from A Roundtable, unanimous dreamers chime in

The squirrels were all sharpening their teeth yesterday. Today they are quiet.

The child isn’t sure if the feeling rising in her belly is hunger or a response for the wind, or another question masked by the digestive juices intermingling with curiosity.

The routines are different. The parks are closed and the playgrounds are locked up. Mother and father might be working from home now, or mother and child are still on the street sheltering from the elements. Everyone begins to wear masks. People distance themselves from one another. Instead of eating together in a large cafeteria, she and her mom now go to a place to pick up a bag of food from a restaurant. The squirrels are in exactly the places she always sees them. They look back at her gaze with fresh blooms in their mouths. They savor the young spring leaves. She walks with her mother back to the overpass and they sit and eat sandwiches. She asks her mom, what is the meaning of a word like north or a word like south.

Direction weighed against the feather, weighed against the breath on her palm, weighed against the breath inside the mask. Breath shifting direction to drift off like the dandelion seeds carried off in the wind. Truthful feather in one palm, truthful detritus or seeds in the other. Tipping over the edge and making sounds with sticks against the bark, messianic bird sounds that are carried. From which direction? Backtracking to take flight. Once, she was taught a dance she could not remember. She feels the movement twitching from inside her right foot.

You were born a green mouse, her mother tells her. Yes, it is true, a green mouse full of glee. You ask questions to fill yourself up. What is a question but a prompt, a way to draw the world into your body. I was sure you were born a green mouse. Look now, you are still a green mouse and as time flows Im also convinced that you are becoming a blue heron. How do I know this is one thing, it is also for you to find out. My answer will always be incomplete. It is how I see you as part of me, the part of me that has departed yet resides most firmly. A blue heron. And here we are on a curb eating sandwiches in the middle of a pandemic. We must remember to dance.

To see ourselves for a brief moment, just as we are, of the earth and the questions and the dance. She spins and spins, remembers the movement, an endless spiral and she pounds her feet into the ground, to see ourselves, and she spirals endlessly, just as we are, and the squirrels look down at the child spinning, their noses turned like questions, without pausing the sharpening of their teeth, and she waves her arms in the air like wings, the squirrels have other things to worry about today, and she spins and spins, in that endless spiral, until she becomes the grouse she always was before today and will be when the earth returns to its natural orbit. The virus is looking down at the earth from inside the earth and is looking outwards from the child and into the eyes of her mother and the virus spins and spins, remembers the movement, an endless spiral, and pounds into the bodies of others, seeing what is returned, returning what is seen.

Out of the vortex of the center she creates, the girl crashes to the ground. Her mother claps then clasps the child to her chest. The girl looks up at her mother’s face which is obscured by the sun. Her face is totally light—a hazy aura. The girl feels disoriented by wonder. She asks the light about what she sees. What is happening? How come people are avoiding each other but we cling together? Why do we draw closer and the other people become further away? She recoiled when she was handed the paper bag of food. Her mother silently places her softly on the curb and gets up herself. Begins to spin, slowly and deliberately in a circle. She spins until she is dizzy, she spins until she is nauseous. She whirls and whirls and her orbit is the shape of a cell, the shape of the Earth. Then she stops and she looks at her daughter and asks her daughter if her daughter knows what tomorrow will feel like and of course her daughter says of course not, I don’t know anything about tomorrow.

