My son taught me to brew tea in a silver corona pierced with moon and stars. To pinch up the thirsty curls and drop them into that tiny infinity, the circle, smelling bergamot as they blossom and plump. Then I become a cup myself, curving my fingers in a beverage namaste, drinking warmth through my palms and through moist steam along my face, bold balm light-footing, chocolate-sweet.
Always my best teacher, my child. Even now, as a 20-year-old man, returned to share my roof because: coronavirus. Things come at me differently in his company. We paddle Icicle Creek, and stones like bread loaves and brioche rolls rush to meet us as the river melts time like butter, or like glass. Science is surprising and the science of glass is this: technically a liquid, it flows, slower than we can think. In an old cabin, we find window-glass thickened at the bottom.
In Covid times, time comes at me differently. More Americans dead in a handful of months than ever died in Vietnam. This news rushes past, a small stone lost in froth, as protesters liberate Michigan, chanting for more, not fewer, to die. When we die from Covid do we enter the kingdom of fake news?
“We’re all in this together,” says a wealthy neighbor sheltering in place in my small town, who weekly drives across the state to her city of three million to water the lawn of her other home. My rural neighbors, trailer-dwellers, yurt-dwellers, without the library and McDonald’s now, have no internet; they phone family across the country: please download and mail me the forms to renew tabs, pay taxes, order the seeds for my truck farm, survive.
Whose lives matter? In the streets the question swells, a wave rising, towering over a twittery leader who clings to the belief that not believing makes it all—science, history, videos of brutality—disappear. It worked for climate change. So far is far enough. I close my eyes, press the steaming mug against my heart. These Covid months, why am I just floating, swirling in a bubble? Police, prison, voting rights, food stamps, housing crisis, racism, student debt, health care, a Godzilla of stones sliding in a Grand Canyon current. I want to press my feet to solid ground, rise up. But how?
A goldfinch lands on a flower stem, cocking his butter-yellow head as if I am surprising, and slightly miraculous. “I have been noticing each new leaf on the tree behind my house,” a friend said on Zoom. “It’s stunning. I never saw the little things so clearly.” A hummingbird lassos a circle of air and so, he knows, owns it, planting his flag with each buzzing plunge.
A friend asks our Zoom group: what change from Covid times do you want to hold onto? Now that I shop just once a week, I plan healthy meals, one says. I helped an elderly neighbor straighten a fence post, says another. I am learning so much about race and identity, I just—I didn’t even know what I didn’t even know. I sewed a hundred masks and gave them away. I traded lily bulbs for raspberry shoots. I made a video for my son’s graduation with clips from friends and family—my daughter taught me how. I learned to make biscuits. Covid gave time back to me: I was beside my father for the last days of his cancer. Weird Covid Blessings, one muses, maybe I’ll start that blog.
Sons not prodigal return. Family’s scattered curls re-constellate like tea leaves. My old ones’ old ones in the old country drank tea from a glass. Clear as glass, all these connections. Glass, the fluid we can somehow grip.
Two decades ago, when my neighbor Lukas was four, his mother wrote in big letters What is Lukas learning now? and taped it to the top of their TV. She wanted that question to hang permanently in the air for her husband, her mother, and herself. What are we learning now that might hang permanently in a circle of air, in the muscles of our hands, steam dancing along our cheeks? If we stared back at ourselves from the eyes of a bird, what might we conclude? Perhaps not a prim pile of words or a one-tweet weird blessing; perhaps a river of infinite spheres, a boulder-tumbling heartbeat whirling the moon and stars.
Jacqueline Haskins is a poet, essayist, and biologist of watery wilds, from cypress swamps to snowy cirque swales. Her work appears in The Iowa Review,River Teeth, Raven Chronicles, and elsewhere. She has received a Pushcart nomination and been a finalist in Oregon Quarterly’s Northwest Perspectives Contest. Say hello at JacquelineHaskins.com or healthylada.com.