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The Plague

Starting a Zuihitsu on (Un)deliveries [by Lera Auerbach]

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Photo Credit: Lera Auerbach

(1)

At times like this, I feel sorry for postal workers.
It must be very stressful to be one.
To always have to sort things out while thinking of viruses.

One can easily distinguish a postal worker who thinks of viruses from the one who doesn't.
Those who think wear gloves and masks. But most of them do not; most of them are young and careless.

At the beginning of the pandemic, an entire hotel in China that was converted into a hospital for coronavirus patients had collapsed suddenly, killing everyone inside.
How does a building suddenly collapse? 
How does a human being? 
What is the breaking point? 
What is that something, usually insignificant in itself, that makes all the difference between life and death?

I think of Sylvia Plath.
How she returned to her dirty home (her housekeeper left), overwhelmed by unhappiness, with her two small children always in need of her care.
If she had returned to a spotlessly clean and welcoming house instead of a messy one full of dirty dishes and laundry, would she still have killed herself? 

Perhaps, but maybe not then.
Maybe the breaking point would still hold a while longer.

(2)

Last year there was a postal worker who was overwhelmed by his responsibilities of daily deliveries of packages.
He just had too many parcels to deliver to too many houses and not enough time allotted to do so.
Even if he worked past his hours, he still could not manage all deliveries and be often scolded by his superiors for the delays.

At first, he kept undelivered packages in the trunk of his car in hopes of delivering them the next day, but the next day he would have a new bunch of boxes, and soon the trunk of his car was too full.
After a while, he gave up on the idea of being able to deliver everything, so he left all packages he could not deliver in a shed next to his house. 

He hoped to deliver them one day when his daily load would be lighter, but such a day never came.
After a while, the shed was full of packages, and he had to keep the new ones in the garage.
He never opened the boxes.

In his mind, he never stole them, he just kept them for better delivery times.
It was not his fault that better times were slow in coming.

Nobody appreciated any of his past accomplishments (for he did make numerous safe and timely deliveries) when police discovered his shed and his garage full of packages belonging to other people.

He tried to argue that the packages didn't belong to anyone – they were still in transit on the way to their final destination, but some of them were in transit for over a year and, after all that time, were considered missing in action like lost soldiers.

(3)

Sometimes my poor head makes me feel like the trunk of this poor man's car with too many deliveries scheduled in too short a time, and I feel like giving up.

At night, I stare into all these packages in my head.
I try to imagine what lies within each.
I look at the names of people and imagine them as characters in my book. 

Then the clock chimes and reminds me that it is too late for everything.
Too late even to try. 

(4)

A dog doesn't know if something is too late. 
Unless it's related to food. 
Because, as far as a dog is concerned, food always comes too late and never too early.

(5)

Life is mostly unbearable. And full of wonders.
Partially, it is unbearable because it is full of wonders.
Just think of all the undelivered wonders the postal worker kept in his garage.

But many wonders would not fit into any packaging and can't be delivered because they are just too great. 

Like the night when Venus and the moon were so close together, and we sat on the bench next to the ocean and felt so happy about the present moment that it also felt sad. 

Great happiness is always sad because it overflows and spills into sadness; happy sadness because it is just too vast to stay happy.

The chorus of frogs after the storm is like that.
Also Gesualdo's music and the Montserrat cathedral – you almost hate it, it's so beautiful.

A good book feels like that: overflowing without beginning or ending, even without a middle, happening all at once and about everything and nothing in particular. 

The only thing that separates a good book from nonexistence is its two covers: that's not much of protection from nothingness, not much at all.


April 16, 2021

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from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman

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