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Covid Calling

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Upaya Zen Center, Santa Fe, New Mexico

I hang up the phone. No, I push the button to disconnect from a WhatsApp-face-to-face chat with my energetic, New-York-pushy friend, Janice. She has issued a demand that I write and she will check back with me at five pm.

It is after one pm, day fourteen of my hunker down.  This should be a perfect time for a writer to write, right?

I don’t write.

I have become one with the reclined seat of my plain brown-cloth couch, one with the iPhone, scrolling, liking, reposting, anything to think about anything but this plague. Except I think of it continually.  I make dark jokes, post dark memes, laugh with Randy Rainbow’s social distancing, make fun of our ineffectual president, growl at the woman on Facebook filling her truck with huge cardboard boxes of toilet paper from a small rural store.  She  proudly proclaims herself a Trump fan as she yells ‘fuck you’ at the person using a cell phone to record her, a person who will not be able to buy toilet paper for herself and her family but who will get a million likes on Facebook.

I have tried to write for fourteen days and only succeeded in writing one small story to a prompt on Zoom for my now-on-line Thursday Writers group.  A week ago, I didn’t know what Zoom was.  Now I have used it to talk to friends and strangers on my phone or desktop computer at least six times—my memoir group, my daughter-in-law’s Zumba class in her living room, where my grandkids photo-bomb as I attempt to follow without all the leaps and jumps.

I am still tired, but I keep moving, even as the couch calls.

Last night, a post on Facebook from a group of poets I didn’t know in the flesh posted a practice Zoom in preparation for an on-line poetry reading and I tuned in.  There were six of us, they all knew each other, but graciously allowed me to read a poem.  It was probably a downer for them—fear, dementia, death—not exactly the upbeat stuff we need during this time of Covid.

As I relinquish my warm seat on the couch, I panic once again. I have been sitting still, but I feel out of breath, my heart squeezing blood faster, panic attack. Do I imagine I am lightheaded?  I start some tea, run to the bathroom so I won’t be interrupted later, check to be sure I fed the dog, stare at the hummingbirds and orioles outside the back window and the monarch butterflies out the front. I switch on the computer, walk back to the kitchen for the tea, sit down.  My fingers are cold, stiff, achy, but I write, “I hang up the phone.”  Now the dog barks and my chair scrapes the floor as I rush to check for deliveries.  No, just a couple teenagers walking their dog. I wonder if they walk their dog in their pajamas as I do.  No one knows we do if we put on a jacket and shoes.

Back at the computer, I decide my phone needs charging and plug it in. By now my tea is lukewarm. I realize I forgot to add lemon but stop in a mid-reflex jump to flee to the kitchen.  What the hell is this?  I hug myself, hands on opposite shoulders and realize it is a common impulse now. When did I start doing that?  Am I providing my own human touch?  It’s not exactly a warm hug. Besides, I do get some other tactile comfort. Tashi snuggles against me at night and during the day I feel content as my fingers sink into the soft deep fur around her neck or between her Yoda ears.

I think about the Covid-19 virus, how it has changed me, us, how it has uncovered the fear of death I thought I had overcome.

Ten years agoI watched my husband die.  He had Parkinson’s Disease, but his death was from pneumonia.  I have heard pneumonia is like the torture waterboarding, panic, lungs filling up, no room for breath. I block the scene from his hospital room from my mind

I remember late April of 2009.  My husband was still alive, his father was still alive, my mother was still alive, her husband was still alive, my best friend was still alive, my old dog was still alive. My father had died gently, calmly, lucidly two years before and his death was my pattern for what death would be like.  I could live with that.

Back to that April eleven years ago.  Spring had brought softness and delicious scents to the yard.  The Jacaranda that provides my purple rain was just beginning to bloom, the hummingbirds were briefly sharing the feeders they fought over the rest of the year, lavender blossoms hosted bees and butterflies, the weeds would have to be dealt with, but for now they only added to the green chloro-phylled world. I would be attending a meeting of premedical advisors in Santa Fe, New Mexico, my parents’ childhood state.  I had a caregiver for my husband.  I would travel to Upaya Zen Monastery, spend a couple days in quiet meditation, then go to the meeting where creative professors from the University of New Mexico would be teaching a few workshops that were not directly related to guiding undergrads towards medical school.  Then, back to the Monastery to use as a home base for trips to Taos, Chama, and to discover my mother’s roots in the tiny town of Dulce in Northern New Mexico.  I looked forward to a break from my husband’s care and to return refreshed and ready to instill my newly acquired wisdom in my future doctors and dentists at the university.

