The pink blossoms are opening on the tree outside. The center of the flower cup is white with a watercolor pink smear bleeding into violet as the petals unfold out to the sun. Last year, the tree bloomed too early in March and the late winter snows kept her from full color. The year before, it was the rain that stole the petals. This is the first year we may see the colors of this tree. I took photos of her before we moved in. Sent them to my father, who was a forester. My father loves trees and I send him photos from time to time of flora that I can’t identify myself.
“Magnolia,” he told me. “But I’m not sure which strain. Could be Chinese or Japanese?”
My mother in law thinks it’s a Southern Cherry. I swear it’s a magnolia. I have always wanted to live with a large flowering magnolia in my front yard. Southern Magnolia. I want to live in a paint-flecked white farmhouse, a wide wrap-around porch with tall-back rocking chairs. A long driveway up a tree lined path. Lazily neglected lawn, long grass in the summer. This: the magnolia, the queen of the front yard.
I look it up. I had no idea there are so many different magnolias. 32, to be precise. Black tulip. Anise Magnolia. Alba Superba. Wada’s Memory. Sunsation. Jane Platt. The list of names puts me into movies, along different walks on different continents in different seasons in different eras. Different cocktails. Different costumes.
Today it is Saint Patrick’s Day. March 17th. The day after my son’s 2nd birthday. It is grey and raining and cold. Two years ago, it was grey and raining and cold. When we came home from the hospital with our small, red-faced newborn, it was grey and snowing and cold and we were terrified. My parents were staying at our new house, the one with the magnolia tree in the front yard, unblossomed. My father had spent the days after Huck’s birth, while I was in the hospital recovering from the C Section, walking the perimeter of my house, making notes on a yellow legal pad about the state of the health of all of our trees, what species they were, how to take care of them. He noted the magnolia was in perfect health. My mother cooked casseroles.
Today is heavy and grey and raining and cold. There’s a weight in the dampness. My mother was supposed to be here. But she could not fly down because of the pandemic. My mother is high risk. My father is dead.
That stopped me. That sentence. The one I rarely write. Blunt and short. Four words and a full stop period.
There is a poison in the air killing people. A virus. Spreading like a brush fire through the world. Taking the old. Taking the weak. Culling the herd. We are vastly unprepared for this. By “we” I mean the world. I mean every single human being. We read history and we talk incessantly about global issues, global warming, recessions, pandemics, ideology, but until a plane flies into a tower across the river from where you are standing and you see its nose crunch against glass and you watch what you now know were people jumping to certain death and you watch and hear a skyscraper fold in on itself, and you say outloud, ‘there goes thousands and thousands of people’, until you see it, it’s all a television show.
I’m inside. I’ve bought enough supplies for a month. I made two pots of soup without a recipe and they both turned out bland and tasteless but I will freeze them and eat them because I tried. I failed at soup. I refuse to follow instructions and then my soup turns out bland and I’ve wasted food I need for the week.
I’m tired even though my husband is being incredibly sweet and waking up at 5am with our son, so that I can sleep in. He’s tired too, but he’s not telling me so.
My throat is tight. I check my temperature. I’m having hot flashes and night sweats and I’m convinced I have a cough. I watch too much news. There’s nothing new. The leaders of our country are not saying anything to me. They’re talking about protecting businesses, not people. I feel lost. I go to Twitter for information. I scroll. A lot. All night. I pray, kindasorta. I know all the long prayers but right now the one that works is “I can’t. God Can. Maybe I’ll let her.” Although, truth be told, when I’m scrolling past the prayer in my head I still think “Him” even though I want my God to be a female. But the gender of the thing seems superfluous now. If my God has to be the blonde blue eyed Jesus that hung above my grandmother’s bed on a cross with nails and bleeding hands and feet and old, stale palm fronds stuck behind his head, well, so be it. I don’t have to time to fight the patriarchy right now. I’m busy disinfecting every surface of my house and my car.
