You go along and you manage to stay purposeful, to do the things that keep your household more or less running and in order, you go out one day a week to buy food, you keep replanting the lettuce that the slugs feast on the moment your back is turned. The moment your back is turned, a black bear tears apart the compound where the garbage cans are stored. There’s nothing in them to attract a bear (kitchen garbage is recycled or composed or else kept in a shed until enough has accumulated for a trip to the landfill) but maybe it’s hopeful that your habits have changed. It returns. It tears apart the cans again, though they’re empty. There are days of joy, Joan Baez singing “Silver Dagger” and “Copper Kettle” as you sort laundry, long days of hard work, and other days when you read on your bed while the rain smatters on the blue roof. You manage.
And then there’s a day when you don’t. You can’t. In the night you sit at your desk reading something that breaks you open, written by someone you love. In the morning you can’t stop weeping. You know the world is changed forever and all along you’ve told yourself that this is an opportunity to revisit the way things are done. Employment standards, education, the way we treat our dear damaged planet. Each other. What did you think? That a weeded garlic bed would somehow act as a charm against the dark?
Don’t sing love songs, you’ll wake my mother
She’s sleeping here right by my side
And in her right hand a silver dagger
She says that I can’t be your bride
There are days. And days and days. It’s been 63 days since things were even a little normal, though to be honest whole weeks go by that seem like last year’s. And the year before. But this is the week you can’t quite summon your best self. She is somewhere else, buried maybe, as the compost is buried in rich grass clippings. You thought you would simply write your essays, make your meals, talk to your children and your grandchildren. What now? It’s cool enough for a fire.
Build your fires of hickory
Hickory or ash or oak
Don’t use no green or rotten wood
They’ll catch you by the smoke
The bear has just walked by your window. He’s not in a hurry, he knows the end is not in sight. The ash in your woodstove is cold, there are clouds over the mountain, and on your desk, as inspiration, A Writer’s Diary, in the elegant grey Persephone edition. For most of the weeks that made up the 63 days, you’ve been as cheerful as you could be. You made cotton masks. You washed your hands. You cancelled the things you had to. But these days are now the reckoning. Can you keep doing it? You can, of course. Do you want to? Some days you don’t. When you remember, you look to see what Virginia Woolf was thinking on a particular day as she wrote and thought and kept the darkness at bay. When she is writing The Waves, your favourite of her novels, she is immersed in its atmospheres, the 6 monologues, the voices as rhythmic as tides. She keeps the voices moving, even as she worries about structure, relevance. You remember Bernard thinking about Percival, the seventh presence in the book, the friend who is lost, dead. And Bernard’s words are what you would speak now, if it mattered.
I need silence, and to be alone and to go out, and to save one hour to consider what has happened to my world, what death has done to my world.
You have not yet saved your hour, though it is coming to that, isn’t it? What has happened, while the bear circles your house, and the sun is muted by cloud.