Monday, August 31, 2020

Stagnant Grief (Camp)

My great uncle died quickly, but not exactly suddenly, of stomach cancer during the height of a global pandemic. We knew it was coming, but it came faster than we would have liked. Most of us were unable to see him before he died.

His life moved slowly, he appreciated and acknowledged every moment. Through a giant corner window overlooking a quiet stream he watched beavers and foxes and birds live out their lives and then he carved them, lovingly, from blocks of wood that he would bestow upon friends and family as gifts on holidays and special occasions. He hunted, surrounded by animals that did not fear him because he exuded peace. He walked through the woods for the sake of walking. He used his observations of nature and life to gently guide people toward the loving God in whom he believed. He took his time. But his funeral had a drive through.

Funerals in my family have always been big events with music and hugging and food. My first drive through funeral being for this man, whose patience and love and connection to the world around him so deeply influenced how I want to present my own masculinity to the world, was utterly surreal. My uncle’s connection to the world around him was tangible. His funeral felt segmented, disjointed, impersonal, rushed. Not like him at all. Not like us at all.

I’m sure at some point we’ll have a proper celebration of his life, but for now the process feels, as so much does right now, incomplete, halted, stagnant.

Rebekah is a trans masculine queer writer and filmmaker in northeast Ohio. They are the Director of Operations for the Short. Sweet. Film Fest. and the kitchen manager for The Side Quest bar in Lakewood. You can find some of their critical work relating to film and television on their website,

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Dear Canada (Robinson May)

Dear Canada,

I hope this letter finds you well. I’m truly sorry I haven’t visited lately. I suppose I’ve taken you for granted, though that was never my intention. How could I have known that everything would change?

We’ve always been in each other’s lives. You’re right there across the lake, after all. And while I’ve made many memorable trips to Ontario, my Dad’s birthplace of Nova Scotia is forever closest to my heart.

When I was a little girl, Mom, Dad, my older brother, and I would visit our grandparents in their modest home on Normandy Avenue in Truro, Nova Scotia, not far from Brookfield, where Grandpa spent his career working at the local creamery. The old lady next door chattered nonstop over the fence. Grandma held me on her lap as she played piano. Grandpa had a soft-spoken sense of humor and his blue eyes sparkled, just like Dad’s.

Eventually, my parents decided to look for a summer cottage in Nova Scotia. The small former army shack they chose had been transported to Brule Shore on the Northumberland Strait, where Dad announced we would enjoy “the warmest water north of the Carolinas!” thanks to the trajectory of the Gulf Stream. Grandma and Grandpa helped them find the place. Grandma died not long after, but Grandpa lived into his nineties. His blue eyes sparkled to the end.

I bought my first real baseball glove (lefty) at Canadian Tire in Truro. When my Dad’s younger brother and his family would come to the cottage from their home in Dartmouth, we’d play kids-versus-adults softball, and even sports-averse Dad was roped into the game. We celebrated family gatherings with lobster feasts on the deck. Time blurs by, and I’m with my husband and cousins among the adults, my two sons playing against us on the kids’ team. Canadian beer accompanies the lobster and Dad’s stuffed clams. We gaze at glorious sunsets over the water. They remind me of the song, “Canadian Sunset,” on the Mills Brothers record Dad used to play for me.

Last summer, I knew. Dad’s Lewy body dementia had advanced significantly. An early sign had been when he couldn’t locate the coffee maker in its usual spot in the cottage kitchen, several years earlier. At the time, we made nervous jokes and had whispered conversations, unprepared for the unforgiving journey to come. Travel was next to impossible for him now, but Mom was determined to bring him to Nova Scotia. Somehow, she did. My brother and his longtime girlfriend joined them. At the beginning of my teaching semester in August, I realized I had to go, if just for the weekend. This was it, our last chance to be together at the cottage. I flew to Halifax, rented a car, and drove to Brule. Home. Twilight supper on the deck. This time, the sunset brought me to tears.

And then, pandemic summer. I knew we’d lose Dad this year, ever since he’d suffered a broken hip and couldn’t follow the directions that might have helped him recover. I made a photo banner for his nursing home room, with views from the cottage, a picture of him on the deck, a picture of him with my sons showing them his childhood home - not the house on Normandy Avenue but the house he grew up in, just outside Victoria Park in Truro, the magnificent 3000-acre park that was his playground as a boy. I held Dad’s hand until I wasn’t allowed to visit anymore due to quarantine, and then when we could visit again because he was “actively dying” (what amounts to good news/bad news in this pandemic), I held his hand some more. I repeated words of comfort: “Think of the cottage, think of the garden.” He loved gardening. He loved my sons. His blue eyes sparkled to the end: June 22, 2020. Don’t ask me if he knew who I was. It doesn’t matter. Of course, he didn’t. Of course, he did.

Thanks to the pandemic, I’ve lost you too, Canada. I’ve crossed the border so many times in my life, including long before we needed passports to go back and forth. I guess I thought you’d always be there. That I could always come home to you. That nothing would change. That I didn’t have to treasure every single day we had together.

And yet. I’ve spent the past months, weeks, days working to make it possible for my older son to enter Canada to start university, despite the border being closed to most Americans because of the pandemic. We were so nervous, but you let him in. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.  

When we clean up our act, your rowdy southern neighbors, I know you’ll let us come back too. I can’t wait. First, to see my son. And then to see you. Next summer, I want to stand on the deck at the cottage, surrounded by flowers Dad planted. I’ll gaze at your sunset over the sparkling blue sea. I’ll speak a soft refrain: I’ve missed you. I love you. I love you.

