what in this world as it is can solitude mean?
— Adrienne Rich
In our sixty four–day beards we moon over those things we would have cursed in the before times. A neighbor mowing her lawn. Poor restaurant service. Potholes. Slow walkers. Pants stained with popcorn butter. You knew and did not know. Like, you’d eaten sourdough but you hadn’t created life in a blue plastic bowl. We all understood the absence of the voice in ourselves, but we hadn’t colored mandalas as the air conditioning tip-tip-tipped in the driveway, drawing a pool specked with breeding mosquitos. Everything’s other than it is. Daffodils that bloom from a single chestnut will spin the world in yellow fire. Or maybe the flame was there and we have just grown unused to it. Remember that your parents were unknowable before they were the people most known to you and least accessible. Now they’re dead. If not then you worry, or wonder whether they’ll die in this. Who hasn’t drafted a eulogy? In this moment. In this dark time. With all this happening. What is this? Hell has a name; we know it. Hell can’t be what’s happening. I didn’t make this happen—how could we? Admit to your therapist that you forget the names of months and it becomes clear: living is preconditioned on death and that fact compresses our time, it dilates so the months pass like days, and days feel like years. The lucky, in each moment, have a spectacle of sensation that draws back another layer of self-knowledge and it’s this ignorant flapping at pinwheels that allows us all to go on, each day together in solitude. Sure. I have certainly been here in hell, not for so long but before. There’s a line in Psalms— commands the sun, and it refuses to rise; and seals up the stars. How can we be just alone? Do we know who we are? A mirror has two faces; the city has thousands; a home in mourning has none. Solitude will always try to break itself against another. I check my email constantly, looking for another voice to break open my voice. Isolation—the sound of it may have more the feeling of a quarantine, a plague, but it’s as if the initial, lawful, panic-wrecked closure has reemerged as a black-winged sun, stunning, perpetual, encompassing more than knowledge. Solitude! As invasive as any strain of human existence could be. Pent up in front of the fan with its blank gaze pouring out, I dream about the Xerox machine at work, close-talkers, and the cairn of dishes left after friends would leave and to which you’d say, holding my hand, they can wait until tomorrow. You haven’t uncovered the mirrors yet. I haven’t boxed our wedding photos. You and I have always been catastrophic moons, paired bodies that never really touch but cannot be out of contact. There is no conclusion coming. Not one that I will come to. Not by myself watching reruns of House dipping Cape Cod chips in yellow mustard drafting nana’s obituary, no. No more than the dog will ever tell you where some trash has pierced its skin, between the rough pads of her paw, which she will extend bashfully and will draw it back before you find the thorn in her silken hair, the burr or pale cracked piece of a broken mug. A little whimpering, yes, puppy eyes, and a stain spread out on the floor, not for the first time.
Purposes and desires can be vague because their achievement or satisfaction conditions may have vague boundaries.
— A Golden Shovel for Delia Graff
The wind and pigeons run at cross-purposes when I scatter white bread on the sand and before I sit down to write you about desires I ask out loud, as if you were here: what can observation alter in the heart? I’d like to be one of the gulls circling, circling, casting vague shadows through the April fog, because the tidiness of the world depends upon their hunger. Invisible, it is its own achievement; an urge that marks its own end, like love or at least like the momentary satisfaction that passes for love in these conditions. Am I reaching out or filling time? It may be that hunger circles us all, it must have. But like a chronic pain, the circuits are vague. It pecks at the edge. It leaves only boundaries.