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Matthew Gavin Frank


There are over 350 species of lovegrass (most of which feature, according to my Encyclopædia Britannica, “characteristic glands on the leaf sheaths and inflorescences”) but I sit in my backyard among none of them, because I don’t live on the Horn of Africa, where most of the lovegrass is. Instead, I sit amid the clusters of pinkstink dung moss, listening to the neighborhood chainsaws, looking up so many things with “love” in their names because that’s apparently what I have to do today. In the cinderblock garden, last season’s robin carcass, buried deep now, feeds the yellow oxheart tomato plant. I don’t expect the tomatoes to live either. We planted too early. We forgot which day of the week it was, what time it was. We had a vague sense of the season. The nights are still so cold here. Love, love love, we say to get through them, at least until sunrise, when we’ve started getting our best sleep.

There’s a village named Love in Illinois, a village named Love in Togo. One in Malta, Estonia, Angola, The Bahamas… In 1950, on October 19th (our anniversary) Hurricane Love crossed the Gulf of Mexico and amorously decimated homes and hospitals along the Big Bend coast of Florida. Sometimes our feelings are too strong to be named. When my grandfather—after having been shot in the back by German soldiers during the Battle of the Bulge, bleeding out facedown into the droppings of the cedars and pines of the Ardennes forest, and after having convalesced in a nearby medical tent— returned home, he hugged my grandmother so tightly that he broke her rib, that the bullet in his back shifted. The scar there began to morph into the shape that he would later tell me was the result of him having been gored by a rhinoceros. I heard the real story for the first time at his funeral.

On December 27, 2019, when the first coronavirus case in France was confirmed at a hospital in the north of Paris, the headline that then captured my attention read, “Love triangle complicates efforts to breed Sumatran rhinos: Efforts to breed the critically endangered Sumatran rhino in captivity have faced myriad challenges ranging from mysterious deaths and reproductive health problems to bureaucratic hurdles. I was trying to write an essay about my grandfather, you see. My attentions have since been diverted, and I’m sitting today, as I did yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that, in the backyard I’m so thankful to have, even as its parameters horrify me. I don’t know how I feel about the clouds anymore, all of them tumors. I can see that now. But the birds still make their sounds among them—sounds that I probably mistake for affectionate. I’m easily distracted, scattered. I am driven to collect these things, but I can’t quite muster the energy to make them gel. I close the encyclopedia.

I go inside. I reheat the blueberry pancakes. I take a mask from the wall, and I put it on.I put on my late grandfather’s bathrobe. I do not brush my hair. I will not brush my hair. I stroke the cat on the couch and tell her the story of Orpheus. She finds it sad, as evidenced by her melancholy mewling, and her listless nosing at the molehill of matatabi catnip, which I always keep stocked on the end-table at the base of the half-liter bottle of Super Miracle Bubbles. The plastic blowing wand has gone missing, and so has all of that miraculousness.The lovebug is a species of march fly. When the male fly dies after mating, the female—as if grief made physical and animate— will drag his corpse through the air for up to two days, over flowers.

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