Office building atrium, looking up at windows

Notes on Building a Somewhat Bearable Space for Disbelief

Prose + Images by Kristina Moriconi

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Terrain.org 11th Annual Contest in Nonfiction Winner

Inevitably, moments fall either before or after. That is time’s most clever trick.

 

Introduction

It might help to know, I am constructing this as I go, out of near-constant fear.

& fatigue.

Alongside me, a scaffold of language—lists & poems, incomplete sentences & run-ons. Punctuation & tiny proton symbols I’ve come to rely on to hold it all together.

The building itself will be assembled on a foundation of everything unforeseen & unfolding, fabricated out of what is hinged & still happening.

It will begin with the word Henceforth.

A threshold.

Beyond it, small, meticulous studies of time. At each juncture, a reminder of meanwhile & in between.

I should warn that what is being constructed will likely not be ordered chronologically & it might switch points of view, for the purpose of revelation.

Perhaps perspective will change suddenly, too. Lines will blur. Inside & outside spaces may transpose, arise & flow in the absence of any fixed form. Because, often, grief demands a kind of consolation that will not be contained, a kind of structure that cannot be defined.

Henceforth, I will make of these days a vocabulary lesson, intricate labyrinths of working language.

Already versed in the vernacular of caregiver, in conduct appropriate to waiting rooms & small offices with only two chairs, I will need to adapt now to new COVID-19 protocols.

Write my own compendium: Stage-Three Diagnosis (& Subsequent Panic) in the Already Bleak & Uncertain Time of a Pandemic.

I am not the patient. I am companion, advocate, partner.

& I am the scribe, sharpening my quill pen made from a bird’s feather.

Of course, the quill part isn’t true. Nor do I prepare inks from the petals of marigold or daffodil, hyacinth or hibiscus. No mashing with mortar & pestle. No bringing to a boil. No illuminating pages with large letters embellished by ornate blossoms on looping vines.

Though I do long for such grand purpose right now.

In the beginning, his love is fierce, wild-eyed, as though he seeks to breathe life into the language of dead poets.

He lavishes attention.

She swoons.

Falls fast.

Moves in.

They barely know one another. They share an affinity for New York City & rollerblading & Fleetwood Mac. They share a story of her near-death, in categorically incongruent parts.

Stay with me. I may need to wander. As mentioned, point of view may shift, without warning.

Often.

Fear is primal. It accelerates, but it also slows things down, instructs our bodies to look for some other way, splits the mind wide open, making space to wander.

To stray.

They become a complicated word problem: If one husband leaves one wife (x) & has four children & one wife leaves one husband (x) & has two children, what is the inevitable sum of both remainders, given that both x’s are dependent variables? (see answer below)
 

I tell you this in the way of providing history, filling in gaps.

Why? Mostly because there are things you need to know. Instructional things.

Dynamics.

Think of it as a legend, on a map of mostly water. Blue is ordinarily the color, but what finds its way into our life looks more like slurry-brown.

It seeps in. It rises.

It floods the terrain; for years, we’ll call what happens to us near-drowning.

The average person can hold their breath for about thirty seconds—

            one Mississippi…

                                                two Mississippi…

 
To count is to verify, to reckon.

Two lungs: The right with three lobes. The left with one less, its cardiac notch making room for the heart.

That first year, there are mice in the bedroom she moves into—his bedroom. & her makeshift closet becomes a tiny slaughterhouse of snapped traps & blood spatter.

The mice are noteworthy, of course, as I have intentionally chosen to let them stand in for all intruders—past, present & future—on all levels of cellular organization.

It is true that all living things have cells, that they can reproduce & are capable of change & proliferation.

& this brings us back to the compendium I am compiling: Stage-Three Diagnosis (& Subsequent Panic) in the Already Bleak & Uncertain Time of a Pandemic.

Or perhaps: A Guide to What Breaches, What Disregards Boundaries, What Fucking Breaks the Heart.

You see how this works, right? This network of connective tissue—how it is necessary for me to leap from tales of mice to a stage-three diagnosis that has presented with no symptoms & has left a host of individuals shocked & bewildered.