We feel lost. Last week a tornado hit East Nashville. It barely missed my friends’ homes. It could have hopped and skipped up here to Hendersonville and caught us in our sleep as there is no siren up here. But it didn’t. It wrecked whole neighborhoods. We were all in shock. The virus was out there then. At large. But it wasn’t real.
I have hardly taken a full breath in over 10 days. 2 weeks. My son is 2. My son is 2. My son is 2. My father is dead. My father is dead. My father is dead.
The magnolia tree blooms. It’s grey and cold and raining but the petals are opening. It’s definitely a magnolia. I wish my father could see it.
It was 35 degrees the other morning and my breath made little clouds of smoke in the dawn as I let the dog out in the damp back yard. This morning, it’s 70 degrees and climbing and the fog is from humidity now.
The magnolia tree lost her blooms in the rain yesterday. She was in full glory for 24 hours. Maybe that’s all we get. A full day of beauty. Maybe that’s enough.
I checked in with a friend who has a 1 year old. She and her husband are in a band and she said her husband, a banjo player, is considering learning to be an electrical engineer. Because somebody’s going to have to pay the bills and musicians aren’t doing it right now.
I say to my husband, “Should I think about teaching in the public school systems now? Should I get an online masters in teaching? Just in case?” I was planning on doing a Low Residency MFA in Creative Writing in a year, but that seems, well, frivolous now. We are in survival mode and I don’t need a degree to be a poet. But I need a trade to make money to survive.
The “just in case” is real now. I’m hustling. It’s exhausting. I am writing prose because I don’t have time for the haiku of song. Maybe I do. Maybe it’s just a list. Fear. Fear. Fear.
What does fear feel like when it’s abstract, when the killer is not a person in front of me threatening my child. Because if there were a killer in front of my kid, I’d throw my body in front of his small one, and literally grab at the killer’s throat, wild and feral and kick and scream and pull his hair and push him away and grab anything in my arms reach and bash his fucking head against the thing, pushing him down to the ground and smash his head bloody until my face was smeared with blood and bits of brain and bone and then, after he was dead, I’d open my howling mouth and scream, teeth bared, and I’d throw my open-mouthed head down into the pulp of his open face and rip through tendon and muscle and take a bite of his deadness and pull with my teeth and shake my head, throwing the bits of his former killer self all over me and my son, safe behind me, and the air around me and spit it out and then collapse over his dead body, breathing heavily, huffing and puffing until everything went silent and the buzzing in my ears stopped.
But you can’t disembowel the invisible, can you? I can’t punch the air. I can only listen to the buzzing, sit still, wavering between making plans and waiting.
The tree is giving up her fight. The blossom cups are on the damp ground. The front yard that is on the street that’s too busy, where cars defy the 30 mph speed limit and instead they groan their Charger engines, the bully on the block, and scare the shit out of me. I want to move to the woods, away from this street. Away from this block of same same brick post-war ranch houses. Away from the neighbor with the sign outside that says, “We are Christians In This House” as if anyone asked them and as if they are at war. I want to go far into the Hundred Acre Wood with Pooh and Tigger and Roo and Kanga and even Owl who is like that friend who we all put up with but she starts mid-story and it’s always about some family issue that nobody’s asked her about or some physical ailment and she goes on and on and none of us really want to hear it but we love her and accept her and invite her. Or annoying Rabbit who is so OCD it’s hard to be around him for more than a few minutes. But we love him. Or Eeyore. Poor mopey complaining Eeyore. Who is really the funniest one of the bunch. Although Tigger is my personal favorite, bouncing, frouncing, frumping, lumping fun fun fun fun fun. It is a Windsday if there ever was a Windsday and I sing that song to myself all day long
Oh the wind is lashing lustily
And the trees are trashing thrustily
And the leaves are rustling gustily
So it’s rather safe to say
That it seems that it may turn out to be
Feels that it will undoubtedly
Looks like a rather blustery day
Let us go into that wood and take shelter under the bee tree and eat honey and take care of the ones we are hunkered down with and hibernate until the air is safe to breathe again.
We are all just making it up as we go.