April is National Poetry Month! And in honor of the monthlong celebration, American photographer Jill…
The last days of May, daylight stretching seemingly endless, twilight like a breath held long finally let go and I sleep with the windows open again so I can feel the wind move through the darkness holding me, and hear the ravens in the trees around my house raucous calling to one another in those last deep minutes before dawn. I’ve been so quiet for months now, since March 11 when this moment began to unfurl itself in its relentless sweep, and for all of my history of putting myself out there publicly on behalf of others whose voices so often go unheard or unspoken or silenced, I’m good at quiet, adept at contained, tend to turn toward solitude rather than toward other people when the choice presents itself. I’ve been mostly good with these months of alone, choosing to see them as an invitation to listen, to anchor into what is unshakeable, like the mountains or the vast sky, to fix my focus on what always renews itself, like life renews itself no matter the devastation moments before, and to allow myself to just be while parts of me heal again and dream of things like kindness embodied, and like justice revived, and like wings stretching and like prayers lifting for all who are breathless to be revived instead of crushed by hearts that hold no air or empathy. I’ve fallen in love a little bit with silence again, and stillness, and the way language can bridge us even when I can’t see your eyes or watch your hands while you speak to me or rest my face against the ledge of your collarbone to feel how the sun brings your blood alive, and coffee so strong it makes my jaw clench and fast black pens and sketchbooks with spines new enough to crackle when I open them and place my long hand flat on their pages waiting for me to write what I hear in the listening and the dreaming, the conjuring and the remembering.
I’ve been tagging two projects simultaneously and they have given a rhythm to my days, just as going for long walks and hikes alone have, too. I lost track of time today and so had to get a move on to get a long walk in at the park before a scheduled call, in the high heat of the day when the sun was directly above like a gel light. I rolled into the park and was putting my ear buds in when a car pulled in next to me and the window rolled down to reveal the faces of people I love, whom I have not seen since March 11, and holy god that moment of seeing their eyes and their smiles and the nearness of them and their hands in the air as they greeted me. We all got out of our cars and it damn near brought me to my knees to not be able to hold them to me, to hug them and feel the realness of them, to laugh against them in a moment a little bit like belonging. I was stunned by how happy seeing them left me, and was simultaneously all of a sudden aware of how much I miss being with the people I love, how ten weeks of alone can make alone its own backbeat until it is part of the air you breathe or the night descending or the wind when it funnels through and billows a curtain out that brushes your ankle as you pass the long window open to it.
I did my long walk fast, while I looked at the sky and the kids in the park and I made it home to take my call in the studio right on time and I made dinner with music on, singing along low and alone. This song, a cover of New York, came up on shuffle and the snare drum pulled me from the kitchen to turn the volume up and I stood in the living room and just listened to it, to Cat Power with her witchy voice making a run at Sinatra’s old classic, and I remembered dancing in a bar in the Village with a cracked concrete floor, just beyond the circle of gel lights with three pretty men playing instruments that made the music I was dancing to, me slick with sweat that stuck my hair to the skin between my collarbone and my jaw, my body the only thing that mattered when the baseline made me forget myself enough to want to just move, to be inside my own skin, to be alive with the music and that crowd and the scorch of the gel lights and the feel of my boot heels on the concrete with the man I loved then leaning in to me to say, “Baby, you have got to stop moving like that in front of all these people.” And me letting my hair cover my face so he couldn’t see me as I did.
The song ended and I played it again, thinking of that moment, and wondering how many basement bars with cracked concrete floors I have danced in or shot pool in or got myself up to no good in or wrote poems in, and how many people I have relished or loved that I have shared those moments with, or the after-hours in my homes beyond the bars shutting down, or the Saturday night dinner parties I threw with people crowding me in the kitchen while I tried to cook for them or had to be called back in to the table after they’d wandered out to visit with the horses or smoke cigarettes on the porch laughing together, until the house was full and my heart was uplifted and laughter and music and kindness lived between us like air enough for all of us.
The song ended, and I played it again, and I let myself realize that we are two-and-a-half months in now, and I miss being with the people I love. I miss your faces, and your hands, and your laughter, and the way you look away and look back when you’re taking your time with the words to say to me what you need to share, and the sound of your voices telling your stories, and how your hands flash and fold again as you do, and how your breath rises and you open, and keep opening, and how beautiful that is, when we open before one another and allow ourselves to be seen and heard, and sometimes known, sometimes even loved.
I miss feeling my body when I’m dancing, feeling your breath when you lean in to say something only to me, miss watching you watch me put a meal I just cooked for us on the glass-topped table before you before we begin again, miss the low rumble of laughter and the stories and even the peace that comes when we are easy in the silences together, too. Ten weeks of alone, and the world is so wide and forgiving, and full of wonder and terror simultaneously, and I’ve needed so much quiet, so much silence to find my way through it up until now. I’ve been away but also still here, dreaming my way back in, trying to remember that I belong while sending my oldest prayer for love and grace to hold you in the grieving and the uncertainty, and hoping for light enough and air enough for all of us to find our way, as we find ourselves and one another, through this moment and all that it asks of us.
When this moment becomes a different one, the one that will follow it, I’ll be on the cracked concrete floor just beyond the gel lights waiting for you, or I’ll leave the door open so you can just find me in the kitchen, with the music playing and the windows open, and in either place I’ll probably be singing along, my hands flashing out to touch you when you join me. And from this moment to that one becoming, I’ll be sending love and grace, light and air, enough for all of us to find our way.
©2020 Dora E. McQuaid
Listen to the song that sparked this piece:
New York, 2007 cover by Cat Power
All peace to each one of you. Dora