That Thing with Feathers: Hope and Literature in a Time of Upheaval
Torrey House author Chera Hammons writes from her home in Amarillo, Texas, looking back to the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. During that time, she and her husband observed their wedding anniversary and traveled to San Antonio for the AWP conference—the beginnings of book promotion for her debut novel, Monarchs of the Northeast Kingdom, slated for a May publication date. Amid the uncertainty of the ensuing weeks, Torrey House made the difficult decision to postpone the novel’s publication. Today, the world is a different place in many momentous ways. And we look forward to bringing Monarchs to readers nationwide this August.
My husband and I observed our ninth wedding anniversary at the end of February. We were busy at the time (as always), juggling work, bills, family obligations, and chronic illness, and preparing for the release of two books, as well as the travel needed to promote them, which requires a lot of preparation in my case—we have to bring our own food and water, and an air purifier to tackle any fragrances in the hotels—so we said we’d celebrate later, when things calmed down. We never got around to it. By the time we drove to San Antonio to attend the AWP conference a few days later, leaving a pantry full of gluten-free spaghetti noodles and organic pinto beans to await our return, our lives had already changed, and that trip seemed like the last journey we would ever make. While I watched the world streak by in greens and tans outside the passenger side window, I wondered if I was seeing outside the confines of the Texas Panhandle for the last time.
But what sort of world were we leaving, anyway? This world is already better—it’s one in which we no longer must simply accept the things that are broken. All patience for those mistakes is gone. Our country’s pain, its errors, the fatal attitudes and systems which have always been there have become more visible, especially, it seems, to those who would prefer not to see them. Deep, deep wounds don’t heal unless they are acknowledged and addressed. They need to be debrided. They need attention and care.
The old monuments are falling. Change is coming. It can’t be held back forever, and it won’t be. In my lifetime, I will see it. From my lonely home on the windblown Texas prairie, that is what hope feels like to me.
Celebrating our Ninth Anniversary as COVID-19 Becomes Uncontainable
by Chera Hammons
Today you’re the one with cold hands, beloved.
When did we switch places?
You left the stove on again this morning,
and I turned it off after you left, lingering over
its fruitless, earnest heat.
My God, how long the winter is.
Why did we get married in February?
Outside, everything wants to kill us.
The wind, the cold, sickness, our enemies.
The dog is barking, but that, at least,
doesn’t mean danger.
She only barks at what she loves.
Maybe it’s the horses she watches now.
They race each other at the fence line
despite the frozen ground,
surrendering themselves, the way we might still do,
to some sudden, wild joy.
Chera Hammons is the author of four books of poetry, including Maps of Injury and the 2017 Southwest Book Award winner The Traveler’s Guide to Bomb City. She holds an MFA from Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont, and lives near Amarillo, Texas, with her husband, three cats, a dog, a rabbit, a donkey, and five horses.
This project has received funding from Utah Humanities (UH). UH empowers Utahns to improve their communities through active engagement in the humanities.
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