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Zuihitsu: Jackson Heights, Spring 2020

Oh, my windowsill garden: bloom!

Poetry | Zuihitsu
April 15, 2022

This piece is part of the 随筆 | Zuihitsu notebook, which features original art by Satsuki Shibuya.

In mid-March everyone went inward. Rather, retreated. Into themselves. Into their versions of houses: high-rises, walk-ups, condos, basements, brick squares, partitions, wood, plasters and spackled ceilings . . . Streets empty and skies emptier. A contagion was airborne. 

A cough could be a death knell of the constricted lungs. Droplets of exhalation: mists or fountain. Aerosol that lingered turned respiratory strangler.

We were not the bunker type, my love & I. Our apartment storage enough for two middle-aged bodies. But we stuffed bundles of toilet paper in the upper reaches of our closets. Walled up our kitchen cupboards with tin soldiers of canned organic soups, tomato pastes, and beans. I asked: Should we fill the bathtub with water?  

A window was no longer just a window. Trapped in the tower of my room. Mornings and into the gloaming I stared at solitude through the glass panes.

Dash of sirens pierces, dissipates. A bombardment detonates, races to the pulses of the temples, resonates in the chest-chamber, and darts down the nerves of the feet. 

I reminisced about the wet market I enjoyed so much going to with my mother in Manila. The bracelets of cut milkfish, pigs’ heads mounted as masks, bananas suspended like open-faced fans, and all varieties of rice: milagrosa, rizalina, dinurado, binulawan, dinalaga . . .

While sheltering-in-place, the first three books I reread and read, in order of consumption, were:

  • Mrs. Dalloway, which catalogs the hours in a day of Clarissa, a most hospitable hostess.  
  • Severance, which I thought would be about corporate malaise. 
  • Station Eleven, which I read as guide and tarot.

Couplets from a fragmented, abandoned poem, “Hiatus,” scribbled in a new journal: 

No trips to Spain
& Portugal. 

Mrs. Dalloway unable
to fetch flowers.

I used to hop on trains to work in an adjacent borough. I boarded jet planes to my dream countries. I sat at outdoor cafés sipping prosecco, bubbling forth the frothy adolescence of me. Time was effervescent then; I didn’t foresee it stilled. 

Then New York City explodes. In cherry blossoms. In April.

Throat’s tickle turns
to fever specter. 

Mercury frozen
in the old thermometer.

A dream: a sparrow flies out through a hole in a shuttered window and carries the whole house with it like a winged chariot. Night, merciless accordion, flourishes in quarantine. Is the night the sparrow’s dream?

My mother said I was hatched from an egg. She was often prone to flights of fancy. But what if I cracked open as she pecked me to be? Which rendered her aerial. Nested high up Mount Ararat, eyeing the flood of the world. 

As the wine glass impulsively refills, my tongue pulsates like a river eel. Liquid from the vines collides with syrupy fluid from my mouth. They merge as Eucharist. Because there was once a son, holy, who turned water into wine. Prompting his humanly body to be leavened into bread, and we eat it, and we drink the wine of his blood.

The ribbon eel spends its entire life burrowed in a coral reef. It is not a hermitage. Its head peeps, flared nostrils vibrating, open-mouth breathing. Its movement orbits the perimeter of its garter of a body. Pulled limb drawn out by hunger. Within sea’s vast acreage home is an anchored empire.  

Days & days, marble-
still as statues, erode.

In the box of my house
sentinels of yellow walls.

Outdoors is haven and fear. These days are of locked doors, mirrors, kitchen sinks stacked with rings of plates. Oh, my windowsill garden: bloom! Make me an Eden, tamed wilderness to be lost in. Yet guarantees return into the hippo of my couch, the stork back of my office chair, the borealis glow of my laptop.

Sleep, are you meandering through the winding lost highways of night illuminated by foggy coronas of sad street lamps? The city is your abductor. Sheep-white melatonin tablets and over-the-counter antihistamines fail me. Sleep, where art thou? Please slip into me like Romeo through the wide yawning window.

I awaken to the heavenly scent of freshly baked bread. I am mouth and marionette, bounding out of the dumpling of my bed. The oven an urban furnace warming up a spring morning with its whispering chill. Coffee darkly roasted tempered by sugar, milk. My husband now enters our birdhouse, carrying bundled twigs of forsythia salvaged from the unkempt backyard. They radiate, enrapture!