The Melting

Pandemic 2

How restless I am. The body in place, the mind rootless. And a corrosive fear that nothing will ever be the same. I replay cherished routines in foreign lands, same route, same train, same hotel. Hotels that find their way into my dreams, somewhat altered, yet maintaining the atmosphere of possibility. The Hotel Suisse, overlooking the Promenade des Anglais, where James Joyce picked up his pen, and formed the words that begat Finnegan’s Wake. The Globe, overlooking the streets of the city once called Saigon, where Graham Green wrote religiously without the angel of self-pity planted on his shoulder. My usual room in the Mitte district of Berlin, where I often walked past the ivy-covered walls of the cemetery flanked by rail tracks, then taking my place in the Pasternak Café beneath a portrait of Bulgakov, ordering fresh ginger tea and writing through the afternoon. 

When all were free to tour our roster was long and varied.  One day to wake up on the Bay of Naples, have coffee at the Caffé del Professor at the Piazza Trieste and thus fortified trek to the Pieigrotta district to the entrance of an old Roman tunnel where the Tomb of Virgil can be found, though not his long-vanished remains. In this massive alcove I once ran my hands across his words, etched over two millennia ago. Unable to resist the perfect acoustics of a hidden circular courtyard, I sang out as if to awaken the sleeping dead. I imagined, as I cavalierly tramped about, that this freedom would always be offered, as long as I was sturdy enough to assume it.      

My coffee cold, I desire another. Perhaps I am lonely, suddenly swept with wistfulness, a longing to wordlessly share deep affection, a mutual drive to work. I long to sit at a desk in an intimate office lined with books, as I did some time ago with a Spanish companion. We would rise in the morning, go to a small café, a brief constitutional then to our stations to work, mutually absorbed within a heightened silence. By the mid-afternoon we would face one another smiling, content in having accomplished much. That was a good world. Now I am my own companion. The fourteenth day of self-quarantine has long passed, only to usher future months of lockdown. The calendar, liberally marked with cities of a once glowing itinerary- Knoxville Seattle San Francisco Christchurch Melbourne Madrid and beyond, all seem to mock me, as I cross out each theater, opera house, and festival field. Job after job postponed or cancelled, falling as toy soldiers in a line, swept away as if by a whim, the arbitrary tyranny of a virus.  These days condemned to one lengthening domestic stint in New York City, seeking the will to press on, do something, if only write a few worthless pages from the valley of limbo.

Not yet dawn. I awake to the realization that I have nowhere to go.  Or more precisely nowhere I can go. I rise and wash my face nevertheless and feed the cat already circling. My socks mismatched and the same tee shirt from three days ago. Time for a change I murmur to myself, choosing another from a pile of folded laundry. I dress and assess how I am doing. Not entirely unmotivated, but with an unfamiliar otherness seeping in, as if through cracks in the floorboards after minor flooding.  A numbness.  Not a lack of empathy but a sense of the diminishing of the belief of former values, the glow of talismans, or the thrill of a certain voice. Upon my desk is the tambourine Robert Mapplethorpe made for me for my twenty-first birthday. I touch each flowing ribbon in order to deter strands of magic from unraveling.  Perhaps, I tell myself, this is what it means to hang on by a thread.