At the Start of This

By Amanda Cornwall | October 24, 2020

I live alone in Boston, in a small garret at the top of a 19th-century townhouse in the Back Bay neighborhood. From this perch I am fascinated by the layers of the city, the stratification of its buildings and histories, and the alternating aural landscape filtering upwards.  Since the pandemic began, I have spent most of my time at home, finding myself unsure of how exactly I should feel and act from moment to moment. The slow-unfurling trauma of this shared event has stilled me, inwardly and outwardly. All around me people seemed to be acting, choosing with intention acts of caution, creativity, sourdough, or disavowal. In this poem I wander through this sense of frozenness and constriction, taking stock of this continual effort to locate myself within all the stillness and all the fervor. It is a melancholy poem, but to me it was intensely helpful in the writing, and hopeful.



At the start of this, people did poetic things.
Taking cues from Italy,
A young man on Beacon St.
Plays his violin from the fire escape.

I heard that a man was playing bagpipes every night
At 6 p.m., on Commonwealth.
I ventured out to listen,
Found a sign pinned to a tree dated two days before;
His last public pipe performance was yesterday.
That’s ok.

I mainline NPR and BBC,
Tethering myself to truth and trust.
From this unbroken quiet,
There’s a dissonance caterwauling from
This bounded void between what I can see from here
And what I know is out there.
The truth is, much of what I cherished is already gone,
and the currency from this loss funded my fervent hopes for the future.

Much of what I wished to one day treasure now seems impossible.

I’m feeding city sparrows at the 5th floor window.
I’m loving houseplants devotedly;
Propagating philodendrons in glass jars,
Thrilling when their roots vector boldly through the water, and branch.
Adoring unreservedly the new unfurling baby heart-shaped leaves
That I kiss and babble to.
Their uncomplicated, brazen determination to thrive astonishes me.
It’s a tired and obvious metaphor, but it animates me.

I bend stiff-backed to collect from the carpet more
Of the too-long, insubstantial threads that keep expelling from my scalp,
Fleeing due to age, the tedium of my “stress,” maybe.
I suspect they’re dropping to escape a system aching
From not being touched in months.


Copyright © 2020 Amanda Cornwall
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