Corona (of a star etc.)

by Elizabeth Graver

I

crown (of a king, pope, etc.) (also of a tooth)

crown (various units of currency)

coronet

wreath, chaplet

(astronomy) corona (of a star, etc.)

II

I’ve been socially distant before, back when I had my thyroid cut out and swallowed grape Kool-Aid spiked with radioactive iodine and spent a night in a plastic-wrapped hospital room with a plastic-coated phone, followed by two weeks at a friend’s house, far from my two children, who were tiny then and couldn’t reasonably be taught to stay away. I made friends with Sean, the nuclear safety guy at the hospital, who fed me adages—“the solution to pollution is dilution”—and zapped me every few days with his smart little gun and said, If you hugged your daughters today, it’d be like spending a week with them on a sunny beach, or, Now it’d be like taking two plane rides with them, Sean the metaphor man, and finally one day Sean said, Check with your doc but I think you can go home now, and bewildered and grateful and still feeling my body as a chalice for bright poison, I went home.  

Today, the first day of spring, 2020, people walk in pairs or alone on the conservation land behind my house west of Boston, stepping aside to let each other pass. In the distance, on the tractor road, a woman stretches in hot pink sweatpants, then does a swanlike, solitary dance. It’s against the rules to walk your dog here, but the sanctuary is officially closed due to the current situation, and suddenly more people are out walking and dogs are everywhere, greeting strangers and neighbors, ears perked up, nostrils flaring—just let us out, just let us run—because there are only so many fucking rules you can follow at once, and we are animals all, and the compost pile, the size of a small hill, is turning into soil and smells loamy, full, and ripe. 

Near the field, in my garden, crocuses poke up through matted leaves. I bend to stroke a purple petal, gently but persistently, because I can.

III

If you flatten the curve, you can slow things down. I picture an earth made of wet clay, mashable, press it with your thumb. Novel, as in new, as in what I cannot write right now—and couldn’t you call it something else? Covid. Take away the “c” and you get Ovid, as in metamorphosis, as in he touched a clod and by his potent touch, the clod became a mass of shining gold.

IV

It might be a gray Styrofoam ball pricked with little red pins, or a clove orange made by a Victorian girl to scent her closet, or a planet (back up: the waters of Venice are running clear, swans spotted in the canals and dolphins in the port; back up even more: in China, pollution has fallen by forty percent) populated by squat orange extraterrestrials and spiked red trees. The spikes—don’t touch!— are everywhere and nowhere: on doorknobs, envelopes and credit cards, gear shifts and counters, the pulsing rectangles of cellphones, which have never been so clean or soaked with news. So, too, do we metamorphose, our own faces aging on Zoom (a children’s TV show in my day) as we stare at ourselves staring at our students and co-workers, and all the while, our neighbors—next door and everywhere—sing from windows, gasp for breath.

Each morning, still, there’s a lag, ever briefer, when I wake and don’t remember (there, the turquoise wall, my sweet man beside me, the field out the window). Then I do. 19, the age of my older daughter, home from college, housebound now, too old for this, too young. VI for virus, D for Disease. ID for id. Go back inside. This many over sixty, over eighty, that many under fifty. The babies largely spared, as if the good, gashed earth might try to grow them up without us—we who have defiled it—to be suckled by dogs, raised by wolves, and so the playgrounds twine with caution tape and colleges turn into hospitals, and how long ask the children—we don’t know, no one knows—but did you know that you can make a mask from underpants? Just place the crotch over your nose and mouth and leave the leg holes for your eyes.

Then shut your eyes.

Published on April 3, 2020

2020-04-03T16:20:14+00:00