April 1, 2020
The rising light of early morning falls
On kitchen table, tucked-in chairs, and finds
At last the open floor’s dark-paneled wood.
There, fifteen months old now, John Cassian stands,
Smiling and naked, save his new-changed diaper.
He takes three gambling steps before the fridge,
Then lowers down, in fear of his own powers.
This walking is all new to him. I think
That he is of you and you’re here with me,
Though also upstairs, catching one last hour
Of sleep within the heavy-curtained dark.
That is one gift for you, that final hour,
To start our fourteenth anniversary.
My brother’s called to say he’s got the virus:
Electric cables jolting through his blood,
And fever sweat anoints him with its crown.
He lies in bed and thinks of the Pacific,
Two miles away, as if it were the start
Of boundless freedom and of paradise.
When we hang up, I scan the morning paper,
And find each headline bellows out its number:
The count of dying, dead, or newly ill,
Of unemployed who wait for promised checks,
Or homeless in Las Vegas left to squat
In painted hopscotch squares upon a tarmac,
Until the shelter can reopen. What
Of this will we discuss at morning coffee?
What will we do behind our bolted doors
To mark the depth to which this day transformed us?
The children watched Duck Soup the other night,
The hundredth time or so we’ve put it on.
What starts in pageant and diplomacy
Soon veers, with Harpo’s motor bike, to chaos,
Descends by an incessant squeak of horns,
And, through a trial as fake as those in Lear,
Lands, sprawling, finally, on a battle field.
And there, within a humbled, bombed-out shack,
Groucho’s long, wayward quest for Margaret Dumont
Reaches some kind of end, in such a place,
Where fate not only brings two loves together
But guarantees that Groucho can’t escape.
How grateful he must be for shells and guns
To keep them both holed up. Even though his mouth
May rat-tat like a wild Tommy gun,
Undoing pleas of love with sudden wise cracks,
There is no getting out of her great arms.
Am I, like him, a sharp-tongued unromantic?
Or do you see, behind the fake mustache
And lit cigar, eyes roll with adoration?
The hour doesn’t lend itself to slapstick.
One friend, with his black sense of humor, notes
That if the virus doesn’t get us, well,
The Yellowstone volcano probably will,
Or more tornados charging up from Jonesboro,
And, failing that, an asteroid is due
To brush by earth around the end of April.
He doesn’t plan to stick around to see it.
Under the circumstance, it’s no surprise
The news reports a case of tragic love.
A husband and his wife, afraid to die,
Hide in their home and watch the President,
On television, mumbling on like Chico
About the promises of chloroquine.
They find some on the shelf, or something like it,
And though it’s labeled, “Poison: Don’t Ingest,”
They mix it with their Pepsi. In an hour,
The husband’s dead, the wife in hospital.
The darkness would snuff out our morning light.
A friend in Colorado also writes me,
Explaining his long silence with a story.
A month ago, his wife ran off the road,
And could remember nothing of it, after.
Her back now broken, staring at the lights
Above her bed, she listens as the doctors
Inform her husband that her neck and brain
Are riddled with small cancerous growths. And now,
The hospital sealed off with quarantine,
Her husband drives her there each week, then waits.
She disappears within. An hour goes by.
The doctors fight her death in short, quick bursts;
And then, she’s pushed back out and they drive home,
Her body drifting with the car through daylight.
What does her husband feel, again beside her?
One more punctilious duty in a life
They’ve shared and go on sharing as they may?
The rhythm of their marriage troubled, yes,
But carrying on, one treatment at a time?
Or is it something more? This friend of mine,
Who’s always had a streak of Groucho in him
To meet the darkness with a snappy word,
Does he now feel the oceanic weight
Of love? The kind that lifts you up and pulls
You out, and drags you deep into the tide,
And says, from now on, think of nothing else
But that you cannot bear to lose this one
You love. Feel your ambitions drop away,
Your defects and your failings, too, and give
The little that is left to try to save her,
And hope for nothing but that she will live.
I stand here in the kitchen, where I started,
Shaken by what comes calling from afar,
The halting, stumbling steps of doubtful futures,
And think, there is no gift that’s adequate
To greet you at your waking, on this day.
-James Matthew Wilson