That Thing with Feathers: Hope and Literature in a Time of Upheaval
The holiday season is filled with traditions, our homes filled with family and friends. This season looks different. Danielle Beazer Dubrasky, co-editor of Blossom as the Cliffrose (June 2021) had an unexpected collision with some of the difficult adjustments that so many of us are grappling with this year, and in today’s That Thing With Feathers: Hope & Literature in a Time of Upheaval, she shares story and perspective through prose and poem.
by Danielle Dubrasky
On the morning before Christmas Day 2019, I dashed out the front door to pick up last-minute things for our annual Christmas Eve buffet where my usual Sylvia Plath becomes a wannabe Martha Stewart—albeit a frazzled one with dishes piled high in the sink, counters covered with unrinsed cans of pumpkin residue, empty cartons of whipping cream, and pie crust bits, as I direct guests toward the dining room table set with shrimp cocktail, cold cuts, and various cheeses strategically placed around pine boughs. “Ignore the mess behind the curtain!” I would call out gaily, conjuring up an aging and less charming Bridget Jones.
On that morning, I plugged in the Christmas tree decorated red and gold to bring on the light of the season, then trotted down our steps in my small black boots to the cement walkway glistening with last night’s rain—a rare treat for the high desert of southern Utah. Only the walkway wasn’t wet but covered in sheer ice. My brisk pace slid to a stop as my left leg shot out in front of me and my right leg slipped behind, slamming my ankle against the frozen cement.
When a neighbor rang the doorbell to drop off a plate of fudge, I hopped over on my crutches.
A shout to my husband and a hobbled visit to Instacare left me in the living room later that afternoon, nauseous from pain pills and texting cancellations for the buffet and a planned trip to Los Angeles to see family. When a neighbor rang the doorbell to drop off a plate of fudge, I hopped over on my crutches thinking it rude not to answer, then lost my balance after closing the door and fell into the Christmas tree. A move worthy of Chevy Chase. It didn’t tip over, but a few ornaments shattered around the base. I called my husband on my phone. “I fell into the tree.”
“How did you do that? Did anything break?”
“You’ll see,” I answered.
That night, Christmas Eve, I lay in a makeshift bed on the living room couch, ankle propped up on pillows, looking out the window at snow covering the streetlamps, feeling like a mashup of Beth from Little Women and Clark Griswold—unbeknownst to me, I had simply gotten a jumpstart on 2020.
In January, still not able to climb stairs, still stuck on the couch, I perfected the art of self-isolating. Wrapped in a cocoon of blankets and pillows, I read about the virus between binge-watching Downton Abbey, The Mandalorian, and the entire Marvel series all the way down to End Game. Between the painkillers, the CBD oil to rub on my ankle a friend had dropped off in a “Get Well” package, and my overall fatigue while healing, I had no desire for anything taxing. I vaguely made note of where the virus was in the world as it traveled from Hong Kong to South Korea to Italy and finally breached the shores of Seattle and New York. When the lockdown happened, the one place unaffected by the closures, aside from the grocery stores, was the small downtown farmer’s market. Each Saturday about five vendors set up their booths in the cold to sell fresh bread, jam, soup, and local artisan honey. It was a strange time of uncertainty and solidarity.
One farm a few miles out of town kept their farm stand open all week. As more news confirmed the safety of being outdoors, I began to depend on that farm, and my once or twice a week drive out west to the valley, for sustenance and peace, gingerly putting on my ankle brace to fill my basket with produce, fresh eggs and yogurt, or just to see the new baby goats clamber up the backs of the tired mamas and slide back down again. I have long grappled with my Mormon pioneer ancestry and subsequent expectation that I should be following the rhythms of the seasons by planting a robust garden, harvesting the produce for fresh summer salads, canning in the fall, and distributing bounteous gifts of jam for Christmas. It all sounds good in a sentence, but is not a feasible plan for me. Supporting the local farms was a way to resolve that guilt. But I also found reprieve from so many other ways of shutting down. The sky looked different in that part of town, vast in blue layers against the red hills of the canyon to the east. It gave me hope to see a vista after two months being confined to my living room.
It gave me hope to see a vista after two months being confined to my living room.
In my more ironic moments I have joked with friends that the instant my ankle cracked against the ice into a hairline fracture, a butterfly effect was created, letting loose the virus—Hollywood style—from a distant lab on the other side of the world. But it is too much to be such a Pandora, as other things have been let loose this year in my circle of family and friends—fraught marriages, devastating accidents, the death of my mother’s remaining sister, a sudden turn in an aging parent’s cognitive abilities, and the premature deaths of two cousins taken unexpectedly, unrelated to COVID.
Almost a year later, I step out cautiously, my ankle twinging in the cold. During those weeks on the couch last winter before the country knew what was coming, my eyes could take in only the view across the street. With travel plans on hold, all I could do was speculate about being in other places or what was going on in other people’s lives. So I wrote about that—not realizing that for all of us even the simplest of gatherings would eventually exist, for the time being anyway, only in memory.
The view from my front porch is a white stucco house, its dark dining room, windows back-lit, and a blue half-moon of television-glow. Cottonwoods and spruce stand above the roof, so high they block the sunset as hawks circle from fields to roost in branches. I imagine that I fly beyond the trees over a hill of mansions, a dry lake and valley of sagebrush,
until I clear the dormant volcanoes of Three Peaks, cross the border where I follow Basin and Range, Sierra Nevada, Great Valley, toward the dark Pacific. But now the porchlight flares across the street— a man says goodbye to the neighbors, thanks them for dinner and opens his car door, as they close and latch theirs, flick off switches, leave the one to shine.
Danielle Beazer Dubrasky directs the Grace A. Tanner Center for Human Values and is an associate professor of creative writing at Southern Utah University. She is co-editor with Karin Anderson of Blossom as the Cliffrose: Mormon Legacies and the Beckoning Wild, forthcoming June 2021 from Torrey House Press. Her poetry has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Chiron Review, South Dakota Review, Ninth Letter, Main Street Rag, Pilgrimage, saltfront, Sugar House Review, Cave Wall, Open: Journal of Arts & Letters, Under a Warm Green Linden, and Terrain.org. Her chapbook, Ruin and Light, won the 2014 Anabiosis Press Chapbook Competition. Her poems were also published in a limited edition art book Invisible Shores by Red Butte Press of the University of Utah.
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