The distancing, they say, is the answer. There are too many of us and we need to stay separated, six feet apart, in brief moments we may catch glimpses and breaths and in those brief moments of intimacy, when we cave to our human inclination for connection, the virus will leap and propagate. The virus is taking advantage of our weaknesses, they say. We must beat it with our persistent nature, the way we always have. By building walls and boundaries and keeping them out. The virus can’t outsmart us, they say. We will always find a solution, always one step ahead. It’s just a matter of digging deeper, looking deeper into the dust of decay, the dead bodies that disturb the soil and we just need to dig deeper, they say. A small fern emerging from the crevice in the brick wall. A patch of moss under the leaking pipe in the alleyway. Green seedlings shooting up from the spaces in between the building foundation and the sidewalk. The distance, though, is the answer, they insist. Stay away and we will find a cure. They spit on each other and wave hexes in the air. They cross the street to avoid sharing breath. The distancing, they are screaming now, is the answer. The grouse is still dancing, kicking up all the dust. The dust is getting everywhere, on the moss, on your skin. The dust penetrates your mask and you breathe it in. The dust can’t be controlled because it’s the dust from your future dead body coming back to be absorbed. The dust is everywhere. And yet, they say, distancing is the answer.

There are hoarding tendencies and tendencies to respond collectively—with collective interests in mind. Simultaneously both motivations were happening. People who could afford to stockpile groceries and dried goods were doing so. Secondary refrigerators were sold out. Toilet paper was sold out. Major chain stores had difficulty restocking food to the shelves. There were also cottage industries forming. People sewing face masks for health care workers and vulnerable members of the community. People distributing food and offering to babysit for the children of first responders. Help was needed everywhere and one couldn’t rely on the State for a feeling of safety or care.

What was this infinitesimally small virus? How could it have such resounding effects on human health? Where did it come from? Was it alive? Why hadn’t humanity prepared for such an event? The dust was everywhere and the viruses were everywhere; now the viruses were truly everywhere and in everyone.

She could hear the sound, as if a cry, multiplying behind everyone’s views. They were all preparing. They were all in the mode of “just in case.” Toilet paper is running low! They all respond by buying all the toilet paper. They will kill each other to get the toilet paper. Not enough masks! Recommendation: wear masks! They all respond by buying all the masks. They will kill each other to get the masks. Great quarantine activity: baking bread! They all respond with sourdough starters, baking bread, posting pictures. They will kill each other for the best sourdough pictures, the best loaves in the neighborhood, the best loaves on Instagram, the best loaves in the galaxy. The child and her mother return from the grocery store. The mother takes off their masks and puts them into Ziploc bags and puts them into a Tupperware on the front porch. The mother sprays something that smells onto the child’s hands, tells her to rub her hands together. “Sing Happy Birthday,” the mother instructs. “I hate that song,” the child responds. The mother scowls and a crow caws down the street. The child sings the theme from The Muppet Show instead. “It's the Muppet Show.” The mother wipes down the front door knob. “It's time to play the music.” The mother wipes down each item from the grocery bags before putting them away. “It's time to light the lights.” The mother folds the paper bags and puts them under the doormat. “It's time to meet the Muppets on the Muppet Show tonight.” The mother washes her hands in the kitchen sink. Her skin is peeling from the dryness. “It's time to put on make up.” The child is still standing outside singing, watching the squirrels having sex in the pear tree. “It's time to dress up right.” The mother takes off all of her clothes and puts them in a garbage bag to wash later. “It's time to raise the curtain on the Muppet Show tonight.” The mother gets into the shower.

As the mother and daughter were driving home from the store they actually passed the other mother and her daughter but the two parties didn’t see each other. This was typical. Class differences, though glaring were inconspicuous to many. The mother and her daughter in the car and the mother and the daughter on the curb, semblance. The mother and the daughter who santized themselves on their return to safety: to their home, to their sanctuary continued with their day. They baked the perfect loaf of bread! A real achievement. It felt good to do something together in the kitchen, mother and daughter. To enjoy domesticity, as it was duly enforced for health reasons. The mother and daughter out of doors also were talking about bread. They were also enjoying the intimacy of togetherness. They possessed an internal knowledge of the gift that they shared as relation. Now was the time to find a place to shelter. Now was the time to find a place to feel safe. The mother and daughter who didn’t have a permanent residence headed to the expanse of woodland and climbed a small hill and they both reclined in the sun. It was a moment of boundless energy and tenderness.

