Quarantined, Durham, February 2018 by Giselle Bernard

Scent of paper on my skin
Snow falling outside, whirling, like I don’t have a fever
The scent of daffodils,
Almost flowery, failing to conceal the chill earth that bore them
Are you gone for good now?
And without a word
Don’t pity me, I wouldn’t be the first
To drink another case
And still, be on my feet
And still, be.

Urlaub in Italien Urlaub in Italien, Sommer 2019

Isolation Berlin, March 2020

I woke up on the first official day of quarantine to all my witty thoughts and corona-puns sprawled across the headlines. I felt like an idiot. Then I walked through the park and realised something I never would have imagined possible: in that moment, I could be almost certain that every single person whose path I crossed had a variation of the same thoughts preoccupying me on their mind. Perhaps being a good writer has less to do with originality and more with an ability to let something of the times flow through one’s pen.

Back in my room I looked out the window to the grey façade opposite and thought if I were to die soon I might have picked a different view. This one requires a little more imagination. On my computer screen, I watch the numbers rise, watch the skin on my hands becoming dryer and redder. I watch the death toll rise, pick at my dead skin.

I scrubbed the skin underneath my nails until it hurt, hoping to leave everything at the door, the thought that it might already be inside creeping. Will the innocence of a time, not so long ago, when closeness was a good metaphor for care, come again? Will I ever touch a surface so carelessly now? And if my hand, slit from my cheek; if my finger, cut from my lip – then who are we?

Along the canal, the magnolias were close to blooming. The sight felt as cruel as it was beautiful, as if I wanted nature, too, to be put on hold.

From letting my eyes wander over screens for too many hours, I gather it boils down to two fears: loneliness and death. I am less scared of either, and more by what is in between: for the next weeks, at least, we’ll be living with ghosts. Already, what lies beyond the walls of my flat – these walls so solid I could sometimes cry, what lies beyond Gleisdreieck, Viktoriapark and the Landwehrkanal has muffled into memory. All of a sudden my friends in Canada are as close to me as those in Neukölln. Some hands I pushed away I begin to miss, and I want to press every person who isn’t a stranger to my chest. Our bodies will haunt one another for a while yet, filling with delight and repulsion our still rooms, reminiscence undisturbed by the thrill of meeting someone new.

I have been lonely before, but I didn’t think I would be now, as scents are released in the warming Berlin air. What is new is having nowhere to escape to where things would be different.

Am I alone? You said you’d fight for me in a war. I laughed at the extravagance, but I believe you. You ran towards a car speeding at me when I fell on the road, once. I wonder if you’d just sit beside me a while, hold my hand, and breathe.

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