Non-small cell. Locally advanced.

Proton beam. Passive scatter.

Disease-free survival. Overall survival.

Positivity. Despair.

I believe it was Nabokov who said: It is easier to handle things that have names.

On the scan, they see them light up. They point: One. Two. Three. Four. Five.

Body-bound beginnings, sugar-fed now, under the sway of luminescence. The small lacings of stars behind glass.

Planetary loss.

Combustion.

Soon after, he starts calling it clarity.

I find there is something unbearable about bright things. Close my eyes, search the darkness for other words.

Days after diagnosis, tattooed on his arm: the whole of the moon, its phases. Waxing. Waning.

Inevitably, moments fall either before or after. That is time’s most clever trick. We are left with no choice but to divide up our days, weeks, months, years. Sort out & measure.

Classify & label.

Before his diagnosis, they go to a local farm to pick strawberries, not knowing it is near the end of the picking season.

In between rows of profuse green, the earth is sodden & straw-covered.

They each bend to lift the heavy leaves & stems—husband & wife—in search of.

So many strawberries already overripe & rotted, some fallen, slugs having tunneled their way through the sweet fruit.

They stay side by side at first, then separate to cover more ground.

She takes a photograph of him from afar. His body, a right angle, his broad-shouldered back to the sun.

He turns toward her, tips the basket he’s holding to show her how many strawberries he’s picked.

Fifty, maybe. One hundred.

I am always desiring numbers.

She wipes the sweat from her forehead, feeling grateful in this moment for the healing they have done, together. The work of remembering to be present. Their marriage, once fraught, filled with distraction, years of forgetting.

After his diagnosis, on a Sunday, in need of diversion, the kind embedded in nature’s detail, they go to the garden where, time after time, they let themselves get lost. There are paths to follow around the thirty-five acres. They wander instead, hand in hand.

Mid-summer flower beds swell at their roots. Thousands of stems push through the earth.

Everything reminds her. The replicating, spreading, pollinating, spawning, growing wild.

An abundance of tiny aquatic insect eggs & their masses, deposited on the sandstone bottom of a shallow creek. Cell-like. Magnified by the water.

& a small field of poppies. Some still crumpled in the bud. Others, in bloom, their petals falling away from tiny dark seeds clustered at the center.

& the more obvious spotted oval leaves of Pulmonaria (lungwort), once thought to symbolize diseased, ulcerated lungs.

Everything reminds her. A vast open-air Museum of Comparative Forms. All this dreadful resemblance.

A treatment plan is formulated. A nurse navigator assigned.

A proton therapy simulation carried out to ensure precision targeting.

It is all math & chemistry & physics.

The husband’s body an approximation. A range of possibilities. A venue preparing to host a series of small-angle scattering events.

Days feel laden. Beset.

Her body taut-muscled. A knot having tied itself between the blades of her shoulders, make-believe wings prone to make-pretend flight.

Sometimes, a spark will flicker there. Sometimes, a raging fire. Either way, she knows the burn. The liability of matchstick bones.

Inflammation: the language of forewarning.

Breathing is something she thinks about more.

After.

Between pandemic & diagnosis, it seems unavoidable, to consider such things once so seemingly ordinary, unremarkable. The body’s need for respiration. Air exchange.

Especially in the hospital, its interior broken down into smaller & smaller spaces. Clearly marked now with instructions, COVID configurations of six-feet-apart & four-people-only. Everything measured. Calculated. Please stand here. Please do not sit here.

She sits, waiting, a mask covering her mouth & nose.

Inhale for four seconds.

            one Mississippi…

                                                two Mississippi…

                                                                                    three Mississippi…

                                   four Mississippi…

Hold for five.

            one Mississippi…

                                                two Mississippi…

                                                                                    three Mississippi…

                                    four Mississippi…

                                                                        five Mississippi…

Exhale, until there is no breath left in the lungs.

It is impossible to hold one’s breath to the point of completely stopping the rhythmic process of inhaling & exhaling, of taking in oxygen & discarding carbon dioxide.

I learn: This is an act that does not lie within the range of human volition.

