I exchange my life for words.
Weak, uncertain currency.
—Anna Kamienska, from “Industrious Amazement: A Notebook,” translated by Clare Cavanagh Poetry (March 1st, 2011)
Every day since March 13th, I have written something. Some days only a string of words, bursts of breath, or an image find their way through and out. It is my commitment to pay attention.
On March 22nd I wrote that almost 400 people had died from COVID-19, and started to track the pace of American death on April 2nd (over 5,100). I stopped consistently tracking on May 31st (105,000 dead), an arbitrary deadline because the notebook I started on March 13th ended there. I was also experiencing cognitive dissonance between my values around attention as action and my writing practice which centers curiosity. I could only integrate this morbid number on a jagged graph as an abstracted affect of weight, like the moon’s gravitational pull on Earth or the resonance of unmasked grief. I had been lying to myself that I was curious about death, in this quantified way.
Yesterday my source [google: “covid 19 us deaths”] told me 142,000+ were gone.
Risk assessments are strategic investments: four walls and one door to escape. Subtext is its own elegy. Sometimes only metaphors can help me decipher a world where death is sold as the inevitable cost of doing business, which has been conflated to mean the only way to have a life. Metaphors are a clever method to take up space and complicate our mutual knowing. How might I displace our assumed common language and still connect to you?
If I’m feeling lucky, I might be able to translate my curiosities to you beyond the distance of pencil to paper. I recognize energy lost in between contact eventually fades like a bruise found but not remembering its source. William Stafford might name this felt experience.
Long ago, I replaced god with something bigger — an awareness there’s no precision in the prescriptive phrase “let go of the past.” For now, I reclaim there’s pleasure and possibility in waking up to an anticipatory life. Otherwise, a paranoid reading would lead us to believe that depravation is the norm or something far worse, complacency as impulse.