Cover Photo: Deborah Mashibini-Prior

Docking Stations: Notes and Introduction in the Time of Pandemic

March unfolded with horror as the world erupted in pandemic. I was unable to concentrate, fixated on my phone, reading my newsfeed, stunned by the global health crisis that had erupted in a matter of weeks. I couldn’t sleep. I certainly couldn’t focus on much of anything except the news. By mid-month, I was sequestered, tucked into my home like everyone else in the world as we watched and waited for this virus to end. There seemed little else to do. Each time I talked with someone, conversation turned to the pandemic, all of us plagued by the paralyzing worry of getting it, meaning that monster— coronavirus— that clutches and squeezes the lungs.

What is the precedent for writing an introduction to beautiful, take-your-breath-away work in the context of a pandemic?

How do we keep on living when we are reminded of those who have not?

How do I write of anything other than coronavirus in this introduction without sounding like I have been in another galaxy for the past six months?

I’m scared. I’m scared to approach an introduction with these words, and I’m scared not to be brutally honest. There is no time for bullshit. No time for flowery words and metaphor. Each day I wonder if today is the day I get sick. The fear keeps me awake. Makes me worry about my family far away, and across the hall.

My dog, Murray, lumbers along on our mid-day walk as if there is no possible reason to go faster. I am possessed, and dash around the yard believing that walking is the means to keeping me alive during this pandemic. But, Murray is failing. His hips are weak and his back legs give out on him. His cool nose nuzzles my hand. Stay still.

The virus is a dysmorphic spaceship with extrusions on its surface that look like the uneven parts of the Legos my son played with as a child. Bumpy fronts and undersides, with little knobs and clefts that trick our immune systems into cytokine storms. Coronavirus doesn’t stay still, and, because it doesn’t, we must. Each extrusion on the virus looks like the docking mechanism on the intergalactic space station from Star Trek. 

In this time of fear, my son says my lungs hurt but I can’t help him, he is far away in another state that might as well be another galaxy. In this new world we turn on our computers or our smartphones and meet in virtual worlds—chat rooms, Zooms, FaceTimes and Hangouts—where we gather to share our worries about getting it, where we witness the suffering of those who have it, and rail against anxiety, boredom, rage, and all the other emotions that ricochet off the four walls that surround us. In this other frontier, the virtual meeting place, we congregate to share our fear, to celebrate family milestones, to compare observations of the pandemic from one part of the country to the next, and sit with our ill loved ones in silence when there is nothing else we can do to help. Showing up, being present, even virtually, feels essential now when most interactions outside the cocoon of our homes must be masked and at a distance that does not allow touch.  We are all docked in our own virtual stations peering from the grey space of computer screens, hoping to reach someone on the other side.

Murray slows beneath the maple tree, noses a pile of leaves, breath blowing a dent into the wet, clumpy mess.  I don’t want to stop. My mission is to circle the yard, inhale as much clean, crisp March air that I can to discourage anything harmful from lodging in my lungs.  

Once inside, excess leaves removed, I rifle through Murray’s thick white fur looking for hitchhikers, blacklegged ticks that burrow into crevices and dimples then attach with chelicerae that cut the skin, and a barbed hypostome that anchors the parasite into the host’s body. If lucky, I will find the blasted critters before they settle in, suck down a meal, and decide to set up housekeeping.

Murray thumps to the floor in an ungraceful plop. I’ve settled into my chair next to the window. Nuthatches, chickadees, sparrows and finches flit in and out of the bush next to the feeder. Each of them waits, clutches the spindly branches of the bush till the bird that is eating is done. Then, the next bird flits up to the feeder, inserts their beak into the swinging suet holder and gathers what is needed to sustain them, at least for this moment, and then, flies away, allows someone else to take their turn.

Perhaps the birds teach us something. Take only what you need. Sustain the moment. Swing for a moment in the sun and then move on, let the next soul take what is needed. Maybe, watching the birds is less complex than that and has nothing to do with any kind of lesson but is more about distraction and reassurance that the world will, eventually, realign into one where we are able to gather together, share conversation and work through how staying at home during this pandemic has changed us. 

I sincerely hope that the pandemic of 2020 will be over by the time this issue is in your hands. I hope that you and your family are physically unscathed from this breath-robbing virus.  Perhaps, as we rebuild our nation, learn to be together and not be afraid, we will continue to find sustenance in the arts. This issue contains take-you-away-from-the-moment reading, from an outstanding, daring Folio about Enchantivism by Sherri L. Smith;  to exciting work by Bonnie Milne Gardner; a beautiful meditation about growing up and growing apart by Joanna Gordon; intriguing fiction by Monet Lessner; poetry by David Swerdlow, and Lucas Shepherd; among other talented writers.  On the front cover, “Birch Tree Branch” by Deborah Mashibini-Prior, stretches toward possibility and the promise of something more, unnamed but necessary. Maybe, all we can do is reach out, one soul straining for another, in these times that are unbearable and unbelievable.

The power of literature is its capacity to pull us away, to teach us universal truths, to voice our worries and our doubts even if we don’t know we have them. At the same time, a great essay, play, poem or short story pulls us away, allows us to linger in another place, another galaxy, refuel, rest, and reassess where we have been and where we are going.

Coronavirus may loiter for a while. Perhaps we might still be sequestered when this issue is published. I hope this issue provides sustenance for you.

On behalf of our dedicated editorial staff, as well as publisher Lucy Turner, welcome to Clockhouse Volume Eight. Linger, rest, be enchanted. Stay still. Stay healthy.

Brenda Beardsley, Editorial Director

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CWC is the alumni association of Goddard's MFAW Program. It holds the annual summer Clockhouse Writers' Conference & Retreat in Plainfield, Vermont, and the annual winter Lighthouse Conference & Retreat each winter. Its national literary journal CLOCKHOUSE is published in partnership with Goddard College and the MFAW Program. For more information, please visit www.clockhousewriters.com or contact CWC's lead steward, Lucy Turner.
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