SHELTER by Carolyn Benson

Carolyn Benson, a member of Straw Dog, lives at Lathrop Community in Easthampton. Moving to Western Massachusetts over 20 years ago, she discovered Pat Schneider and the AWA method, traveled and wrote with Patricia Lee Lewis’s workshops, and met up with Sara Weinberger and Karen Buchinsky to found Voices from Inside.


I’m sitting on my screened-in porch level with the treetops, listening to the birds. They have settled down in the buoyant heat of a late summer afternoon, exchanging brief comments and an occasional short song. Suddenly two goldfinches rise in the air, create a living flower of twirl and tail and wing. A family of aspens riffles into shadow and light. This is my shelter-at-home, my quarantine, my sequestering from the microscopic virus set out to bring life as we know it to an end. Hitching a ride on the breath of our species, it silently eats its way across the world like a voracious Pacman.

And yet, here I sit.  The contrast between summery light and the silent progress of red dots on the daily maps is unfathomable.  Is this why I feel disjointed much of the time, slightly seasick, bemused, and prone to taking long naps?

I know that my ride on this precarious world is closer to its finish than most, but I cling to stay aboard in the face of this pandemic.  I cling like my mother close to her death, gasping through morphine, breathing like a swimmer at the end of a race.  I cling to a world that is changing faster than any of us can imagine. I cling simply to remember, to watch memories more real than anything that may or may not lie ahead.  I cling for the next good meal, the next Zoom, the next good joke, the next night curled against the back of my love.

And all the while my insides weep like a rain stick, soundless and mindless and barely perceived.  Weeping for the deaths, the bereaved, the workers, the fearful, and all those who suffer in the grip of this force that has no mercy. And I weep for the poor, who surely will bear the very worst of what is to come.

Each morning anxious starts and strange dreams interrupt each other as I wait for the sun to rise. Yet here among the murmuring birds and whispering trees of late summer, I am rested and consoled.  Like memories, nature’s beauty seems to weather all time.