I learn: Three hundred cubic feet of air are breathed in & out of a person’s lungs every day. Effortless. Unchanging.

A week before the pandemic, before flights are mostly grounded—at the wide edge of winter’s end—they travel to Colorado, to an altitude of nine thousand feet, lower air pressure & a lower oxygen level straining the lungs, making it harder to breathe.

It takes a day or two to adapt. Acclimate.

All the while, this stage-three disease had been there. It, too, had taken chair lifts & gondolas up even higher, almost beyond the tree line, skied down the deep powder of black-diamonds.

Hidden.

A stowaway inside the husband’s chest.

Somewhere, behind the house where they stay, on a walk, she finds a kind of makeshift fort among the evergreens.

Running parallel with the river, a long piece of plywood is propped against a few angled posts. An improvised wall, notched and splintered along the top, tall enough to obstruct her ability to see what lies on the other side.   

She knows the river is there, frozen beneath a layer of snow, but the only way to glimpse it from inside is to look through the small holes in the wood, almost-squares in varying sizes at random heights.   

Openings in the structure’s interior. A pattern of quadrilaterals.

Tiny apertures.

Wooden blind with trees and snow

A series of lookouts saw-cut to take in. Each window filling with part of the landscape.

She leans slightly, presses her eye toward the largest one, notes the footprints she’s left behind. Some of the footprints: five, framed.

Through a lower, smaller one, a fraction of fallen branches, a small section of a broken hollowed-out log.

I keep returning to this idea of perspective. The notion that where I stand changes what I see.

How I see.

There is self-preservation in each shift. This instinct to parcel the world, to find quiet within.

Just after diagnosis, after a proton therapy simulation is carried out to ensure precision targeting, she finds on his body the tattooed constellation of stippled points. Three inked marks in a vertical line along the mediastinum. Another one on the left side of the torso & one on the right.

Five tiny stars they’ll infuse with energy, positively-charged protons ready to fight.

Elemental.

In the darkness, beside him, she imagines the light—his body, an entire galaxy.

She hears in the sound of his voice an unfamiliar intensity.

Awaiting sleep, she recalls the cadenced complexity of Holst’s seven-movement orchestral suite—the Academy of Music, a long-ago summer night.

Mars, the Bringer of War, Venus, the Bringer of Peace, Mercury, the Winged Messenger, Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity, Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age, Uranus, the Magician, Neptune, the Mystic.

Somewhere, I discover Holst’s favorite movement had been Saturn. So, I listen to it more closely.

More often.

How it opens slowly, in an almost unsettling way. Then, near the middle, the music expands into a heavy march. Holst, the composer, noted: Saturn brings not only physical decay, but also a vision of fulfillment.

Each time, in its coda, if it’s possible, I hear a kind of stillness. The calm in between storm fronts, perhaps. A place of vulnerability.

On the night before treatment begins, she finds a horned borer beetle stilled on the glass window of the side door, with its long antennae, four symmetrical ivory spots on its back.

I learn: These beetles tunnel into the heartwood of deciduous trees.

& the lanternfly, climbing the stems of roses in her garden, its nymphs wingless & spotted, black & white.

I learn: This insect has a host range of over 70 plant species. High populations are infesting common trees all across the United States.

The adult lanternfly grows red & gray wings. Its beauty deceptive.

Such duplicity. Too much to take in, sometimes. She is wearied by the world. By the way it seems overrun. Choked.

She looks closely at her husband, after each treatment, looks for signs of change. His skin turning a color she cannot name.

His otherwise healthy body, endangered now. Threatened by the cells of stage three disease. This ravaging of healthy tissue.

Everything invasive.

The truth is, I can’t stop seeing the word life trapped in the middle of proliferate.

Outside, lantern flies fall from the sky. Land on glass ceilings of the hospital lobby. On streets & sidewalks, all around me. I try to step on them but, as my foot smacks down, they leap away, as though someone has warned them.

I keep trying.

A maniacal dance. A way to convince myself I have even the smallest amount of control.

There are mice now, too. All these years later, in another house. In the attic above where they sleep. They hear the sound of death sometimes in the quiet of the night. A sudden thump.

