Lean into loneliness — and know you’re not alone in it. Filmmaker Andrea Dorfman reunites with poet Tanya Davis to craft tender and profound animation on the theme of isolation, providing a wise and soaringly lyrical sequel to their viral hit How to Be Alone.
Part of THE CURVE, a collection of social distancing stories that bring us together. Enjoy more works from this series here .
When people ask me what it’s like, I tell them imagine being born in a hospice that’s on fire. As my relatives melted, I stood on one leg, raised my arms, eyes shut, & thought: tree tree tree as death passed me—untouched. I didn’t know God saw in us a failed attempt at heaven. Didn’t know my eyes had three shades of white but only one image of my mother. She’s standing under an ancient pine, sad that her time on Earth is all she owns. Oh human, I’m not mad at you for winning but that you never wished for more. Lord of language, why didn’t you master No without forgetting Yes? Sure—we can make out, if you want, but I’m warning you it’s a lot. Sometimes I think gravity was like To be brutally honest . . . & then never stopped talking. I guess what I mean is that I ate the apple not because the man lied when he said I was born of his rib but because I wanted to fill myself with its hunger for the ground, where the bones of my people still dream of me. I bet the light on this page isn’t invented yet. I bet you never guessed that my ass was once a small-town wonder. That the triceratops went nuts when I danced. How once, after weeks of drought, I walked through my father’s laughter just to feel the rain. Oh wind-broke wanderer, widow of hope & ha-has, oh sister, dropped seed—help me. I was made to die but I’m here to stay.
We are shoveling snow, this man and I, our backs coming closer along the drive. It’s so quiet I can hear every flake on my coat. I used to cry in a genre no one read. What a joke, they said, on fire. There’s no money in it, son, they shouted, smoke leaking from their mouths. But ghosts say funny things when they’re family. This man and I, we take the weight of what will vanish anyway and move it aside, making room. There is so much room in a person there should be more of us in here. I wave to you, traveler, inches away but never visible from where I am. Are you warm where you are? Are you you where you are? Something will come of this. In one of the rooms in the house the man and I share, a loaf of rye is rising out of itself, growing lighter as it takes up more of the world. In humans, we call this Aging. In bread, we call it Progress. We’re in our thirties now and I rolled the dough just an hour ago, pushing my glasses up my nose with my flour-dusted palm as I read, reread, the hand-scrawled recipe given me by the man’s grandmother, the one who, fleeing Stalin, bought a ticket from Vilnius to Dresden without thinking it would stop, it so happened, in Auschwitz (it was a town after all), where she and her brother were asked to get off by soldiers who whispered, keep moving, keep moving like sons leading their mothers through wheat fields in the night. How she passed through huddled coats, how some were herded down barb-wired lanes. The smoke from our mouths rising as the man and I bend and lift, in silence, the morning clear as one inside a snow globe. For how can we know, with a house full of bread, that it’s hunger, not people, that survives? The man pours a bag of salt over the pavement. But from where I’m standing it looks like light is spilling out of him, like the ray of dusty sun that found his grandmother’s hands as she got back on the train, her brother at her side, smoke from the engine blown across the faces outside blurring into pine forests, warped pastures, empty houses with full rooms. The man clutches his stomach as if shot, and the light floods out of him, I mean you—because something must come of this. Poetry makes nothing happen, someone who is dead now said after a friend’s death. When the guard asked your grandmother if she was Jewish, she shook her head, half-lying, then took from her bag a roll, baked the night before, tucked it in the guard’s chest pocket. She didn’t look back as the train carried her, newly seventeen, toward where I now stand, on a Sunday in Florence, Massachusetts, squinting at her faded words: sift flour, then beat eggs until “happy-yellow.” The train will reach Dresden days before the sky is filled with firebombers. More smoke. A bullet in her brother under rubble, his name everywhere outside her like the snow falling on your face forty years later, on December 2, 1984, while your mother carries you, alive only three hours, the few steps to the mini-van where your grandmother, nearly sixty now, crowns your head with her brother’s name. Peter! she says, Peter! Peter! as if the dead could be called back from rubble into new, stunned bones. The snow has started up again, whitening the path as though nothing happened. Oh, to live like a bullet, to touch people with such purpose. To be born going one way, toward everything alive. To walk into the world you never asked for but then choose the room where your hunger ends—which part of war do we owe such knowledge? It’s warm in this house where we will die, you and I. Let the stanza be one room, then. Let it be big enough for everyone, even the ghosts rising now from this bread we tear open to see what we’ve made of each other. I know, we’ve been growing further apart, unhappy but half full. That clearing snow and baking bread will not save us. I know, too, as I reach across the table to brush the leftover ice from your beard, that it’s already water. It’s nothing you say, laughing for the first time in weeks. It’s really nothing. And I believe you. I shouldn’t, but I do.
