Jessamyn Smyth

Day 61

Day 61, and 98% o2 on waking. Relief, respite, for now. Yesterday went well until it didn’t: a rough evening and night of 85 or less the albuterol had a hard time lifting. Thrashing for air all night, waking in pools of sweat with the suffocating pressure on my chest, the sternum-cracking central line pain, the fires in both whistling, churning lungs, a kind of exhausted clarity about shelter in place and what that means when the place is burning to the ground. How the body itself can grow tired of reacting to flame, barely even shrinking from it when it is clear there is nothing to be done but see the burning through.

We writers, thinkers, justice people spew language like aerosolized phlegm: about the body politic, the pulling back of curtains, the sharp clarity of hypoxic democracy seeing itself go down. We watch the oximeter, thinking: ‘we should probably do something about this plummet,’ but the thing about hypoxia is that it is dissociative; our lungs are on fire but we can’t rise to walk, the emergency is obvious but we can’t quite respond.

Everything is different, will be different, we say, there is no going back now, and maybe this is even true: what we can’t see is where to go, what to be now, lacking resource entirely.

Here is the part where we write something hopeful. Here is the part where we rally the troops, then reject the military metaphor. Here is the part where we decry capitalism but will die without the health insurance our employer may or may not provide.

Robins, nesting in the woodshed, explode in a panic of feathers every time we step out the door. Until they don’t, tired of panic. The humans will come and go.

I divorce from hope. It is tied to things that will kill me. I do not know what will be when all this is burned, fully and finally, to the ground. Fire, when so widespread it can no longer be extinguished or contained, is a praxis of leave-taking.

Like the old days, before hope was installed in my back – Inanna’s meathook now my architecture – I find I can’t bend to wash my face: my body’s side-note to covid-19 a torn muscle in my back. Like the rest, I get used to it after a while. No one can maintain a sense of crisis for this long, or look too squarely at how it happened while lacking the ability to fix what ripped us from mooring. It just burns. I lift the water to my face instead.

There will be something, now and then, here and ahead: something else. I don’t know what. This is a leave I am taking, we are taking, will be taking, took then to get here. From flame to flames, for generations. Strange to know one’s fire is proving to be the largest yet, measured in how many don’t rise. Mixed metaphors, all of us, cats past ninth life, featherless phoenixes a fossilized architecture.

Nothing will look the same after this, that is sure. The robin glares at me. Are you still here? When will you get out of my way?

The whole planet knows now, even in delusion necessitated by inability to sustain crisis for this long. No, we will not come back from this.

Something else, but not back.

The fire (next time).


Author Bio:
Jessamyn Smyth’s poetry and prose have appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Taos Review, Red Rock Review, American Letters and Commentary, Nth Position, Life & Legends, Wingbeats: Exercises and Practices in Poetry, and many other journals and anthologies. Her books The Inugami Mochi (2016) and Gilgamesh/Wilderness (forthcoming 2019/2020) are from Saddle Road Press. She has received honorable mention in Best American Short Stories (2006), and is the recipient of fellowships, scholarships, and grants from the Robert Francis Foundation, Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, and others. Jessamyn was the founding Editor in Chief of Tupelo Quarterly, and Founder/Director of the Quest Writer’s Conference.