They call out each one by number. Tallying, as though perhaps in time they might win some kind of prize.

& there are two the husband finds in his office. He creates makeshift barricades, corners them, hopes to catch & release. His conscience getting the better of him lately.

Somehow, they both get away, slip in between. Through.

Each weekday, she drives him back & forth. The same route to the hospital, the same winding road along the river.

Thirty miles, one way.

In the monotony, sometimes, her mind drifts, constructs dreams of birds flying overhead, folded-paper cranes…

Paper cranes

 

Paper craneWhat to make of the spaces around them, though?

Not empty.

Not blank. Not negative.

Sky, perhaps.

Possibility.

In Japanese, there is a word for this space: ma. A promise yet to be fulfilled. The interval which gives shape to the whole.

&, according to Japanese tradition, folding one thousand paper cranes gives an individual a chance to have one special wish come true.

I begin creasing small squares of bright-colored paper. Count them as I go.

Or maybe it is time passing.

In music, the silence between the notes of a song. Caesura. A break between words in a metrical foot.

Or maybe the page.

In book arts, the part left unmarked.

The macro white spaces of margins & gutters. Around graphic elements to create a sense of balance in layout & design.

The micro white spaces of leading between lines, kerning between letters.

& counters: the closed & non-closed space within a letterform, defined by the curve of its bowl.

Substance.

This way toward pattern & structure as chaos swirls, gathers strength.

I’ll wait for you here, she says to the husband each day. This is where you’ll know to find me.

She points to the lobby’s labyrinth of waiting areas. & to the light shade of locust trees just outside the door.

In either place, she sits, thinking about spaces in between:             

chairs & people                    

weeks & days                        

lungs & cells                         

  hours                                      
& minutes              

&
s
e
c
o
n
d
s
.

Thresholds. Ways through.

Waiting is searching, Anne Carson writes. Waiting, thoughts come, go. Flow.

I am waiting for an arrival, Roland Barthes writes.

I imagine this in response to Carson, as though a conversation has come to pass here on the page.

A return, Barthes continues, a promised sign…

Everything is solemn: I have no sense of proportions.

Meanwhile, I begin to chronicle my days through the lens of a camera.

Diagrams of comparison & contrast. Of life slowed down, transposed. Kaleidoscopic.

A series of assemblages, grid-like juxtapositions intended to blur lines, proportions, to illustrate the act of waiting & the ways in which it changes what I see.

Mosaics, rendering similarity & difference. In the midst of uncertainty & doubt.
 

Moriconi collage 1

[one, in a series]                            

Inside a waiting room, anticipating the delivery of more complicated medical terms, I stare into a painting on the wall, lose myself in the ripple of water.

Outside, the sway of leaves above, like lace curtains, sun & sky slipping through.

Meanwhile, how what supports & reinforces, makes room inside for vast constructs of life-saving machines, also defines space, suggests movement, articulates circulation.

This way in which structure is allowed to speak, to be heard.
 

Moriconi collage 2

[two, in a series]                            

Through sharp angles of metal & glass, skylight helps shadows land, stretch across the floor, gray shapes forming beneath a steady flow of footfalls.

A secret code I pretend to share with time. This recurring shift, a way of measuring each hour, each day.

Behind masks, the face half-covered, it is easier to cry somehow, to let the tears roll down, soak into the fabric, as though it is there resting against the skin of her cheek for that purpose.

Not only to keep her safe, but to collect the sadness. To offer discretion.

But it also conceals the smile. One brought to the wife’s face by a stranger, a woman standing outside the elevator in the parking garage. A woman who has no idea how the wife is feeling in that moment, yet she extends a gesture of kindness anyway. Levity.

The next day, the wife brings her a mason jar filled with hydrangea & sweet-smelling sage from their garden.

There are not a lot of synonyms for gratitude, I gather. Perhaps that is the foremost reason for growing—picking—flowers.

There is a monotony to the days. A kind of repetition that is comforting at first.

Day 1. Day 2. Day 3.

But the routine wears them both down. Eventually.

