate of the doctors. The fate of the nurses. The fate of the specialists who are administering your treatment. The fate of the apartment in our COVID capital. The fate of the foundation that’s provided our accommodation. The fate of my psychologist who keeps asking “are you eating?” but how could I be eating? The fate of the words intensive protocol, neurotoxicity, and treatment related complications. The fate of having to learn another medical language in the middle of a pandemic after already learning the language of the pandemic. The fate of how all of this depends on limited evidence.

And so, I say.

Fuck fate. Fate will not shape my story. Or yours.

Good Bones by Maggie Smith

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

Good Bones
by Maggie Smith

When my step-daughter turned 21 last year, I wrote this poem in her guest book as well as a personal note; the world is at least half terrible — I said in a part of it echoing Maggie’s line — which means it’s also half good. Your job is to make your world beautiful.

We are in the middle of an uprising right now and what we see are people who tired but are still trying to make our world beautiful. Black lives matter.

COVID-19 has increased our connection via the internet; zoom catch-ups and social media interactions. The death of George Floyd has tipped a breaking point and challenged the systems of white supremacy in a way not seen on a world wide scale before. More and more people are vocal; black lives matter.

There have been civil rights protests in the USA for years, taking different forms. But the urgent request from Black people to be treated as equal, as though their lives matter, has gone largely ignored by the white population who benefit from the systems that were set up by whites to favour whites.

In Australia, we have a similar issue. And if we don’t resolve it now, we will still be experiencing the same dysfunction and loss of Aboriginal lives from police brutality and inequality in healthcare in another 200 years. We need to pay attention to what has been brought to our attention over and over again. We need to listen, we need to understand and we need to act. We need a treaty. Black lives matter.

If you want to know more about what that means, please check out the following site.
https://www.aboriginalvictoria.vic.gov.au/treaty

Happy Birthday, Lover

It’s a weird time to be a human. The death of George Floyd, Black Lives Matter, the continued fight against racism. Then we get zombie fires. Murder hornets. And a virus that has gripped the world. People are arguing about the ferocity of it, the origins of it, the meaning of it. But while we argue, the virus continues its course, infecting whomever it comes into contact with.

Australia has had relatively restrictive lock-downs, many of which have eased in recent weeks but with the easing, we’ve seen a rise in infections, particularly in my home state of Victoria. Travel bans that have been in place for months were rolled back at the beginning of June. At the same time those restrictions eased, so too, did the number of people allowed to congregate in people’s homes. It’s this family gathering that has seen infections spike, soaring back into double digits within the state.

This seems low when compared with somewhere like the United States of America, or the United Kingdom, or Europe but when you consider that until a couple of weeks ago, national infections were in single digits, it’s a worrying rise. As a result, last Sunday night, the Victorian government reduced the number of people allowed to gather in a single home from twenty back to five.

Chronic health issues and an autoimmune condition mean I have a moderate – high level of risk of complications should I become infected. I’ve been living in a bubble since March and have no real interest in leaving it. But it’s G’s birthday today and I had insisted he not revoke the week of annual leave he’d booked in November last year. It’s not our normal overseas holiday but it’s a much-needed break from work.

So we’ll make the most of it while we can and I’ll go back into isolation on Sunday. It’s his birthday today but I’m the one celebrating because on this day my favourite person in the world was born. Happy Birthday, lover!

A Birthday
By Christina Rossetti
My heart is like a singing bird
                  Whose nest is in a water’d shoot;
My heart is like an apple-tree
                  Whose boughs are bent with thickset fruit;
My heart is like a rainbow shell
                  That paddles in a halcyon sea;
My heart is gladder than all these
                  Because my love is come to me.
Raise me a dais of silk and down;
                  Hang it with vair and purple dyes;
Carve it in doves and pomegranates,
                  And peacocks with a hundred eyes;
Work it in gold and silver grapes,
                  In leaves and silver fleurs-de-lys;
Because the birthday of my life
                  Is come, my love is come to me.

air and light and time and space

”– you know, I’ve either had a family, a job,
something has always been in the
way
but now
I’ve sold my house, I’ve found this
place, a large studio, you should see the space and
the light.
for the first time in my life I’m going to have
a place and the time to
create.”

no baby, if you’re going to create
you’re going to create whether you work 16 hours a day in a coal mine
or
you’re going to create in a small room with 3 children
while you’re on
welfare,
you’re going to create with part of your mind and your
body blown
away,
you’re going to create blind
crippled
demented,
you’re going to create with a cat crawling up your
back while
the whole city trembles in earthquake, bombardment,
flood and fire.

baby, air and light and time and space
have nothing to do with it
and don’t create anything
except maybe a longer life to find
new excuses
for.

Charles Bukowski

There is always something. There is always something that will get in the way, even of air and light and time and space. If you allow it.

And you do.

You wait. Until after the house is vacuumed. The cat has move from your lap to his bed. The dishwasher is unpacked. The car is serviced. The work week is over. The children have grown. The cup of tea has gone cold. The fire has gone out.

You wait for the perfect time.

But you do not need air and light and time and space. Only yourself.

Drink from the well of yourself and begin again.
Charles Bukowski

Warm White

He shivers, hunched in the underground walkway between Berlin Schönefeld Airport and the train station, holding up a sign, an A4 sheet of paper that has been folded and unfolded one too many times. A lower corner is making a bid for escape, only held in place by frayed paper threads. Large block letters scribbled on it in blue biro read: I’M LIKING A TICKET PLEASE.