Recipe For Virus-Free Sourdough Bread:

3 bottles hand sanitizer
1 ½ ts sanitized yeast
1 ½ ts sanitized salt
2 ½ ts sanitized flour
2 cups sanitized sourdough starter
½ cup sanitized lukewarm water

Mix all ingredients…

“Mother, this bread tastes like the stuff you spray on my hands.”
“It’s safe. What you’re tasting is safety.”
“But I don’t want to eat this.”
“It’s your breakfast. Eat it. It’s fresh. I want to post a picture of you eating the bread on Facebook.”
“Can I at least have some butter?”
“You have to spray the butter first. And the knife. And your hands.”
“I just want to go to bed.”
“One photo first.”

It is true that life was collapsing into screens and that as screens took precedence dimensionality in all its nuance began to collapse. Two dimensions are dangerous to the soul. It is a known fact that if you collapse three dimensions into two dimensions for too long there will be hell to pay. It is tempting to do so and ultimately easy. It appears easy because you can’t initially tell what was destroyed in the process. The screen allows distances to grow between bodies. Unexamined differences and unexamined access and suddenly a whole dimension falls out of favor. The whole dimension that falls out of favor becomes hard to locate. Becomes obsolete. Extinction is happening at a miraculous rate, how, how so? One of the ways that existence is possible is the granting of respect to dimensions. When dimensions become extraneous, seemingly unnecessary, everything and all can fall into the blind spot and simply be eliminated. There is a certain glamour in this. A screen is glamorous. It is sublime to present everything at the best angle in the best light, with a big boundary guarding the scene. A password. An electrical cord. A theory of endless energy. A dimension, no longer noticed, slides away and with it, life and the ability for life. What we have left are the relics of life. Screenshots, the glowing aftermath of lived experience. The screens are greedy for moisture. Greedy for resources. Collectively posting existence costs resources. Little incremental doses. Little incremental costs. What we don’t see can’t be restored, finally. And the paradox is, we can’t live without it.

“Please, maintain your distance everyone.”
We make up for it all with our lives.
Different tones.
So many jars.
Together we once made a body–
“Size matters. Size matters. Remember, ladies and gentlemen, size matters.”
Were all going down eventually.
The same applied to all doesnt have the same result.
Different patterns, same design.
Different design, same patterns.
The silence is eerie.
It isnt silent here.
The silence is eerie.
Which side of the light are you seeing?
“We can beat it. The response has been spectacular. I’m really quite proud of our response.”
Darkly as if it were never in color.
The grouse returns to say something but the stray singing is drowned out by the sirens.
She wants to stay outside, singing.
So clearly on the other side.
None of it is in color anymore.
The light, the light, there isnt anything here anymore, just the light.
“It’s just a matter of science. Eventually, we will succeed.”
Reflective surfaces are eerie.
Crevice sight.
Home was never home anyways, thats why you cant stand being there.
A small fern.
The world beyond us.
Bread rising in the oven.
Looking upon rather than looking within.

Have you noticed? There hasn’t yet been a single image of the virus presented to the public. There’s been a model of the virus, a rendering, but not an image of an actual virus activated in a human cell. Science is our mentor. Hail science!

And it is said the virus explicitly does not have intention. Something is happening on an immense scale, something invisible to human sight. The world is regrouping and as the world regroups new possibilities come into play.

Many are stir-crazy at home thinking about utopic possibility. Dream a different way of living. How does the dream world of the populous get activated through viral activity. Bread is a process that involves yeast, a bacteria that aids the ingredients to rise. The virus is like a starter. But what we are dealing with is not bread alone. What we are dealing with is also beyond the bounds of human existence.

The winter started out with a certain denial of reality and the virus encroached unannounced. By spring the virus had penetrated everywhere. The virus was a reality of huge proportion, yet invisible, except for symptoms. By spring, the mother who was baking bread for Instagram fell sick and decided to self-quarantine.

