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Marilyn Abildskov



A friend posts a picture of her daughter online. A girl in a red dress. One hand in a blue bucket, her younger brother nearby. On a wooden table before her are the girl's "interesting things" from that morning's walk. Flowers. Leaves. Branches. Rocks.

*

Every day I walk. For six weeks, I didn't leave the apartment. Now I go out every morning, before 8 a.m., walking circles around the apartment buildings where I live, breathing in Northern California air, observing neighbors, counting crows, stopping once to stare at a solitary blue heron under a tree who, standing still, stared right back.

*

I bring home mementos: bay leaves left from a storm; bougainvillea petals fallen from stems; a fistful of bare branches that will, in a vase, make for an arresting shape.

*

The semester ended not so long ago. All those Zoom meetings. All those Zoom classes. My favorite commentary came from an article with the headline: "Every Type of Zoom Call Participant, Illustrated by Cats." The One Who's Too Close to the Camera. The One Who Doesn't Understand Lighting. The One Who Just Got Out of the Shower. And so on. I read the article and laughed. Apparently I had been Every Cat.

*

For Zoom, I perched my laptop on top of a stack of art books, including one from childhood. From class I could see its title, Story of Art, peering from the spine as I said things like, "Inside every story is a clock, inside every clock, a character, inside every character, a thousand sorrows, inside a thousand sorrows, a thousand more.

*

Now I press leaves into the pages of my book, leaves that leave stains on Cezanne's "Still Life" and Renoir's "A Girl with a Watering Can" and Goya's "The Divided Bull Ring." I wish I could name the leaves but I am a poor student of the natural world and the person I would ask, my sister, a biologist, is dead.

*

One day I showed my husband a sprig of rosemary I found outside.

"Look!" I said. "I'm going to plant it on our patio."

"Are you sure?" he asked.

"Yes," I said. But suddenly I wasn't. When I pushed the leaves to my nose-- nothing.

"I think it might be some kind of ground cover," my husband said. "But it's pretty, isn't it?"

*

In a small green spiral notebook, I keep notes with dates, tracking the numbers of coronavirus cases next to coronavirus deaths, focused on two counties--the one where I live and the one where my sister lives.

3/28/20: 241/4 and 276/0.

3/30/20: 304/7 and 363/0.

5/31/20: 3,411/103 and 5,118/17.

6/8/20: 3,895/104 and 6,182/81.

And so on.

*

Yesterday, when my husband unpacked groceries, he said, "I have something for you."

Five sprigs of rosemary.

*

The joke about Zoom early on was that we looked like characters from The Brady Bunch or Hollywood Squares. But to me, we were keepsakes living briefly inside tiny jeweled boxes.

*

A leaf. A feather. A small stone, smooth and gray. A border of an illuminated manuscript from the15th Century.

*

I live on stolen land where Ohlone Native Americans once harvested oysters from the San Francisco Bay.

*

And in the days to follow the semester? Three days of protests. Six days. Nine. Twelve. Every day, the sound of helicopters overhead. Every night, the sound of helicopters overhead.

*

What's in a number? A name? A list? A seed? What's inside a thousand sorrows but another thousand sorrows?

*

Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. George Floyd. Tony McDade. Rayshard Brooks.

*

Eight minutes and forty-six seconds.

*

The named and the unnamed. The masked and the unmasked. The dead and the un-dead.

*

At the start of classes, I asked, "How are you?" by which I meant, I'm so worried for you. Students shrugged and said, "OK," by which they meant, I'm crushed. Sometimes I pressed. But how are you really? by which I meant, I'm crushed too.

*

Meanwhile, a small girl in a red dress gathers interesting things. Her name is Itasca. Her brother's River.

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All images other than author photos and artist artwork ©Matthew Batt 2020