by Jill McCabe Johnson
The thud of a suitcase upstairs, sink faucet turned on and off, a muffled voice lilting in question. As I lie awake in our bed and breakfast, the sounds of life—of other’s lives—hold comfort. They inhabit sequestered rooms, where unmasked breath can warm the nooks and pockets. Their voices curve around doorways and hum down corridors. They tell me that despite the pandemic, despite hiding in private quarters away from guests and the world, we’re not alone. My husband settles into the pillow, and his breath swings back and forth. A clock’s pendulum. His carotid artery bounces a rhythm along his neck. Chest and abdomen lift, fall, lift, fall. Not alone.
Last night a dream. My husband’s death, so real I still feel the vacuum of my inner organs sinking out from under my heart. And after a day of reassurances, lying now in the bask of the moon, surrounded, really, by a galaxy of orbiting comforts, close enough to feel the heat emanating from his body in slumber, precariously close to the brink of dreams myself, all I know is doomscrolling and the terror of what may come.
Wind wakes the poplar leaves while a frog in the butterfly bush sings himself to sleep. Tonight, a nearly full orb of reflected light ricochets off the moon to remind us that even when we’ve rotated away from its warmth, the sun, just beyond the horizon, ever shines. The moon spotlights our fears or dispels them with light. A shower runs upstairs. Electricity hums. Next to me a peaceful snore.
I have eaten planked cod, mustard greens from the garden, a peach bursting and succulent. I have drunk homemade pinot, a gift from a friend. I have stroked my husband’s arm while we discussed the damaging effects of oxidation—slow, as in rust, or rapid, as in fire. We walked the dog, found a radiating splay of gray feathers along the trail and a fat owl flapping wordless wings away. I have removed dead flower heads from the hanging baskets, scattered leaves with a push broom off the deck, lifted pen to paper. Measured sugar, leavening, salt, and flour. Plucked feverfew and golden tomatoes.
I have worked. I have napped. I have kissed my husband, standing in the kitchen, burners aflame, tongues searching out that momentary, metallic bliss.
We have bedded down the dog, brushed our teeth, turned out the lights. Yet lying awake, I hold my eyes open to quiet air. Tomorrow we will press fleeting boot prints into soil as airplanes scratch omens in the sky. The shadows of poplars will slink across siding and lawn. Snowberries will don the winter white of mourning. Even the teakettle will croon the shrill of shattered banshees. But for now, what can we know beyond grief and gratitude. Dust motes dance the choreography of slumber. The tide of breath rises and falls. For now, silver light whispers through the night-window. Spill of moon. Beck of light. For now. We are not alone.
Jill McCabe Johnson is the author of the poetry collections Revolutions We’d Hoped We’d Outgrown, and Diary of the One Swelling Sea. Recent works have appeared or are forthcoming in Slate, Fourth Genre, Waxwing, and The Southeast Review. Jill is editor in chief of Wandering Aengus Press.