or I have enough/ Bach’s Ich habe genug

I always have a NYC layover after the MFA residencies for needed sleep, given the time change, and ground on my old turf. I stay in the same building on the Upper West Side where I see my old, close friends and renew the balm of friendship. 

Hello – o! E. enters the apartment and places yogurt, raspberries, blueberries on Sal’s worktable in the living room. All the surfaces at Sonia and Sal’s are for art, a few eating spots, or covered with books – open today to the painted Greek icon, Mother of God of Tenderness, the Holy Virgin and her son Jesus; and under the lamp, Ravenna’s Byzantine mosaics in Basilica of San Vitale.  

We need to be careful of Sal’s stuff.

 I know, 50 years in the same building! You know who found this apartment.

I just remember when we ate here last month, when he arrived from upstate –

Is he coming?

No, they’re upstate – Sonia’s got a cold, Sal broke his toe plus they’re avoiding the craziness –

What craziness? It’s NY.

This thing – you know, the coronavirus. I get two plates down.

I’m not hungry –

Fine. I’m serving up some borscht.

A no-thank-you portion –

A bagel with hummus?

I just want yogurt.

I’ll be right back. I put a large portion of borscht in one bowl, place an empty underneath and stack them, bagel to the side. 

I’m not really hungry.

Fine. I lather some hummus on a corner of the half bagel and hand it to her. A little borscht?

Cold?

Yes.

Good.

I serve the borscht by the teaspoon into the bottom bowl.

That’s enough.

I spoke to Sonia. I’m sorry to miss her this time.

Oh?

She’s not coming in.

Why not? She coughs, clears her throat.

They’re staying upstate to avoid the craziness.

What craziness?

You know, the virus.

Oh. She coughs and wipes a Kleenex across her lips.

Sonia has a cold too. Sal broke his toe.

He did?!

Yeah, he’s got a boot.

And Sonia?

She’s staying upstate.

No class?

She cancelled and next week, Hunter’s on break. Have some borscht.

E takes some teaspoons, a bite of bagel. This is good. I haven’t had this in a long time.

Zabar’s.

Ahh. This is very good borscht.

The last container of soup, all beets. We can’t go for coffee –

The last?

Everyone’s stocking up. And no morning coffee –

Always good, borscht. No Zabar’s?

No, the virus.

She looks glum, but eats more bagel. The dark purple soup has a density and holds still in the spoons. We lift spoons and smile across the bowls.

Her earrings clack, slapping together as she leans forward – her green jacket with scalloped collar over a black shirt with a necklace of crystal, black spiky onyx and chunks of metal. Her hair is almost all gray, some brown peeking through loose curls, her brow finally lined– eyes large, questioning, sometimes surprised by what is occurring around her. She’s a New Yorker, 83 or 84, unfazed, with Mexican paternity to add another kind of shrug towards disaster when needed. I am 12 or 13 years younger, depending on the time of year. It always mattered – and now, more than I ever dreamed. 

I repeat the basics – sometimes, feel trapped, a robot. It can drive me crazy, repeating facts – and why should facts dictate everything? Or it’s strangely comforting, a flattening of all events into one stream. Does it really matter? 

When we take walks, we see things change together. Like the newest leaves on the bushes by the lake in Central Park, the crocus on the winding side path where I assure her some young guy sitting on a log isn’t going to hurt us: It’s still light. Look at the Snowdrops, the runners ahead. 

She laughs. Still lots of people trying to stay fit, and others, she gestures with her head as we pass a pudgy dad who’s holding a child by the hood, a pink fleece bunny hat draping into a coat. She’s just beginning to walk, E says. 

The child’s legs stick the air and her feet roll, wobbly on landing. First steps in the park – the child, eager to get to more people, the lake and quacking ducks. 

We nod at these signs of spring everywhere around us. 

When we rushed to the eye doctor earlier, E said she had shortness of breath. I tell her daughter about it: Her cough is worse. I only see her every few months, so I notice more perhaps.

She’s glad I noticed the cough before this, tells me she has a plan. If she gets sick, they’ll take her at the hospital, because of her history.

I keep thinking about E saying she couldn’t afford to get winded, and yes we were rushing – What if I don’t see her again?! 

E. has finished her bowl and moves to clean up, always first to carry plates to the sink.

Hey, there’s a live stream tonight of Simone Dinnerstein at the Miller – all Bach.

I was going to go. 

They canceled – the virus, but they’re playing. We can listen.

How? I had a ticket. 

I click the Miller link, and there she is at the piano, Simone Dinnerstein, musicians circled around her – violins, cellos, an oboe and singer. The Head of the Miller is talking about staying connected through music.

E makes a face – Kind of making a fuss – no? 

It’s because of our situation.

So?

The virus.

Oh.

The playing begins – Dinnerstein leaning into the piano, the crown of her head pushing the air, swooping over her hands with her torso. Her fingers have the same shape, equally muscular. The strings, the oboe – how the oboe twines them all together, and Dinnerstein leads them to the center, Bach rising above her and the piano.

Look how the camera gives such a wonderful view, E says, her eyes lit. Better than being there! 

They are full into the familiar, Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring. We await the young singer – statuesque, eyes outlined, painted lips wide. And I wonder what it’s like to dress for the part – the bright make-up, vibrating shell housing the voice. To bring it all to the surface with her voice.

She’s a mezzo soprano, E offers. 

So beautiful, I smile, and E. smiles back bathed in the music.

I have enough, E. translates the German, the final words of the most performed of the sacred cantatas, Ich habe genug, or perhaps, I am content. She raises her eyebrow. She of six languages, all related in some way, as I realize she knows more about Bach than I ever will.

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Beatrix Gates

Beatrix Gates’ poetry collections include Dos (Finishing Line Press, 2014); Ten Minutes and In the Open. Gates, with Electa Arenal, translated Jesús Aguado’s The Poems of Vikram Babu (HOST), and received a Witter Bynner Award. A fellow at the MacDowell Colony, Ucross and VCCA, Gates’ poetry has appeared in The Kenyon Review, Bloom, Tupelo Quarterly 3, Ploughshares and THE WORLD IN US: Lesbian & Gay Poetry of the Next Wave. Librettist and conceiver of the opera, The Singing Bridge, Gates shared support with composer Anna Dembska from the NEA; Davis & LEF Foundations for the premiere at the Stonington Opera House. Gates edited The Wild Good: Lesbian Writings and Photographs on Love and founded Granite Press, publisher of the bilingual IXOK AMAR.GO, Central American Women Poets for Peace. Her website is beatrixgates.com.

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