Two nights before I was supposed to leave, Mom’s husband, my small, but energetic stepfather, Dick, called.  He and Mom had been out dancing and Mom had fallen and broken her hip.  The ambulance had taken them to a well-respected hospital, but the ER was full because of the H1N1 flu epidemic so they had been rerouted to one that was not as well respected. Now, five hours later, Mom was resting in the hospital bed and he finally remembered to call me.  The nurses had brought him a reclining chair and he would sleep there.  I would have to wait until the next morning to visit.  I called my brother who would come after school the next day on the start of his vacation as a teacher on year-round school.

Mom was confused when I visited, but the doctors assured me it was just the pain medicines.  My brother Bill and Dick and I had to take turns visiting her tiny rooms and I was surprised that the surgeon would be doing her hip replacement that night.  When it was my turn to be out in the hall, I watched nurses and physicians in full masks and gloves carefully enter the closed door next to Mom’s room and wondered if they were the same nurses who came to Mom.  When Bill and Dick assured me they could handle everything and I should go to my conference, I rescheduled my motel in Flagstaff and the monastery in Santa Fe for a day later so I could stay until after the surgery.

That night I stood by Mom’s bed with Dick during her preop.  Mom was still fuzzy-headed and proclaimed with delight that the nurses had donned their blue head coverings to celebrate her birthday.  Dick looked tired but laughed and joked with her.  When she was back in her room, I tiptoed out, confident she was in good hands and I looked forward to my drive to New Mexico.

There is something about New Mexico that pulls me.  I was born there and have only been back a few times, yet the dry air, the mesas, red, black, and stark white rocks, juniper, pinon pines and sudden storms welcome me.  There is peace in the deepest blue of the sky. Clouds are whiter, more massive, and more alive than they are anyplace else.  New Mexico is a prehistoric shaman and I must pay homage. New Mexico is Georgia O’Keefe and D.H Lawrence, and my grandfather’s secrets.  In Dulce, New Mexico, my conference over, I met an ancient Jicarilla Apache woman who jumped in my tiny Honda and piloted me on rutted dirt roads to Horse Lake, Apache summer sporting grounds, bald eagles dancing above a lightening-ravaged pine. In New Mexico I was suspended without time.

Until I wasn’t.  My brother Bill called to say my mother had been moved to a convalescent home, that Dick had slept on the floor by her bed, and now he was sick and had to stay away from her. Dick had driven himself to the Emergency room at the hospital closest to their rural cottage on a Monday but had been told he did not have H1N1 and was sent home.

“Did you notify Dick’s family?” I asked

“No, I didn’t think of it.”

“Well, dammit, call them.”

It’s usually Bill who yells out in anger, but being wrenched out of a reverie, I felt an almost physical pain from the wrenching as I filled my car with gas and headed west. I would normally stop to admire the stark beauty of the mystic rock formations along the highway and the plants and animals that share their land, but with my car loaded with chips and drinks from the gas station, I watched for cops and drove as fast as I could.

By the time I got home, Dick had gone to the local family doctor on Wednesday and loaded up on antibiotics, but he was still alone and I knew Bill and I needed to concentrate on Mom who still seemed confused and did not react to the pictures on my laptop of her beloved New Mexico.  I called one of Dick’s sons who promised to come on the weekend, and I surprised myself when I told him he better “get the hell down here, now.”  The next day, Thursday, Dick’s son drove him back to the ER, but he was already shutting down. They kept him alive long enough for us to bring Mom from the nursing home to ICU.  I don’t know if she knew why she was there or if she recognized the person in front of her with tubes sticking out of his body, but we told her to say goodbye and she did.