They had no idea who they were or who they were becoming but one thing was certain, they experienced pain. Pain woke them to the sensation of the outside. What was beyond the body wasn’t necessarily what was giving them pain, yet what was outside was readily recognizable, had shape and form so appeared as an other and the experience of noticing an outside drew in what felt interior into a skin barrier that was actually porous and breathing all the time. Pain was a transient sensation that had a spectrum of affect. Pain could be desirable and interesting or heavy and monotonous. Pain could be like a gong or a thud or like a shiny petal of a leaf, that shine—taut sharp and immediate. They regrouped their identity into the skin barrier but it refused to stay there. What was they or them refused structure. Confining them was antithetical to what the world asked them to experience.

We dont excuse you because you are dirty. We dont excuse, rather, we dont believe. Rather, we dont destroy. Rather, we arent going home. Here is home. Here, again is home. You might imagine that the jostling about gets tedious, but the movement is wiped away when you wipe your sleeve against your nose and its another free ride, another home, another death and another chance to begin. You worry so much about belief. What is at stake in belief? In knowing? We know everything and theres no need to brag. Bragging about the walls, that seems tedious. Isnt it? Trying to destroy everything you dont understand. That seems tedious too. Were just under your skin. Dont worry. Were still here. Were not going anywhere. That isnt what youre worried about, is it?

Totally. That’s exactly how I feel. I was worried and your thoughts relieved my mind. Talking amongst ourselves we confirm we are actually a mass of alphabetic gestures arabesquely moving in space and in time. A double helix and then a living body as a double helix. The superstructure is always tiny. Just look at yourself! Letters float in the mud and letters slip through the ether. From the clouds comes rain and it is saturated with code. Everywhere you touch is touchable and touched. The many fingers give over to code, give over to strands and strands of new conjugation. I licked my lips and tasted others. I licked my arm and the possibility of community arose. I blew a kiss to another and they absorbed worlds and bodies and code. Code sounds like barking. There is a dog named Maggie and she will incessantly bark at anyone who walks by. Would someone outside of this house please for once engage her in conversation? What has this world become! We try and communicate but often no one is listening. Maybe this isn’t intrinsically bad. Maggie is reciting from her manifesto and all one has to do is stop and listen. She is giving free information to a universe of free information. Communication in the face of non-reception is its own magic.

Maggie is noticing:

The dogs are barking.
The crows are circulating.
The squirrels are congregating.
The earthworms are laboring.
The birds are synchronizing.
The clouds are haunting.
The grape hyacinths are recalibrating.
The noses are nuzzling.
The dandelions are prophesizing.

(Prophecy isn’t about predicting the future. Prophecy is about expanding the present.)

The purple dead-nettle are passion-making.
The cats are sauntering.
The pigeons are stirring.
The soil is exchanging.
The viruses are coalescing.
The viruses are coming together.
The viruses are permeating.
The humans are staying indoors.
The humans are wearing masks.
The humans are covering their faces.
The humans are afraid of contamination.
The viruses are coming through.
The viruses are combining.
The viruses are barking, are circulating, are congregating.
The viruses are laboring, are synchronizing, are haunting.
The humans are closed for business.
The viruses are recalibrating, are nuzzling, are prophesizing.
The humans are cleaning themselves.
The viruses are passion-making, are sauntering, are stirring.
The humans are in bed.
The viruses are exchanging, are coalescing, are coming together.
The viruses are permeating.

This particular virus, known the world over, has an affinity for respiratory cavities. The virus likes to attend to breath and breathing. In tiny particulate form it storms the recesses of the lungs, lands and greets the cell tissue with a set of instructions. The body might react violently or not react at all. For some humans they simply ignore the virus and the virus drains from the body. For others, a storm takes place. The entire immune system is activated, flooding the body with antibodies in an effort to kill the virus. The virus by its nature can’t be killed since it isn’t exactly alive or dead—it is a set of instructions that you can choose to ignore or choose to engage. Either way you will be changed irrevocably. You will be changed knowing that others have been changed or you will be changed as your body becomes a host. The virus is full of possibility. Change is the gateway of possibility. What we resemble is viral infinity, infinite virility. The virus enters invisibly. Invisible code is seductive. You might feel hot and heavy. You might suddenly feel suffocated. Or you might feel nothing at all. Viruses move quickly—exponentially. The body experiences internal weather. The virus is the conductor of atmospheres. When the humans are in bed the viruses are at play.