The wife begins to feel exhausted. Not from lack of sleep, but from wrestling her own demons. Anxiety. Depression.

When she speaks, her voice sounds punctured. Emptied.

Inhale for four seconds.

            one Mississippi…

                                                two Mississippi…

                                                                                    three Mississippi…

                                   four Mississippi…

Hold for five.

            one Mississippi…

                                                two Mississippi…

                                                                                    three Mississippi…

                                    four Mississippi…

                                                                        five Mississippi…

Exhale, until there is no breath left in the lungs.

During one of his first chemo treatments, alone in the room without his wife (because these are times that call for adjustment, isolation, even in the midst of suffering), he emails a link to her from The New York Times. She is drawn instantly to the title: “The Mysterious Life of Birds Who Never Come Down.”

And the language that follows is equally intriguing: creatures of the upper air… akin to angels… flickering silhouettes at 30, 40, 50 miles an hour.

She holds onto this language. Her mind, a vessel, filling.

Overflowing.

In summers before, the husband and wife had sat side by side on a balcony high up in the foothills of the Alps. There, at twilight, they’d watch the swifts circumnavigate the house & its tall magnolia, a dotted circle forming, drawn around, as though to perforate sky & tree, to say: cut here along this line; fold this moment into memory.

Vesper flights, set to the chime of church bells in the belfry just below.

Hallowed ground.

& after his diagnosis, just before treatment begins, on the balcony of a place they will soon move to, call home, they notice the swifts here, too, darting out in front of the twelve-story building built into the steep incline.

What they are doing is flying so high that they can work out exactly where they are, to know what they should do next. They’re quietly, perfectly, orienting themselves.

Husband & wife sit side by side looking down at the confluence of three rivers, at tugboats & barges, at highways & bridges & railroad tracks. Quietly. They turn toward one another.

Orienting themselves. Perfectly.

As days pass—radiation days, chemo days—she finds her own way to stay close. What she’ll want to call close, anyway.

The husband’s pain, an invisible wall between.

Almost every day, she collects & assembles things.

Proof, perhaps.

Words listed on pages of a notebook, as though once compiled they might become poem or song.

duration
encompass
ingress & egress
translucent
flux

& the decomposing litterfall of leaves—ash, copper beech, gingko.

& feathers—hawk, blue jay, goldfinch.

A kind of shrine to what can be ordered, what is able to be preserved. She plans to show him later: Here’s what I have found beautiful along the way.

Meanwhile, I commence a brief study of parallel, intersecting, perpendicular.
 

What is vertical strikes me first.    
 

Moriconi collage 3

[three, in a series]                            

A large painting hangs behind me in a busy hallway. Tree trunks standing upright, listing slightly, like people gathered together (before social-distancing).

There to bear witness.  

A grid of glass, this wall of floor-to-ceiling windows. Its geometry of angles. The tumbling of light & shadow.

How to write in the middle of it all—what to write—on the eerie days of calm.

In the stretches of stasis. Of sleep, the deep, near-unconscious kind that comes with overwintering.

I try to write nothing at all. But there is an untethering that happens to me almost right away. I imagine a balloon, let go. Its ribbon, a long-drawn-out string of sentences, disappearing—the only language I had left.

She sees the fatigue in her husband. His face, still that color she cannot name.

She is not prepared to watch him drag his body through each day. To hear his voice waning with each spoken word.

She forgets to breathe, reminds herself.

Inhale for four seconds.

            one Mississippi…

                                                two Mississippi…

                                                                                    three Mississippi…

                                   four Mississippi…

Hold for five.

            one Mississippi…

                                                two Mississippi…

                                                                                    three Mississippi…

                                    four Mississippi…

                                                                        five Mississippi…

Exhale, until there is no breath left in the lungs.

I learn: An average person is said to be able to cast one thousand cubic centimeters of air in a single violent expiration—yet no one can ever completely empty the lungs at will.

There is always a small residue of air.

Meanwhile, I acquire an appreciation for repetition.

For art, three-dimensional & installed, designed to transform the perception of space.
 

Moriconi collage 4

[four, in a series]                            

Suspended high above, in the main lobby.

