Lettuce Soup

I don’t know. Whatever the question is, that’s my answer. At least I’m honest. 

The things I do know aren’t the answers to anything in particular.

The Tower of Babel

I think of the Tower of Babel. (If you missed Sunday School that Sunday, click here.) Before we all went into lock-down, we as a human species were one thing, invincible. Now we’re all in our corners–sent to our rooms, so to speak. This is different than the Tower of Babel story, because in the Bible story their languages were scrambled so they couldn’t talk to each other. We can still talk to each other. We talk too much, repeating things we heard someone else say, getting into heated disagreements in/over little black letters on a screen. The divisions are in place. It’s Babel. Different, but the same.

“They” closed the borders of the countries of the world. I live in a town that functions 100% on tourism. We don’t have any other industry. We don’t have any other way of earning our daily bread. We (not me personally at this time, but the citizens of the place I live) are hungry.

The streets are quiet. I remember 25 years ago when this quiet was normal. It was The Thing, not the absence of a thing. But it was different, then. There were more trees and fewer empty buildings. I love the quiet. I love the stillness. Finally something that is true is revealed from beneath something that was artificial. Does that make sense? To me, it does.

We fear crime. Stores, closed until further notice, have been emptied by their owners. Naked mannequins stand in shop windows. Restaurants are dark as caves, emptied of tables and chairs. Where has all the furniture gone?

I forgot there were this many monkeys. The hillsides are full of their voices just before dawn. They are everywhere. I thought they were gone–a thinning, endangered population that human activity was slowly extinguishing. Not even. There is nothing wrong with the monkeys. They just didn’t like us is all. Sometimes I’m not sure I like us.

Parrots. Have you ever listened to them? On a morning with no buses, no construction noise, no music from restaurants trying to attract foot traffic. I sometimes laugh at their jokes even though I don’t understand the words.

The ocean. It doesn’t need us. We sigh and suffer for it. We need it on our skin. We dream of it at night. And there it is, luminous, rising, falling, breathing its salty warm breath into the world, cleaner and more crystalline than ever. It isn’t one bit sad.

“When Things Get Back to Normal”

Nothing is ever going to be the same after this. I don’t think “things” are going to go back to being “like they were.” I could be wrong–let’s just take that as a given no matter what I say. We talk about, “after this is over,” and of course it will be over. Everything ends. But maybe we should drop the phrase “when things get back to normal.” Am I the only one who foresees a new normal?

I might know something about new normals.

Having the world implode into lockdown and watching society melt isn’t entirely dissimilar to the experience of having my husband become sick and die. It isn’t the same, but one is reminiscent of the other. Both things happened suddenly. Both things yank the rug out from under you. Both things cause you to have to rethink ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING about your life. Both things destroy what was and leave you with god-only-knows-what afterward. Both things are surrounded by a lot of silence. Both of them involve waking up each morning and having to remember how “now” is different from “then” before you know how to live.

Remember how I confessed to walking and running on the beach with my eyes closed, trying to see with my skin and my ears? Now I can do it on my bike in the street. In little spurts, early or late. More than ever, being able to sense what is around me without being able to see it feels like a critical skill.

Lettuce Soup

What’s around me/us that I cannot see?

I’m told there’s a virus–literally “your death of a cold.” I can’t see it. Should I be afraid of the air?

There is hunger around me. I can feel that. In the empty streets, I see friends who wave and smile. I also see strange people that I never seen before–people who eye me in a way I don’t like. In a house a few miles from here a few nights ago 4 people were shot. It sounds drug-related–somebody owed the wrong person too much money or something. I’m not afraid of being shot in the night. I’m not afraid of being hungry. I was also not afraid the government would shut the borders and that the restaurant owners would find it prudent to take home the tables and chairs. But they have.

Some people–people I know–are looking at the worst days of their lives. I am not. Not yet. Things have to be much different than this before they compare to the worst day of my life. I’ve been poor before. I’ve been hungry. I don’t talk about it much. Once, I made lettuce soup for my stepdaughter and pretended it was delicious (it wasn’t bad, really) because it was the only thing we had. I am a long long way from preparing lettuce soup for a hungry child who depends on me.

Something is Happening

Where am I? What is going on?

I love the silence. No cars. No buses. No dump trucks. No cement mixers. No music from bars. Nothing. I might be obsessed with it. I feel a sort of jealousy regarding it–it is mine and you cannot have it. I don’t want anyone or anything to touch it. A noisy motorcycle drove by this morning and I held my breath. It interrupted the locusts and the wind I was listening to. For a moment it drowned out the sound of the sea and it was like not knowing where I was.

I don’t want things to go back to the way they were. I loved things the way they were. I was happy, then. But something has happened. Something is happening. Do you feel it? Things can be different. Better. Can’t they? If there is more than one way to be, can we be another way now that we’ve had this pause. Like children redirected after a time out?

Listen…  

Is that the sound of the meek inheriting the earth?

Addicted to Amazement

let’s become addicted
to amazement
that dizzying electric surprise
when the unexpected
explodes
before our eyes
on our taste buds
over our skin

let’s take it in our coffee
in our water
in our wine
until we can’t live
a single hour without a
surge of glorious disbelief
to calm us

we will claw the earth for it
find it under stones
in the hearts of
little shells
peel it with our teeth from the
bark of tender trees

Love Poem to the Sun

a poem from a very old notebook
(If the jungle could write a poem, it would be this one.)

rise on me
scorch me
head to toe

push yellow fingers
through the millions of miles
to love me

come to me
sliding over my skin
and turn me
yellow, brown, red

i will sing for you
scream for you
howl at the moon
and dance

Hunger Changes Everything

It begins with the sound of Jorge scraping
the bottom of the pot
metal on metal
at six AM.

I don’t need a clock.
By seven, Yolanda’s radio
will play louder than the rain.

From my thin bed, I
listen to him scraping:
the sound of nothing.

Hunger pangs, they say, dull
if you lie on your belly.
I have been sleeping face down for weeks
since the rains began in
earnest, and the buyer of our earthenware
stopped at the dangerous bridge.
It will rain until October.

He scrapes carefully, filling the morning
with echoes of emptiness.
Each grain of rice will be
gone and there will not be one
spoonful left for me.

Who will believe the hot fat
tears that slide around my
nose and onto the bed?
If I say I have wept for a
plate of rice, who will
not politely cough and look away?.

Watch me dry my eyes and pour
thin sweet coffee
from my cup into the hollow space
between these new hipbones.
Watch me look out
at the rain and not at Jorge
chewing.

I will lie on my back tonight
listening to the thunder.
I will be waiting
when Maria lights the cooking fire
in the morning dark.

It begins with the sound of Jorge scraping
the bottom of the pot
metal on metal
at six AM.
A spark ignites the slow-burning panic
of hunger that
changes everything.

The Chicken or The Eggs

Maria Lucía points to the hen, then to Fernanda and laughs.
I don’t understand.

Fernanda is eyeing my hen.
She wants to eat her.

No, no!  Fernanda says, pressing her hands to her heart.
Maria Lucía is eyeing her own hen.
She wants to eat her.

Now we are all giggling and I confess to myself that I also want eat her.
We laugh at each other’s hunger for meat, weighing one pot of stew against all those eggs.