“Home,” I hear him whisper in English as I pass, “please, I need to get home.”

Me too, I sigh, I’m liking a ticket, too.

At his feet, a shoebox contains a handful of scattered coins in different currencies. There’s not enough change in there for a meal much less a ticket. He babbles in a language I cannot make out. His words catch in the whine and whir of the nearby jet engines and run away on the wind.

The icy air weaves its way into my bones. I pull my hat down to my ears and squeeze my gloveless hands into little fists deep inside my pockets, the crook of my elbow hauling the wheelie suitcase along behind me. My boots scuff the concrete as I drag my feet towards the terminal. I don’t stop to ask where’s home. I have no money to help. But his words continue to haunt.

Home. I’m liking a ticket, please. I need to get home.

Home, I scoff at the idea, what is that anyway? I’m more than 10,000 miles away from where I live but that isn’t home either. Not by any metric you’d normally use to gauge these things. ‘Home is where the heart is’ according to the adage but my heart is a restless wanderer. An aching nomad. Rootless.

My best friend from high school lived in the same house from the time she was born until after she graduated from university. If a house was supposed to be home, I had none. By the age of ten, I’d lived at seven different addresses. Mum and Dad renovated houses, doing almost all the work themselves to earn some extra money and just when one started to feel familiar, they’d sell it and buy another cheap dump in need of repair. At two in the morning, I’d find myself squinting into a dark kitchen with bleary eyes wondering where the toilet had gone before my sleepy head would register that we’d moved again. I’d bump into walls where there used to be doors. Do a double-take when I saw windows that used to be walls. Even after I moved out on my own, I couldn’t stop. Twenty-eight houses and three countries in thirty-one years. Each relocation a reorientation.

The first question you’re often asked when travelling is “where’s home?” My reply is always the same. “I don’t really have a one.” But always present, a feeling of searching, seeking, wanting, needing. The Germans have a word for it, the inconsolable longing for something unidentifiable; sehnsucht, they call it, the desire for a far familiar land one identifies as home. I’d felt it, sehnsucht, staring at the stars on a clear night.  But my heart is an itinerant with no fixed address.

***

It is a warm sticky evening at the end of summer when the nights are beginning to cool. I am seven and a half years old, sitting on the back steps of the latest house my parents are renovating, with my dad and a pair of binoculars. We are looking for Halley’s Comet. In my memory, I see it clearly, a soft warm-white incandescent blob with a fuzzy tail alone in the black void of space. Without binoculars, it looks almost the same as all the other warm-white blinking blobs that surround it. Dad has borrowed the binoculars from a friend. We don’t have enough money to purchase our own. But he wants me to see it. “You’ll probably still be alive when it comes back,” he says, “I won’t.” I can’t imagine what seventy-five years means, to live ten times longer than I already have. I can’t imagine being an adult in my own home because every time I look at the warm-white glow from other people’s windows all I feel is sensucht.

***

The thin concrete path that runs from the laundry of the house to the clothes line is warm. The heat it’s absorbed during the day seeps into my skin as I lie on my back staring at the sky. More stars appear as I watch it fade from a deep midnight blue to black. It is almost summer and I’m in yet another house in another part of the country. They’re catching me; thirty-two houses, thirty-four years. And none of them home. I’m waiting for the warm-white of the shooting stars; every year in October, Earth passes through a stream of particles that Halley’s Comet dumped into our inner solar system on its last orbit to give us the Orionids meteor shower. Every time I look at the stars, I am reminded of my father. He instilled my love of the sky, incited my curiosity of the cosmos. And every time I look at the stars, I feel more at home than I do on this planet.

***

I am thirty-six when I move into my thirty-fifth house with G. A few years later, we stand together in a friend’s driveway in Angwin, California staring at the sky. We are at her family farm for her wedding. Howell Mountain rises in front of us, the oaks and conifers silhouetted against the deep blue. Silver pinpricks appear above the treeline.

“I don’t know which one is the North Star,” I say, scanning the skies, “do you know what it’s called?”

“Really?” he replies, squeezing me as he wraps his arms around me from behind.

I can’t see his face in the dark but I know his expression from the tone of his voice. His eyebrows will be raised wrinkling his forehead, a half-smile spreading across his lips, a small curl in the top one. I know all the lines on his face.

The night sky is different here. I recognise Mars, bright and orange-red but I pull out my phone, hoping for cell service and Google ‘What is the North star called?’

Polaris.

“We need to find Polaris,” I say.

“Yeah, sure,” he chuckles, “that makes it easier.”

As it turns out, we are staring right at it. “That one.” I point to a group of trees, “the one above the third tree from the left. On the end of the little dipper.”

He squeezes me again pulling me tighter, burying his face into my neck and for the first time while looking at the stars, instead of feeling sensucht, I feel safe.

Six months later, when the electrician replaces all the lights in our home prior to our wedding and asks what type of bulbs I want, I don’t need to think before answering warm white.

Perhaps home is not the length of time in one place as much as it is knowing all the lines on someone’s face.

The stars belong in the deep night sky, and the moon belongs there too, and the winds belong in each place they blow by, and I belong here with you.

M H Clark