I wonder how many people pass by & never look up, never take in each tessellation, each pattern circling toward something else.

My eye drawn to shape, line, contour. Often. All the time. This way toward saving myself.

There are days, a few in the beginning, when the 196-ton machine with sub-millimeter precision is not working.

So, the husband undergoes radiation in the absence of the usual level of accuracy. The healthy tissue around the tumors in his body will not be spared.

The wife asks how long it will be before it’s fixed. Of course, they have no answer for her. It breaks down, sometimes, is all they can say.

Inoperative. Out of order.

It is easier to find synonyms for broken down than it is to find language for the tangle of barbed-wire that has wedged itself inside my chest.

This malfunctioning, the technicians tell the husband, it comes in waves.

His wife wants to say, Doesn’t everything?

On another day, close to halfway through his treatment, water makes its way into their house. A basement “waterproofed” with pumps & drains.

It seems impossible. But it finds the paths of least resistance, pushes through cracks in concrete, gurgles & bubbles up.

Begins to flow.

Headwaters, smaller tributaries. A stream where once there’d been a floor.

First, a tropical storm warning. Then a tornado watch. The Weather Channel issues alerts: Seek shelter in a windowless lower-level room.

I have written this elsewhere, long before: I mistrust the hope of keeping anything out.

On the way to the husband’s daily treatment, the river they drive along has risen to meet the road, flooding it in the lowest lying places. There are trees & wires down, detours—Do Not Enter signs, orange traffic cones & caution tape.

At one point, when traffic stops, the husband gets out of the car, snaps a photograph of the angry water, branches & broken car parts, bicycle tires & plastic bottles racing along, caught up in the surge.

Meanwhile, in the lobby every day, there is so much glass all around.

Sometimes, I look out, toward the sky.

Behind glass, too, hanging on a wall, water, stop-action held. Wind sea & swell.

Sometimes, I delve into.

Look-up.

Learn: Because glass does not contain atoms that can slip past each other, there is no way to relieve stress. So, a crack can form where there’s a surface flaw, particles can separate.

The sky & water, however, endless streams of atoms, paint-by-number scatterings of blue-light.
 

Moriconi collage 5

[five, in a series]                            

We love to contemplate blue, Goethe writes, not because it advances to us, but because it draws us after it.

I am grateful for the lure, the beckoning of blue toward something beyond here. Beyond myself.

Through the highest window, she watches clouds drift by. Fair-weather ones, cumulus & bright-white, shapeshifting as the wind carries them along.

Just beyond, other buildings stand tall, face one another. Each with walls of glass, a pixelated skin, reflecting—becoming—the surroundings.

A narrative, both physical & ephemeral.

Life.

Changing.

Life changing. This series of panes through which in later years she will remember—everything.

On Sundays, the landscape of the hospital lobby is different. Emptied of people, it is still. Quiet.

It is odd to see the chairs sitting six feet apart when no one is occupying them. They look almost lonely. Stranded.

As the wife waits alone, an older man with white hair steps inside, through the revolving door, his body hunched over a walker. He yells at the guard nearby: Where do I get a COVID test? He coughs hard into his mask.

And, if the wife had momentarily forgotten, having lost herself in the book she’s reading, she is yanked back so fast it is jarring.

And she is reminded, again: stage-three disease. How the radiation targets her husband’s chest, its tumored walls, the pair of pink-tissued organs feeding his body the oxygen it needs. To breathe. To breathe normally. To breathe normally in the middle of a pandemic that threatens the very act of breathing.

She imagines the white-haired man, a ventilator breathing for him, the whoosh-sound of air under pressure.

And her fear expands into the quiet lobby. It fills every one of the empty chairs. It longs to hear something beautiful, to have someone play the piano, a gift of music, once bestowed, sitting untouched in the middle of the lobby.  

In this moment, I promise myself I will learn how to play the piano. I want desperately to keep this promise. To work at it.

But I know, all too well, these are the halfhearted bargains of melancholy & despair. Momentary. This way grief has of tricking us into thinking we’re more resilient than we are.