Dick died two weeks after Mom broke her hip. Dick’s doctor told me later, Dick probably died from H1N1, but the hospitals were trying to keep the numbers low.  His death certificate read, “natural causes.” He was eight years older than I am today.

Covid-19 strikes the oldest the hardest. I sit at home alone, isolated with my dog and remember Dick in the ICU, the tubes, the sounds of a machine breathing for him. I wonder if his death was like waterboard torture.  I don’t know why I didn’t fear H1N1 then, but I fear Covid-19 now.  Perhaps I have become more aware of death as it whispers its coming in my dull ears, hints of its nearness in my blurred vision, my aching hands. Or perhaps I can only acknowledge a certain number of deaths before I can no longer bear its inevitability, its hideous expressions, its finality.  Perhaps I harbor a superstition that if I don’t write, don’t get out what I need to say, I can’t die.

I stay at home, hug the dog, wash my hands and wonder how spring and death can arrive together holding hands.

 

Thursday, April 2, 2020–Day 25 of Hunkering Down

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     After twenty-five days of sheltering at home, I wake as usual, when light crawls in around the draped sliding-glass door.  Half-asleep, I remember the trip to Penny’s, probably thirty years ago, to buy those drapes with my now late husband. I close my eyes and recall the compromise he sold me: by buying a set that included the same pattern on everything, sheets, shams, towels, even a strip of wallpaper along the ceiling, we could conclude the trip quicker and get out of there.  We often conducted these reversed-gender-stereotype trips this way as he loved to shop and I hated it, but it was our new home and we had agreed to make decorating decisions together.
     I doze again briefly until my left hand under the pillow moves in a dream and conducts a scratchy rumble to my good ear I cannot ignore. On the foot of the bed, Tashi sighs.  Sometime during the night, she has joined me and now sleeps upside down, four legs in the air.  One ear pops up as I reach for my cell phone.  As I contemplate my morning ritual, I wonder how I can be so compulsive in some ways and so uncaring in others.  The morning ritual must be completed, but two loads of laundry sit in the baskets below the bed and implore me for days to hang or fold them.  When I can find no other excuse for my inconsistencies, I pull up the old Gemini ruse—compulsive but disorderly, introverted extrovert, the one who loves to garden, write, read, but who never seems to find the time to pull the weeds that grow among the flourishing pea vines, to read the books piled precipitously next to the bed, to observe the admonishment to WRITE DAMMIT on my daily calendar.
     I swipe the Sleep Cycle app up to reveal three faces: sad, neutral, happy, and to my surprise I poke the happy face.  I’ve probably done that five times in the last ten years.  Usually I press neutral with the occasional sad face when I am sick or sick at heart. Now the app demands I press my finger against the camera light as it checks my pulse, around fifty-five, pretty consistent.  I click on the long list of factors that might be relevant to sleep that the app correlates for me.  I’ve indicated most of them last night:  four ounces of wine, my usual herbs, no late events.  I turn to the morning ones: stomach acid, no; night sweats, heart racing and sense of foreboding, yes.  So why did I punch the happy face today—perhaps a happy dream just before I woke up or maybe my view of upside down Tashi as I awoke?
     Next I record the hours slept from my sleep app into the Heart Study app.  I’ve slept more lately, sometimes over nine hours, since I don’t have to go anywhere, but last night I read late after setting and the sleep app is all-knowing so it recorded only seven hours and fifty-six minutes. The Heart Study app wants to know if I did any exercise not recorded by my electronic devices and since I did Zumba on Zoom with my daughter-in-law from her living room with the grandkids delightfully photobombing yesterday, I add forty-five minutes of dance–moderate. (I don’t jump with these bones and hips.)
     Now I turn to the Pulse-Oximeter, also an app, again place my finger over the light on my phone.  It bombs the first time, and I try again. Good, ninety-nine.  It went down to ninety-four earlier in the week until I returned to putting eucalyptus oil in the diffuser.
     I feel guilty keeping Tashi inside so long.  I look over as one eye looks back, her feet come down, she rolls over, another look, turns around three times and sticks her backside toward me.  I notice dog hair collecting on the gold comforter. I guess I need to run it in the washer sanitary cycle, again.  Maybe tomorrow?