It’s true I’m all talk & a French tuck but so what. Like the wind, I ride my own life. Neon light electric in the wet part of roadkill on the street where I grew up. I want to take care of our planet because I want a beautiful coffin. It’s true, I’m not a writer but a faucet underwater. When the flood comes I’ll raise my hand so they know who to shoot. The sky flashes. The sea yearns. I myself am hell. Everyone’s here. Sometimes I go to parties just to dangle my feet out of high windows, among people. The boy crying in his car at the end of his shift at McDonald’s on Easter Sunday. The way he wipes his eyes with his shirt as the big trucks blare from the interstate. My favorite kind of darkness is the one inside us, I want to tell him. And: I like the way your apron makes it look like you’re ready for war. I too am ready for war. Given another chance, I’d pick the life where I play the piano in a room with no roof. Broken keys, Bach sonata like footsteps fast down the stairs as my father chases my mother through New England’s endless leaves. Maybe music was always a stroke of night high in the lord -low oak. Maybe I saw a boy in a Nissan the size of a monster’s coffin crying in his black apron & knew I could never be straight. Maybe, like you, I was one of those people who loves the world most when I’m rock-bottom in my fast car going nowhere.
Y qué es lo que quedó de aquel viejo verano en las costas de Grecia? ¿Qué resta en mí del único verano de mi vida? Si pudiera elegir de todo lo vivido algún lugar, y el tiempo que lo ata, su milagrosa compañía me arrastra allí, en donde ser feliz era la natural razón de estar con vida.
Perdura la experiencia, como un cuarto cerrado de la infancia; no queda ya el recuerdo de días sucesivos en esta sucesión mediocre de los años. Hoy vivo esta carencia, y apuro del engaño algún rescate que me permita aún mirar el mundo con amor necesario; y así saberme digno del sueño de la vida.
De cuanto fue ventura, de aquel sitio de dicha, saqueo avaramente siempre una misma imagen: sus cabellos movidos por el aire, y la mirada fija dentro del mar. Tan sólo ese momento indiferente. Sellada en él, la vida.
A punto de un viaje en coche
Las ventanas reflejan el fuego de poniente y flota una luz gris que ha venido del mar. En mí quiere quedarse el día, que se muere, como si yo, al mirarle, lo pudiera salvar. Y quién hay que me mire y que pueda salvarme. La luz se ha vuelto negra y se ha borrado el mar.
Con quién haré el amor
En este vaso de ginebra bebo los tapiados minutos de la noche, la aridez de la música, y el ácido deseo de la carne. Sólo existe, donde el hielo se ausenta, cristalino licor y miedo de la soledad. Esta noche no habrá la mercenaria compañía, ni gestos de aparente calor en un tibio deseo. Lejos está mi casa hoy, llegaré a ella en la desierta luz de madrugada, desnudaré mi cuerpo, y en las sombras he de yacer con el estéril tiempo.
Vuelve la hora feliz. Y es que no hay nada sino la luz que cae en la ciudad antes de irse la tarde, el silencio en la casa y, sin pasado ni tampoco futuro, yo. Mi carne, que ha vivido en el tiempo y lo sabe en cenizas, no ha ardido aún hasta la consunción de la propia ceniza, y estoy en paz con todo lo que olvido y agradezco olvidar. En paz también con todo lo que amé y que quiero olvidado.
Volvió la hora feliz. Que arribe al menos al puerto iluminado de la noche.
I wake up & it breaks my heart. I draw the blinds & the thrill of rain breaks my heart. I go outside. I ride the train, walk among the buildings, men in Monday suits. The flight of doves, the city of tents beneath the underpass, the huddled mass, old women hawking roses, & children all of them, break my heart. There’s a dream I have in which I love the world. I run from end to end like fingers through her hair. There are no borders, only wind. Like you, I was born. Like you, I was raised in the institution of dreaming. Hand on my heart. Hand on my stupid heart.
At the museum, I learn I am as tall as some bombs (5′ 7”). The bombs in question are dumb bombs, which means they do not question gravity. They just land where they land, bury what they can. Placed in rows, they look something like soldiers. Dumb soldiers. The placard explains how all bombs used to be dumb, how the term was coined retroactively by whoever made them smart, taught them about lasers, thermodynamics, critical theory, all the things a contemporary bomb must know to stay competitive in a growing field. War was simpler when my dad lived here. It was called Saigon then & the bombs were so dumb they didn’t even know it. All they had to do was their jobs. Christ. This place has no damn A/C. The casualties are colorized, the tourists are foreigner than me, & Lennon serenades us on a loop, asking us every three-and-a-half minutes to imagine no possessions. My phone dings. Take museum with salt, texts Ba. It’s propaganda. Fish sauce, I reply. I send him photos: me standing in front of a nearly forgotten apartment, an elementary school, a wildlife sanctuary. I allow him to imagine me happy. I tell him on Tuesday I fed mangoes to a ten-year-old elephant. I do not tell him it was recovering from a landmine blast. I do not tell him his friend groped me last night at the bar, & I definitely do not tell him I am a communist. The world is a list of things I keep from my father. Before I leave, I run my hands over the shell of another sleeping bomb. But I’m not the only one, sings John. We’re dumb as hell. Full of hurt.