Three-stories tall, the machine feeds radiation to five rooms.

It’s a giant organism they need to keep alive, the husband says to the wife one evening.

Protons accelerated to two-thirds the speed of light, sent with millimeter precision down a beamline the length of a football field.

I am often overwhelmed by the science, complicated & groundbreaking.

In an encyclopedia from the 1930s that I find in a box of (free) books left on a sidewalk in New York City, I read: The atomic nucleus is a world of its own in which a number of particles like protons & neutrons are confined & held together by very powerful unknown forces. Relentless efforts are being made to determine these forces & undoubtedly it is a mere question of time before their nature will be understood.

… a mere question of time…

As I read this again & again, for a short while I sense something hopeful sneak into the space inside my body once reserved for disbelief & sorrow.

We have come such a long way.

Every day, the husband’s body is positioned precisely inside the proton therapy machine. Inside the circle inside the circle inside the circle.

Relentless repetition. Concentric. Compulsory.

Inside this cold sterile room. Inked markings aligned, arms raised above the head. The head cradled in what has been fashioned to hold it completely still.

A context both symbiotic & detrimental. A survey of the human body’s physical limits, its capacity to endure. To respond.

On my breath, he says. I can taste the char of tissue. Burnt cells. I can smell my own body being incinerated.

Meanwhile, at the center of one waiting area, wooden slats have been woven into a ten-to-twelve-foot organic structure.

Nucleus. Core.

Grand in its size, commanding attention in its location, but I watch people pass through as though it isn’t there, right in front of them.
 

Moriconi collage 6

[six, in a series]                            

I snap photographs from different angles. I sit & sketch its pattern, give it language. Over. Under. Warp & weft.

Framework. Lattice. A repetition of open spaces in between.

Like the walls of the building surrounding it—containing it—I consider both the complexity of its construction & the simplicity of its form.

Somewhere, I read: A work never exists in isolation.

The husband’s body, a structural element of its own. Supporting. Load-bearing. Withstanding: shear forces, bending moments.

Statically indeterminate: conditions of equilibrium often not enough to resolve reactions.

On some days, she can feel the energy of the building, its rooms, almost as though her body is connected somehow, wired into this network of continuous movement.

Her own relationship with the interior space begins to form, from multiple points of view. A series of spatial frames spliced together in a way that makes movement seem choreographed, Holst’s orchestral suite a recurring soundtrack.

A sense of mass. The migration of bodies. Pushing. Pulling. Lumbering along.

Everything expanding. Unpredictable.

A chorus of contexts: Hospital building. Human body. Places of fortification: stemming, healing. Places of confinement: concealing, holding back.

Somewhere, toward the end of treatment days, on the ride home along the river, vanishing points appear.

& she considers this: How the horizon never gets any closer. Ever. How we are all headed toward something out of reach.

Always.

 


(answer: anger, upheavel, uncertainty; return to essay)

 

Nonfiction Contest Judge Julian Hoffman says...
Like the river that runs through itone Mississippi, two Mississippithis is a remarkable and moving essay that flows with mesmeric energy, pulling you immediately inside its current. With an extraordinary attention to language, perspective, pacing, and silence, “Notes on Building a Somewhat Bearable Space for Disbelief” chronicles the uncertain and transitory nature of our time on this planet with haunting poignancy. But the intimacy of its relationships acts as an anchor, too; it’s an achingly beautiful reminder of all that keeps us from drifting out of reach. In a year that has forced us towards distance and separation, this astonishing essay affirms the deepest human need for love and connection.

 

Kristina MoriconiKristina Moriconi is a poet, essayist, and visual artist whose work has appeared in a variety of literary journals and magazines including Sonora Review, Brevity, Cobalt Review, Lumina, and others. Her work has also been included in the anthology Flash Nonfiction Food and her lyric narrative In the Cloakroom of Proper Musings was published by Atmosphere Press in August 2020.

Read “What Remained” by Kristina Moriconi, a finalist in Terrain.org’s 8th Annual Contest in Nonfiction.

All images by Kristina Moriconi.

Terrain.org is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, art, commentary, and design since 1998.