Speak to me, Virus!

… Stay, illusion!
If thou hast any sound, or use of voice,
Speak to me:

If there be any good thing to be done,
That may to thee do ease and grace to me,
Speak to me:

Lines spoken by Horatio to the Ghost in Act 1 Scene 1 (from Shakespeare’s Hamlet)

Virus, are you really there?
Or are you as ‘insubstantial as air?’
Speak to me, reveal yourself quickly!
I’ve waited too long to meet you
Socially distanced, and wearing a mask,
To ask you questions, to hear your voice.
Let’s exchange ideas freely, so you will feel at ease
And I can find grace, quarantined at home.

Speak in whispers if you feel shy or embarrassed
I can keep secrets!

There’s a new coffee shop opened close by.
A cup of coffee might inspire conversation.

Where did you come from?
Why did you come into our world?
What color are you? What shape, what size?
Do you have eyes, a nose, brown, black or blonde hair?
What about height or weight? What’s your fashion preference?
Forgive me, but I’m just trying to picture you.
Any fatal flaws, or blood pressure? Mine is rising!
Do you play favorites or make random choices?

I beg you choose no more of us.
What will it take to make you go away?

And yes, another thing
I bought some disinfectant wipes
But I’m not wiping doorknobs
There are too many doors in the house
Besides, if I want to meet you
I cannot sanitize you away.

I’m fond of irony, but do take me seriously
All questions must be answered, in the order they are asked
The world is holding its breath
We need to exhale deeply, no more must die.

Copyright Kavita 2020

Keeping Worlds Apart, Bringing Worlds Together

We were supposed to travel there in August for her first birthday. And then the ‘Thing’ happened.

As I write this piece, I am certainly aware of so many more urgent reasons why people need to travel… births, deaths, needing to provide emotional and physical support to an aging parent, and others. Millions around the world are shut in and lonely, and afraid of a rapidly changing reality, they had never envisaged. They need comfort and reassurance, someone to simply ask if they are ok. The face of travel might have changed forever. My reasons for travel are definitely not top priority, in the general scheme of things.

I have never seen her, my granddaughter. She lives on another continent, but I can still inhale those baby smells across the miles. I am beginning to be more and more accepting of that. The technology of WhatsApp has been a great boon. As soon as we open our eyes in the morning, and before we sleep at night, and several times between writing poems, and working on projects, we listen to the audio messages her mother sends us. She imitates her mother…mamaaaa-aaaa-aaaa, and over and over repeats the newly acquired sound. We listen to her munching a salty doughnut with those crunchy, sucking sounds… music to our ears. And on and on. She has taken her first steps, which we cheered from a distance. She has turned her first somersault. We laughed till we cried, watching her. I was never successful at doing somersaults and remembered the memory of that struggle.

One day, I will hold her, tell her how much I love her, and how she is that bright ray of hope in an ever-challenging world. I have often gone over the scene in my mind… what will I do when I first see her? Knowing the emotional being that I am, of course I will cry, and continue crying all the days I am with her. I know I will have to leave her. ‘Parting is such sweet sorrow,’ Shakespeare said in Romeo and Juliet. But we part from each other every day, when she sleeps. I want her to wake up and hear her make those cooing sounds all babies make. Except this one is ours, and as all grandmothers say, my granddaughter is the best in the world.

She’s teething now, and the cooing and gurgles have changed to crying and some irritability. I wish I could hold her, and rock her gently to sleep. I wish I could take her pain on myself and let her go back to gurgling and cooing and laughing silly, at faces her mom and dad make for her.

While I am happy to have my son with me, I can feel his pain at the separation from his infant daughter. At night he curves his arm and imagines he is holding his little one, as they sleep together. That is the only way sleep comes to him. He only told me this later. I suffer a sharp pang, watching him show me how he does it. Why do parents suffer more when their children experience any kind of pain? It’s the price one must pay for bonds of love…that umbilical cord that’s never severed. Thank God once again for WhatsApp! He talks and sings to her endlessly in Spanish. He writes his own songs for her. We count our blessings that she is with her mother and maternal grandmother, and that our son is making our family complete here. We eat together, take walks together (blessed to live close to the Glenmore Park in Calgary), the four of us, and though our bonds were already strong, we have clung to each other for hope and support like never before.