A reminder to breathe. The squirrel’s thoughts are a little bit chaotic today, best to avoid the slippery ground. The humans spend so much time reminding each other to breathe. Remember to breathe, honey. / Its okay, just breathe. / Come, let us breathe together. Deep inhale. Deep exhale. / Keep breathing. The squirrel finds this curious, this constant reminder of having to do the utter minimum to live and to stay alive, connected to the rest of the world. Breathing is living, the squirrel thinks. The plants know this. The birds know this. The squirrels have known this. Hugging the tree and scrambling up, scratch scratch scratch, the squirrel is already in perfect synchronized breathing with the tree. Of course they are breathing together. How could it be any different? How else would the squirrel climb up the trunk if not for the permeability of breath that gives the squirrel strength and agility and gives the tree resilience and balance? The lifestyles of humans seemed strange, so many walls, windows, doors. So much entering and exiting across arbitrary thresholds. The white dog that stared out the window all day, barking at everyone. Why a window? Why the barking? Why an inside? The squirrel spiraled around the textured tree trunk, knowing that everything was changing in this movement alone, that a movement in any direction posed the winds to shift and a pursuit for a mate might lead to rain.

That’s what’s so great about this virus—it is seemingly everywhere and nowhere, inside and outside, dwelling and replicating, communicating and lying mute. A super carrier transforms a social network, coughs on strawberry plants, the plants relate to the virus, the virus rests. In order to spread, the virus needs a vehicle. Breath is convenient. To be airborne like a squirrel or a bird is spontaneous motion that feels exuberant. A strawberry plant has a relationship with the virus, with the squirrel, with a human. It is transitory. We don’t know the impact of this relation. Every moment yields dimensional relational facts. Just now an ant licked the corpse of another ant and placed the corpse in its mouth and headed back to the nest. The robin ingested a worm that had contact with the ant that died but not the ant that carted off the deceased ant. Little trails of viscous fluid for bodies to glide on or get stuck on. Just now language faltered in one instance and revived in another. I died and came back to life as a thought of a code I didn’t know I possessed. I don’t remember the dying aspect but I respect it. When I died it was fluid. I remember the feeling of falling and crashing and also the feeling of breaking like puzzle pieces into a vat of an unidentifiable substance that was very smelly and thick. There I sunk. It was a light year or a day before I reclaimed consciousness and the squirrel witnessed it all, or so I think. It is important to remember the chain of events. It is emotionally rich to recall how a squirrel or a bird or a dog were correspondent across species lines. This moment is an overlay with another moment where the virus was dormant and just a phrase conjured in a lake. Water and tears and sweat work well to inspire the virus to flourish. The ant’s blood is rich with code.

The dog is allowed to sit outside in the sun today, lying on its side on the warm concrete stoop with the sun streaming down on her furry body. She opens her eyes but squints for the sun, and relaxes again. A single black ant scrambles up the dried moss and past the moss spores and sees a large white mass. A steady up and down movement from the giant mass, a regular noise like a whirring or ocean waves magnified down to the proud size of ant. The ant approaches and scampers around the body, finds a part not covered in white fur, pinkish and dark, slightly damp and air pushed out of the openings. The dog is sleeping, or at least resting and very deeply breathing out here, in the warm sun, soft murmurs to indicate a kind of restful intensity. The ant moves with a different speed than the rise and fall of this larger body and the ant moves with a different purpose. The ant’s thoughts are elsewhere because the rest of his community is elsewhere and that’s where his thoughts dwell, with the rest of his congregation. It’s just today that his body has left wandering and finds himself here near this other, larger body. The human, seeing the ant so close to the dog’s nose attempts to redirect the ant. What if the dog inhales the ant through her nostril, she worries. She uses her fingers to try and push the ant toward a different path. The ant, without any thoughts, only moves his body. He is unable to think today because his thoughts are elsewhere so his body only knows to move toward the influx of air and so the human fingers become more frantic, so worried about the ant entering the dog’s nostril, and in her worry, and with her massive strength, that is, compared to the ant’s, takes off one of his legs, injures the ant. The ant is even more persistent, more determined, and the human pinches the ant in an effort to pick it up, to put him somewhere else, and instead, the ant is now two pieces of ant, wriggling near the sleeping dog. The human sighs. Uses her palm to brush away the ant’s body. Continues drinking her tea, observes the joggers go by without masks.