     I read poetry and essays from Vox Populi in my email and post them on Facebook.  This morning it appears I am already friends of the poet, so I send her a private message with my appreciation.  The essayist does not appear when I search for her name.  Then I post another poem, this time from Rattle, and delete the one that bores me from Paris Review.
     My bladder is beginning to taunt me, but I check out The Guardian, and post an article on Covid in Italy.  I was there in October, no Covid-19, just sharing sun and cypress and vineyards with my daughter.  I wonder about the woman who taught us to cook in her country garlic-scented kitchen and fed us by the garden with home-grown tomatoes. I worry about the winemakers and olive oil pressers, the folks at the farm with the truffle-sniffing dogs and the huge white dogs that tended the sheep.   My daughter loved those dogs and became almost as upset as if it were her children she must leave behind on those green hills.  I picture the lazy pig who slept under the barbeque and the cellar with cheeses and olives and almost drift off again.
     I return to the phone, delete political ads and emails from organizations I left behind when I retired but am loath to sever that final connection.  Now I check the clock and roll reluctantly out from under the dog-furred comforter.  I run to relieve my bladder as Tashi jumps onto the wood floor.  It’s a high bed and I hear her come down hard, but I haven’t been able to get her to jump out on the other side on the rarely used dog bed or Mom’s small pink Chinese rug.  In the family room, I open Tashi’s doggie door and she slowly walks out, pauses at the top of the stairs as a flash of scarlet and green hummingbird divebombs and chastises her in its loud high voice.  The finches ignore her, the hooded oriole takes off from the jelly feeder. She finally, reluctantly, saunters down the stairs.
     Why do I feel so guilty in the morning, lying in bed with the phone instead of letting her out? If it is raining, she won’t go out at all unless I become Paddington Bear in my London Fog raincoat and hat and walk with her downstairs. Then I stand at the bottom, block the stairs, dripping and cold until I’m sure she has done her business.  I have only to stand aside and she suddenly has the energy of a pup as she darts past me into the doggie door to the hall to dry off on the Tibetan rugs.
     The morning is moving forward and I reduce the Insight Timer app from thirty minutes to ten, sit on the straight backed dining room chair in front of my altar (I gave up sitting cross-legged on a cushion years ago), black pillow in the small of my back, Tibetan wool shawl with the red, not the purple side out, listen to the bell that ends the twenty-second countdown to start.  I breathe in and out and count one in my head, in and out, two… I make it to ten and start over.  I notice my shoulders are tight, relax them, smile, start counting at one because I’ve lost track, mull over some memory fragment, find myself at seventeen in my count and start over at one once more. Shoulders, smile, thoughts, recognize them, let them go, count.
     Deep sonorous electronic singing bowls ring three times to end the session.  I bow to Avalokiteshvara on my altar, the large Triton’s Trumpet seashell, the silver tipped conch, the prayer wheel, unlit incense, Terra, sword-bearing Manjushri, bald, childlike Jizo, rocks and trinkets from my trip to Tibet.
     On my app, meditation friends from all over the world appear.  I’ve met only two in person:  John, the physician from north county whose home used to provide a monthly meditation amid the lemon and orange trees, and a Buddhist monk from South Pasadena who once walked Fiesta Island with Tashi and me when he came to San Diego to visit the Zen Centers.
     Then there is Chuck whose avatar is a picture of him riding a plush pink unicorn in the freezer section of the supermarket.  He has a red beard and I have recently learned he is a contractor in San Diego. He always writes hopefully and poetically when he thanks me for meditating with him and I look forward to his upbeat, far-out comments.
      Then there is my friend in Phoenix who quotes Rumi, the guru from Florida, the veterinarian in Northern California with the blind dog.  They are why I keep going back to meditation even when the flesh and spirit are weak.
      After meditation, I make my morning sludge with various non-psychedelic mushrooms, herbs, cocoa powder, turmeric, pepper, ginger, cinnamon, honey, hot water.  The cocoa covers all of the taste and sometimes I add coconut milk.   A few days ago I finally scored eggs from my CSA delivery just before I ran out, so I crack two into the pan. They are so small I wonder if they are from Banty chickens.  The first day I opened the cartoon, two days after they were delivered, one egg was missing, perhaps related to the smashed shell and yolk on my porch.  I had looked up in the eaves several times trying to find the nest that had suffered such a casualty.  The missing egg caused me to look through the other three dozen where I located three cracked ones and ground them down the garbage disposal.  I’m not taking chances when food poisoning could take me to the Covid-packed ER.