Personally, for comfort, I turn to more prayer and to a God, I know, who listens. I write poems and psalms and am fortunate to have a poet in my family, my very own father. Although I read him often (his collected poems are always beside me as I write), I have found him to be an even greater source of comfort at this time. Many poems, artwork, and songs from other artists bring peace and solace. Counting our blessings is not a cliché, but a reality, in these troubled times. When gratitude fills the heart, it expands the spirit. Each day, we write and record at least three things we are grateful for, the first, being granted the gift of life itself, as we open our eyes to a new day, each new morning. Some people did not have that opportunity.

Millions of people in my birthplace of India, are far more torn apart by the gravity of the situation. While we long to unite with my granddaughter, the poor and disadvantaged are wondering if they can even eat a meal a day. Countless people have attempted to return to their villages on foot and perished on that impossible journey. There is tragedy unfolding in every country in the world, the United States, Italy, Spain, Brazil and China.
The ‘Thing’ that has happened to this world, has had the unintended benefit of making us reach back to the essentials, the things that truly matter, which we tended to take for granted as we hurtled down the pathways of jobs, social media, hurried family interactions, little time for family meals or outings, and breathless conversations.

I am reminded of Thoreau, as I metaphorically go into the woods to try and live my life deliberately, during these challenging times. When I was at University, and my father was my professor of American Literature, he often used Thoreau as an example, reminding me at home and in the lecture hall that the key to living a meaningful life was to live life deliberately. To quote my favorite passage from Thoreau in his essay Walden Pond:
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms…”

‘Hope springs eternal in the human breast’. And so, we live in hope. We will make the journey to this other continent, and one day, see this precious gift that has been given to us, to have and to hold. The world may not ever be the same, but human beings are resilient, and so long as we show empathy and compassion to each other, we will revive our lost planet. I was fortunate to have a father who introduced the word ‘resilience’ to me as a child, with plenty of examples to cheer me on through the turmoil of adolescence. It is to these teachings I turn to believe in that light at the end of the tunnel. We will bounce back from this tragedy, perhaps in new and different ways…but bounce back we will!

Till now, I had been avoiding reading anything about plagues or pandemics or watching films on the subject. Eventually, I caved in and began reading La Peste (in French and in English) by Albert Camus. The last time I read La Peste in French, was during my bachelor’s degree, when I was twenty! I was struck by two quotations from the novel (and there are several) so relevant in their universal application to the current situation the world is facing. I will quote them in the English translation.

“Everybody knows that pestilences have a way of recurring in the world, yet somehow we find it hard to believe in ones that crash down on our heads from a blue sky. There have been as many plagues as wars in history, yet always plagues and wars take people equally by surprise.”

“We tell ourselves that pestilence is a mere bogey of the mind, a bad dream that will pass away. But it doesn’t always pass away and, from one bad dream to another, it is men who pass away.”
Sourced from: https://www.thoughtco.com/the-plague-quotes-738216

But despair must not hold sway over hope, and faith in the inner strength of mankind in times of crises, is what we need to cling to.

Copyright Kavita 2020

Kavita Ezekiel Mendonca was born and raised in a Jewish family in Mumbai. She was educated at the Queen Mary School, Mumbai, received her BA in English and French, an MA from the University of Bombay in English and American Literature, and a Master’s in Education from Oxford Brookes University, England. She has taught English, French and Spanish in various colleges and schools in India and overseas, in a teaching career spanning over four decades. Her first book, Family Sunday and Other Poems was published in 1989, with a second edition in 1990. Kavita is the daughter of the late poet, Nissim Ezekiel.

Calgary, Canada

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Life in Quarantine: Witnessing Global Pandemic is an initiative sponsored by the Poetic Media Lab and the Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis at Stanford University.

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