The spring the coronavirus hit I would sit
Next to my window with a cup of green tea
Trying to be mindful, self-consciously watching the first
Leaves on the six saplings outside of my window
Expanding and multiplying by the day
As the morning sun leapt over the horizon,
Lighting up the field like a fluorescent bulb.

When the world began to summarily end,
Classes and exams cancelled, the mass migration away from campus,
Any “unnecessary gatherings of any size” stopped by the governor,
A mandatory six-foot perimeter around every person,
Public hugging punishable by misdemeanor

A friend walking home in a group reported hearing
A voice crying out in the darkness,
Issuing from a head poked out of a window somewhere,
“How dare you hang out with one another at a time like this?”
Email chains and petitions multiplying —
What do we do if we see a flagrant violation
Of the Order? Should we call the police?”

My first instinct was to lean into it,
To call it all Sabbath, to think it romantic
Sort of. Buying and selling ceased, political prisoners
Released to abate the spread, rent cancelled
Deluge of planning emails stilled,
Nothing to miss out on, everyone
Home. I looked forward to the silence, figured the writer lying dormant
Inside of me would rise up. Imagined sitting
Next to my window with a cup of green tea
Being mindful, personally observing the onset
Of Spring, recording it for everybody.

But then I spoke to a friend who occupies the hippie
Circles in Brooklyn — the bashfully affluent yoga girls
Mining the world for meaning — and discovered that they too
Were leaning in, diving headlong into the divine
White light of quarantine, naming the Universe
The real orchestrator of this worldwide moment
Of silence, this inevitable Om.

And so I didn’t want to be associated with that,
Maybe initially for aesthetic reasons,
But then Sarah’s grandfather died alone
In a hospital bed in New York City.
They called him on the phone to say good-bye,
Then waited a full day in their Wisconsin living room
In their pajamas before the attending
Nurse called to announce that he was gone.
Funerals were not allowed,

So I sought a middle ground,
Started using the word “tension”
When people would ask how I was doing.
“I’m ok,” I would say. “Just navigating the tension
Between the justifiable fear and panic of the moment,
And what in me is perversely glad for the rest.”
I would use the word “privilege,” too.
My parents are relatively young and healthy.
My grandparents are in small towns in Kenya.
They will live, I think, and anyway,
I may not have a well-calibrated fear of death.
I grew up in an Evangelical tradition that spoke often of tribulation,
Rapture, the end of days.
In fifth grade, I was the third-ranked Bible-quizzer in the nation.

“Question Number 1: What are the signs —”
“Interruption. Green two.”
“— Of the end of the age? Increase in knowledge, increase in evil, wars, rumors of war, earthquakes,
famine, pestilence…”

I don’t remember the rest.

/ / / /

I landed in San Francisco during the apocalypse.
As the plane descended, a startled silence
Filled the vestibule as we looked out of our windows
And there, an opaque, milky orange.
As in Santa Cruz and San Jose and Mendocino,
Fires raged and smoke rose to scatter out all blue light.

I had the distinct experience of living
Within one of the more heavy-handed Instagram filters.
In response, I did what we now do
When brought to our knees in wonder —
I took out my phone and snapped a picture of the sky
And waited for the reactions of my online audience to trickle in.

/ / / /

I have sat alone in my room far more often than is usual for me,
And I worry especially for those unable
To carve a solitude out of the quiet,
Who feel no monk-ish dignity in social distancing,
Only the feeling of slowly being devoured.

I have a friend who, very prosaically,
Without pomp and circumstance and sad songs,
Simply would like to die.
He doesn’t really see the point
Of existing like this.
But he won’t because he worries it would upset his mother.

/ / / /

I don’t mean to harp, but
I think it important to say that I believe in God
In a very specific, incarnate, quotidian way.
No one ever really talks about that anymore.
It’s nice, knowing God.
It lowers the stakes,
Knowing that I am Love’s beloved,
Convinced that highest Reality
Looks upon me with kindness in Her eyes.
That what is unknowable is so because it’s too good to be understood.

/ / / /

There is something narratively coherent
About the badness of 2020.
Why shouldn’t cities burn and hurricanes gall
And diseases ravage and leaders lie
And why shouldn’t they kneel on our necks
And shoot us while we sleep
And all of it in this coordinated crescendo —

/ / / /

I was reading a poem by Wendell Berry
As one does in order feel slightly more dignified
And in it (can you believe he’s still alive?
You know those men so wise
You assume they must be dead?)
In it, he speaks of silence and solitude
In the way he tends to do,
As if the quiet were a friend,
A necessary prerequisite for everything else.
You know.

I was telling a friend about this poem yesterday,
Sort of speaking in wistful tones,
Gently urging him to contemplate the masterpiece
That would soon emerge from my newly quieted mind.
I had recently done a digital detox.
I was elemental, buzzing.

He told me about a tweet he’d seen, something about how
All of these would-be writers are finally realizing
They needed more than silence and solitude
To produce something great.

I am at my window still, cold green tea now,
I survived the summer in this way.

/ / / /

I avoid conflict — both the good kind,
Which when resolved,
leads to connection and romance and self-knowledge,
And the bad kind, which when resolved
Leads to heartbreak and bewilderment and self-knowledge.

Left to my own devices,
I’ll build a home in the sham peace
Of the in between.

/ / / /

Amen then
And hallelujah too
And peace to us all in this place.

Poet's Note

Field Notes From the In-Between” is literally that — a stylized and cobbled together collection of field notes excerpted from my personal journal — beginning somewhere around late March, when the Coronavirus pandemic descended upon the US in force. I wrote for myself, inspired by a letter George Saunders wrote to his MFA students, urging them to take their own field notes seriously. He wrote, “Fifty years from now, people the age you are now won’t believe this ever happened (or will do the sort of eye roll we all do when someone tells us something about some crazy thing that happened in 1970.) What will convince that future kid is what you are able to write about this, and what you’re able to write about it will depend on how much sharp attention you are paying now, and what records you keep.” And just like that, my journaling began to seem more than just my own codified angst. It was still certainly angst, but angsty artifact. These notes dwell on my friendships, my worries, my moments, my God. I hope that in them a reader finds a few moments of recognition, a few reasons to carry on as we do.

Editor's Note

In print, this piece was accompanied by the visual piece padmasana (attempt) by Vibhu Krishna.