Catastrophic Thinking

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.

Daniel E. Pritchard is a writer and translator as well as the founding editor of The Critical Flame, an online journal of criticism and creative nonfiction. His work can be found or is forthcoming in Pangyrus, Europe Now, SpoKe: a poetry annual, Harvard Review, Missouri Review, and elsewhere. He lives in Greater Boston with his daughter.