A fundamental disaster has befallen the language powers of human beings. . . . Communication between subjects has degenerated into a babble of indiscriminate voices. The silent compression of the ark (the teiva . . . ) is the mirror-image, the alter ego of the cacophony outside.  –Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, “Noah: Kindness and Ecstasy,” in Genesis: The Beginning of Desire

“I am so desperate for that vaccine

               I’d knock down an old person

to get it,” someone once said. In “Kindness

               and Ecstasy,” Zornberg tells

us that according to Midrash author Rashi

               Noah was loath to enter the

ark and loath to exit it. His time within

               was spent in “kindness,”

in servitude to the animals,

               and without sex. By the time

he entered the ark, the flood

               was already

in progress—people had begun

               “to call human beings

and natural phenonema by God’s

               name.” I did not just

call the Department of Health

               and yell at them because

I “know” they are throwing away

               doses and why won’t

they give me one? And now that

               we’re on the topic,

why is our state not following

               the CDC recommendation to

administer the vaccine to everyone

               sixty-five and over? But, wait,

that was “somebody,” not speaker

               of this poem. Somebody

who is in a perpetual rage.

               I was riding my bicycle down

Sycamore Street. The name annoyed me,

               because I was always

trying to call it Robertson Street. But

               I love the road—

it is a tree-lined shortcut that

               goes at a slant, defies the grid.

That was in warm weather

               when I rode my red bicycle

everywhere. I don’t know

               what the Covid death toll

was that day, only that the trees

               were glittering in the sun,

and that suddenly my body

               tried to shut

like a clam shell—I felt my chest

               trying to slam up

to my forehead. Which was a

               separate scenario

from the one featuring a large

               silver pinball, loose

in my alimentary canal—or a

               eustachian tube—

that woke me

               in the night—

Covid exaggerates everything.

               Covid exaggerates

loneliness. Once, after my

               husband left,

I stood in my kitchen looking out

               at the yard. My body pressed

on me like it was hot


close-fitting and sharp, and I

               wanted to leave it there,

wanted to walk

               out of it into the yard,

wild violets murmuring. Cross living room,

               cross deck, down three

wide steps, cross patio. Remove the flaming

               shirt of Nessus, drop it in

the violets, the bright grass.

               At last—


               When I told Deb, ever patient—

I didn’t know naturopaths did psych!—

               she prescribed

ignatia amara, a homeopathic—

               for grief. It contains

a trace of strychnine.

               “A fundamental disaster

has befallen the language powers

               of human beings,” Zornberg

writes. Or at least those of us on

               dating sites. As if the little

squares and coy introductions weren’t

               triggering enough—

Lucy my daughter wanted to have

               me arrested. I had a kind

of metallic drive. There was

               the guy who barely spoke.

He said “Nice” or “Yes” over

               text and watched horse races

or track and field or

               professional golf

on the Olympic channel

               whenever I talked to him

by phone. Once, even, when we were

               on Zoom! Can you believe

I thought in the beginning

               that the long pauses

were a kind of Buddhist “mindfulness,”

               that I had a version

of his full attention?

               . . . . The Lothario who grew orchids

and wrote long, beautiful

               letters about catching horn worms on his

tomato plants at night

               with his ultraviolet flashlight

(I found one this afternoon in

               blustery cool October,

bold as it could be,

               fat and munching away—

in broad daylight) who told me, eventually,

               he had a drug habit

and a “girlfriend,” who cleaned his kitchen

               every day late morning,

and then his clock. Ron in

               Miami. Steve, actually geographically

accessible, who dropped me.

               Bob, smooth-talking

Republican who said Covid 19

               was no worse than the seasonal flu.

Brad, twenty years younger

               than me, on his second marriage,

with four children,

               who love-bombed me for a year

and then . . .

               I’m in my house alone.

My children

               are grown, my husband

is gone, and I have allowed myself

               to stay in, like a witch

in a fairy tale, the thin layer

               of snow outside hardening

on every surface into a sheet of sugar.

               And for once I’m not

out there trying to break it with

               an ax. For once I am not

running errands—or going to

               the Y—in my flowered

puffer coat. I’m keeping my magic

               indoors, the huge

book on Tarot I ordered on Amazon,

               the flaming woodstove,

and my plump calico slightly

               redolent of shit and the

thinner blue-eyed white and gray

               one who sheds

long white hairs

               on my black day and night


               Outside it sparkled all day

and I stayed in. I was not

               afraid of myself. I didn’t mind

“the silent compression

               of the ark,” my teiva,

which means both box

               and word.

Dana Roeser
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