Claire Robinson May is a writer and playwright from Cleveland Heights. A graduate of the NEOMFA creative writing program, her plays have been performed on the stages of Talespinner Children’s Theatre, convergence-continuum, Cleveland Public Theatre, and Playwrights Local. She is a professor of legal writing at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Air in A Time of Covid (Ramage)

It’s very delicate, actually. By it, I mean my emotional life. I experience it mostly like a Mack truck in a narrow hallway made of concrete, but just one good cup of tea, drunk with appreciation for heat, flavor--the perfect dose of honey . . . can make the hallway open up into a decent road, a charming road with lots of small rocks falling with  . . .

I had that cup of tea this morning. Outside on the front porch, I wrote for three pages about nothing much, but after it was over, I just kept sitting at the table, looking around. Admired white light illuminating once familiar, closely-knit houses on the hillside of my neighborhood. Marveled at bits of road I had never seen before–an entire cool, calm, world refreshed in a bath of air. Blue sky, no planes overhead, birds twittering in shadowy clusters in scattered trees—

So perfectly lovely and . . . peaceful.

How can we ever go back? I heard today on the radio--no one wants to buy petroleum right now. The producers keep producing, but sellers have no buyers and nowhere to store the oil they had put in orders for. No one needs more for next month. How did that happen?

Can it be possible that civilization has finally surrendered to the planet, thanks to the pandemic?

At T---’s (a friend whose property is designed as a one-man nature preserve) and elsewhere--where being on the land makes you feel so good and unfractured for reasons you can’t explain, lacking the scientific acumen to do so--we chat about it, flitting over the subjects about which we know nothing, hypothetical studies on measurable neurological and physiological responses of human beings to natural environments, unmediated by the constructs of man (conceptual or material) . . . the details necessarily get glossed over in conversation, as we talk about frogs, about our friend’s early childhood trauma at being served frog legs by his mother for dinner, “They were so shapely . . . two legs . . . still connected . . .”

We laugh and chuckle, and the discussion eventually subsides as we lose ourselves in the sound of moving water, water moving over rocks into a small pond; we grow absorbed by the light green luminous foam of pond scum buffeting the rocks, sunlight kissing every leaf and bloom, rocks and boulders of all sizes and shapes placidly passing the time by absorbing another hundred years of atmospheric pressure, the skies swept by wind and clouds seemingly arbitrary in the landscape but belonging like tumble weed to the plains. There is silence among us, and we are connected.

The body shudders against the real. The body relaxes in The Body. We are a world of children who seek to self-determine, but after a long journey of thrashing about and investigating options, we return to nature and are enveloped by the sights and smells of home. No idea has ever looked back at us, no idea has ever smelled like anything. Self-concept smells like ass. So maybe with my cup of tea trick . . . it’s not a trick, you have to be able to repeat it to call it that . . . maybe with my cup of tea experience of grace in urban life, in city life suspended from itself during a global pandemic--I unexpectedly encountered, with the help of a felt universe--what I have been attempting to access for years. A connection with something real--against the odds of smog, frenzied transportation, the harshly accelerating blades of new helicopters leased by the LAPD that taxi over our house at night, citizen strangers going to work, running errands, keeping schedules much more suited to the androids being designed to replace us--all of it together has made it nearly impossible to connect with the physical, natural, only, real world we live in.

Existence before Covid was a life built up by material forms of steel and glass, wheels on the road, many lives serving the economy. It now seems . . . an illusion. We ended up with a collective stake in the nightmarish demand for growth as would be evidenced by our respective Costco memberships. But real equity is in things we share. The real is where the illusion ends. It’s where the 99% and the 1% die, where we suddenly realize it’s just us, all of us, in the world—belonging to the world. In exploited and exhausted nature, we its creatures end up feeling weary and spent and alienated. Isn’t it unfathomable that during coronavirus, we would suddenly find ourselves belonging to and enjoying this planet together? Staying home with our families, playing with our children, cooking dinner, marveling at the simple, visceral pleasure of clean air? I didn’t feel very environmental before Covid-19 made the headlines, and I can say now with certainty—it’s because I couldn’t feel the environment. It was so obscured by the pollution of a healthy economy and everyday life, I had no idea what it felt like or that it could feel like this.

That cup of tea moment today was a seamless mix of meditation and contemplation of my surroundings. In citified life, we practice meditation to connect with the nature we might find within ourselves when it is unavailable in the world around us. When there is nowhere to belong, we can stare at our living room walls and at least belong to ourselves/our bodies/our breath for a few moments. But the contemplation that I experienced today flowed directly from the meditation of life around me because I was connected to the world around me. When the air is clean, and the sunlight moves with such beauty over everything, you take a single breath and you know you were meant to be here. Every breath affirms your right to be alive, present to and presented with the incredible gift of this world.

Alanna Lin Ramage is a singer-songwriter, writer, and performance artist based in Los Angeles. She performs under the moniker FASCINOMA and her alter-ego Chairmeowww, runs The Los Angeles Department of Writing and Power online and off. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, she returns often to visit her family and stare at grass.

Friday, August 28, 2020

The Way of Tea in the Time of the Virus (Ring)

I want to know
what is promised
in ceremony.

      The quiet stamina 
      of the wrist.
      The static curl   
       of the whisk’s wood fringe.
      Still green 
      become froth.

And in the dilations
of time
I want

to feel mortality
out of itself—
               what that means.
Find death
on the ground, pick it up,
turn it over 
in my palm
like a smooth stone.

To know how
to moment—

      The scoop and the sift.
      The invisible rites.
      Measure for each task.

      The way hands fold, curl, grip.

            Now cupping a bowl,
            the lovely ancestral
            curve of its lip.

And always
the magnificence            
of pour

Camila Ring is a PhD candidate in English at Case Western Reserve University. Her research focuses on theology and embodied religious poetics in nineteenth- and twentieth-century poetry. Her poems have been published in Equinox, BathHouse, and Think Magazine.