Pandemic Letters: The Wind or a Leaf Stuck to the Sidewalk
By Emma Kushnirsky & Robin Messing
After reading the poetic correspondence between Natalie Diaz and Ada Limón entitled “Envelopes of Air,” we decided to write poetic letters to one another, which naturally interrogated our feelings and thoughts during a pandemic.
Masking & Unmasking Robin to Emma I’ve lived long & I can recall so much, yet some of the most crucial moments are lost to me. Recollections aside, I’ve decided not to hide anymore. I mean shame. I mean rage. I mean loneliness. In a plague the past feels present, the future eclipsed, the carnage unfathomable. Sirens have subsided & death resumes elsewhere. Fall has never been more beautiful now that I’m married to gingkos, elms, & oaks. I wonder what your youth makes of isolation. In my early years I refused to know what I knew. I wonder what your loneliness might say. Snow is on the way. I hope it will feel like patience, that its silence will be soothing, not a reminder of the cruelty of power’s inaction. Sometimes I wish there were words for everything. Dread isn’t exactly right. Pleasure isn’t sufficient. I’m finding new ways to say gentle, tender, helpless, to free them from captivity. Hiding in Plain Sight Like the Wind or a Leaf Stuck to the Sidewalk Emma to Robin I need the burning brightness of fresh air. I don’t know if I’m lonely. Like this past summer I was scrambling for words and I felt inadequate, in my longing, but there was youth. Fun from a distance. Up close there’s the tear-burning torture of everything Being Dramatic. doyouremember? I liked the way the snow shoved cold down my throat. Made me feel solitary in good company. and the island I’m on blows salt towards me through me asking me to inhale I don’t want to be hiding either but the salt wind hides in crevasses To inhale something that hides is an action of loving. In The Wake of Immobility Robin to Emma I walk to the park every day now a wedge against every repressed desire for flight inaction terrifies me sloth an enslavement a knot in a tree’s heart each twisted part craves embrace each shame like your salt wind meant for movement & visibility I remember riding my ten speed over asphalt feeling myself fleeing when I couldn’t sense any other way I finally understand the privilege in motion you remind me to love the paralysis of my past that stasis can be bravery as we wait for this plague to end Me in the Context of Who I Was and Have Been Being Emma to Robin In a way it would be easier if “the plague is upon us!” Bell clappers against strike points. Then we could scream to no end. Scream ourselves hoarse. I don’t want to seem ungrateful for the white sterility of the walls of my room. But I guess I am. I want to feel movingsofast that motion is vibration. Privilege in motion and immobility, where does it end? Would it help to pound the pavement with running feet? I used to go barefoot everywhere. Now my feet are calloused for no reason. Why be calloused for wood floors? I’m remembering the joy of flip-flops in rain. Droplets warm and juicy. Headphones sheltered under sheaves of hair. Laughing by myself. I seldom laugh by myself. If you can make yourself laugh, you are lucky. There’s a song called “The Waiting.” I am “The Waiting.” In Which I Try to Answer When There Are No Answers Robin to Emma Is it possible to make our own luck? A laugh hidden like the sun’s presence even in darkness? I’ve witnessed more than one personal plague there was no returning from. Sometimes sky or bush makes being human bearable. Pam H once asked: Can the Earth give back what was taken from me? Terror the friend that never exits. Drawn to gloom as if to flame. I see that hiding can be useful— wintering birds the same shade as bark imperceptible if not for my attention. Isn’t awareness one of the gifts of being with oneself? Distortion of Reality Comes Easily Like a Wave or Exhale Emma to Robin Looking out the window it could be a moving picture glued to the other side of the glass. Who’s to say? How long of never-being-outside would it take for me to believe this is the only world that Exists? Once I was trapped in a bathroom for Thirty minutes? Forty minutes? Could it have been an hour? It didn’t take long to start trying to leave by impossible means. Before I yelled out I closed my eyes and moved myself through the door. I would go crazy sofast. At what point are there no backsies? I think never. I think that we are never broken. I’m going to be the cardinal in the snow. If I can bear it.
We read through all ten poems in the series between Natalie Diaz and Ada Limón entitled “Envelopes of Air,” discussing the craft of the poems and our initial reactions and thoughts. We waited several weeks to begin a pair project because we wanted to get to know each other better, and felt that the project would be more meaningful after forging a deeper connection. Fortunately, we began to read Diaz and Limón’s work in the middle of the semester. We were inspired by their correspondence, and thought a similar poetic correspondence would be a perfect pair project to facilitate the growth of our relationship. The project became an enriching way to explore our feelings about the pandemic and our isolation. Addressing another in a poetic structure opened up new venues for self discovery and facilitated a greater understanding of the world around us.
Emma Kushnirsky is a current college student in Iowa. She grew up mostly in the Bronx and the most uptown part of Manhattan. She's a writer and educator-in-training. Her work has previously been published in In Parentheses Magazine.
Robin Messing’s short story, “Drive-by” was a nominee for a Pushcart Prize. Her essay, “Writing a Redeemable Man,” was a finalist for the 2021 Gulf Coast Nonfiction Prize. Guest Editor Sarah Cypher chose an excerpt from Messing’s new novel, When They Were Fire, for Leon Literary’s novel excerpt contest, publication forthcoming. Messing is author of a previous novel, Serpent in the Garden of Dreams, and two poetry chapbooks, From Temporary Worker and Holding Not Having. She is a vocalist on Cornelius Eady and Rough Magic’s recording, The Sterling Brown Project. Her stories, poems, and essays have been published in Catamaran Literary Review, Cosmonauts Avenue, Defunct, Distillery, Drunken Boat. Lithub, New Ohio Review, New York Newsday, Rhino, The Sycamore Review, Vinyl Poetry, Washington Square, and others.