     I walk outside to take a picture of the Monarch chrysalis in my aeonium.  It is still St. Patrick green, but it has been longer than ten days and I wonder if the rain and cold weather are holding it back.  The longer it stays there, close to the ground, the greater chance another two, four, six, or eight-legged beast might find it.
     As I take vitamins and sip my sludge, Tashi announces a delivery truck. I instruct the unmasked driver to place the packages on the step, wait until he leaves, spray them with my only can of Lysol, coat my hands with sanitizer to hold the scissors to cut the cardboard, spray the contents, place the boxes outside to the left of the steps, leave the contents inside the doorway with other assorted supplements, gluten-free flours, and some plastic thingamajiggers that are supposed to collect dog hair in the dryer.  Then I will wait a few days before I put them away.
     I fall into Facebook and the day disappears.  After dinner, I pour exactly four ounces of red wine and call a poet friend on Facebook Messenger who pours herself a not-so-measured glass of white.  She shows me the effects button at the bottom of my screen and we end up wearing bunny ears and cool hats or looking like aliens and giggling.  I haven’t done anything so deliciously idiotic for forty-five years and it feels soooooo fine.
     Then the carbon monoxide alert goes off, so I end the call and replace the battery and the alarm goes off again. After I open windows and doors to the cold, I call SDG&E.  The guy on the phone quizzes me excessively on whether I have been sick or exposed to the virus, so I quiz him just as excessively on what his service person will do to protect my health.  He tells me to unlock the door now in case I pass out since they do not want to have to break down my door. The service person arrives quickly in gloves and mask and tells me if I were sick he would have to be accompanied by a supervisor with both of them in hazmat suits.  I stifle any coughs from my allergies as he checks the fireplace, the stove, the heater, the water heater, the dryer.  Everything is fine and, of course, the carbon monoxide meter stays off.
     After he leaves around 9:30 pm, I am restless, so I spend more time on Facebook and don’t prepare for bed until almost 11:00.  I have just brushed my teeth when Tashi barks urgently and the Ring Doorbell and Alexa tell me “there is motion at the front door.”  I peer through the glass by the door and find myself eyeball-to-eyeball with a wild-eyed man, dark full beard, what looks like a headband, a large quilt over his shoulders. When he sees me, he backs off and I notice to my horror, that the door is still unlocked for the SDG&E man.  I lock it quickly and stare out the window again as he makes a big display of looking around. He appears to suddenly see the empty boxes waiting to de-virus in the morning sun, and points to one as if to ask for it.  I nod, he leaves, and I turn off the porch light I had left on earlier.  I check the video on my phone taken by the camera on my Ring Doorbell and relive the moment again. My late-night visitor looks high, but I decide not to call the cops.  Now that my door is locked, I worry about how the cops might handle him. I almost change my mind as he leaves.  When the quilt slips off his shoulders it reveals something long and black (a crowbar? a gun?).
     The next morning, I will send the video to my neighbors who chastise me for not calling the cops. They will find the box from my house discarded two doors down. They won’t understand why I didn’t call the police, so I’ll just say I was too nervous.  Then one of them will send the video to the Neighborhood Watch and tells me to call the cops now.  I do, but am chewed out for calling late since now they can’t do anything.  Later someone writes on the neighborhood watch app that the man’s name is Sean.  Evidently, his parents used to live in the neighborhood but died and he scouts for deliveries and takes items from construction sites.  He’s been arrested several times and is a source of much discussion in our residential, usually-no-homeless-people neighborhood.  I will decide from now on to double check the lock on the door.
     But tonight, it is even later, my restlessness more rampant.  I check Facebook again where someone posts a link to a movie of Poe’s Mask of the Red Death.

I click on it.

 

What I Fear Most

What I fear most
is a lack of collaboration
mind, body,
spirit, if it exists,
bowing out at different times

Dad did it right
sang to me
the day before he died
mind still clear
walked and talked
and only lay down
to give us a heads up
it was time to say
so long

I fear being unable to
walk or talk
when my mind is sharp
unable to say,
I love you
Take care of each other
Feed the dog
Think I’ll die now

Or worse
fogged forgetfulness
to grieve my missing mind
not knowing if the person who says
“I love you, Mom,” is really my child
or an imposter
To strike out in anger and frustration
at visitors who don’t want to be there
or the caregiver who changes my diaper

I fear wanting to die and being kept alive
I fear lingering until friends and family
hate themselves for contemplating murder
I fear there will be no compassionate partner
to pull the plug

What I fear most
is a lack of collaboration.

 

First published in Chachalaca Review

 

He Called Them Animals

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Black dog
wiggles her feet in the air
snuggles her nose
against my naked arm
soft animal with kind brown eyes

Halloween hued butterflies
whirl and rise
animals whose beauty
enchants my eyes

His obscene mouth
calls humans animals
belittles both
provides permission
for the mean kick
permission to regard

person as pest

alien

other

black

brown

immigrant

woman

trans

Palestinian

Jew

 

me

you

 

Published in San Diego Poetry Annual 2018-19

 

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5/16/19 Haiku

We wait for the rain

Sit on the edge of the now

Shoes sit by the door

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4/21/19 (Easter) Bombings in Sri Lanka

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Cold and blustery
Across world, death in churches
Our Mother Earth grieves

Yet in this morning
The hummer sips her nectar
Flowers bloom their hope

Those Awful Pink Dresses in the 50s (Am I Blue?)

(Image: Louisiana Zombie Afternoon, by Jenn Zed (UK) 2018)

Pistol packin’ mama
smoking’ dad
dressed you in pink taffeta
confined
behind
glass
trite knickknack
in their curio cabinet
don’t be like us
be pure, be pink, be perfect

When life’s earthquake
breaks you apart
but all you knew
becomes the glue
who ya gonna emulate,
learn to hate?
It’s too late
fated
to be
what they created
don’t be upset, statuette
Am I blue?
you’d be, too.

Accepted and posted On Line by Ekphrastic Review

#OctPoWriMo 2018 Day 31–Endless?

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My altar: Eclectic is my middle name. Karma? Heaven? Nothing? Remembrance for a short time?

 

Endless?

All that stands beneath the sky

will someday wither, fade, and die

so let us hold this life so dear

and seek adventure without fear

love and laugh and banish sorrow

it all will be a dream tomorrow

Although I know they’ll come an end

to your life, and mine, my friend

perhaps a bit of my bad rhyme

will be remembered over time

or cause a thought to rise again

from some young wiser poet’s pen

Prompt: Endless

#OctPoWriMo 2018 Day 30–Dancing on the Moon

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Dancing on the Moon

Do you see me
dancing on the moon?
That slight young girl
long hair whirling
lithe body, leaping, turning
full of mysterious magic
for a brief moment
sure of herself in the world?

See the deep blue night
that empty beach
iridescent waves?

She sings Mr. Tambourine Man
reaches to touch the diamond sky
bare feet
circus sand
life’s swirling ship
not yet tested by storms

Do you see me?

Not these wrinkled
knobby hands, aching bones
Not the crone of the broken mirror
of the unsure step

Do you see me
Dancing on the moon?

 

Prompt: Dancing on the Moon

#OctPoWriMo 2018 Day 29–Gray Day

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What Rhymes with Apathy?

I’ll write a poem, maybe 3

when I can shed this damned ennui

Perhaps it’s cuz the day is hazy

More likely though it’s cuz I’m lazy

I hope it’s only this 1 day

and tomorrow it will go away

 

Prompt: Numbers.  Did I get some numbers into it?  Ok.  Mission marginally accomplished.