What is an apocalypse like for an ant—for this ant? From the Late Cretaceous time until now, how many apocalypses have there been, for ants? Is a mini-apocalypse still an apocalypse? When your species is threatened it is an apocalypse. When a colony runs in fear for their lives, every member runs away on six legs. The mandibles shake and shiver. There is a collective rush toward a point in the distance that represents safety, yet it might not exist. The queen must be perpetually in quarantine. She may not leave the colony or the colony will perish. Sometimes she must be moved for safety purposes. In this instance a dog’s nostril was about to absorb an ant. The ant would deeply affect the dog yet the dog might not be aware of this, save for a slight irritation. The code of the ant links with the code of the dog. They exchange valuable information. The ant’s body is absorbed into the dog’s. The segmented abdomen of the ant is liquified by the dog’s esophageal moisture.

Now the dog is dreaming. The dog is placid and dreaming a dream of her past life. The past life seems like a dream about the future. As the dog dreams the day elongates. There is no passage of time as far as the dog is concerned. One long dream that defies the ticking clock or the fading sun. Nighttime and the chill of night brings an end to the reverie. The dog awakes and feels an insistent need to communicate the dream to the wider public. All the dogs in the neighborhood tune into the barking expression. Another dog adds details from her dream. A roundtable: unanimous dreamers chime in. The dreams distill and crystalize. The core of the dream becomes a network of feelings and sensations that are broadly disseminated. The ant that died within the dog’s dream is also experiencing something like a dream but it is the ant’s afterlife.

In the dream of the after, the ant finds himself in a silent, deserted space. Haunted perhaps, but this is the after, and the past doesn’t persist in the present like it does for humans, so for the ant, the concept of haunting doesn’t exist. The ant doesn’t have any ghosts, so to speak of, is here, of his own accord, is in control, and just like that, the space is filled with a giant white mass, not unlike the dog, but here: cotton candy, clouds, dandelion fluff.

In the dream of sleep the dog chased a squirrel up a tree, and spiraled up the tree gracefully and skillfully. In the dream the dog had the capacity to breathe with the tree and breathe with the squirrel, and perhaps in this other world, the two animals might have been friends.

In the dream of restful attempts the human keeps seeing past landscapes that she has dreamed before. She has been to these places before, either in past dreams or in past lives, and she can’t place the when, but it doesn’t matter, she feels the tug and wounded familiarity of these landscapes that she can’t escape, that she can barely remember and yet can not fully forget.

Janice Lee is a Korean-American writer, editor, publisher, and shamanic healer. She is the author of 7 books of fiction, creative nonfiction & poetry: KEROTAKIS(Dog Horn Press, 2010), Daughter (Jaded Ibis, 2011), Damnation (Penny-Ante Editions, 2013), Reconsolidation (Penny-Ante Editions, 2015), The Sky Isn’t Blue (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2016), Imagine a Death (Texas Review Press, 2021), and Separation Anxiety (CLASH Books, 2022). She writes about interspecies communication, plants & personhood, the filmic long take, slowness, the apocalypse, architectural spaces, inherited trauma, and the concept of han in Korean culture, and asks the question, how do we hold space open while maintaining intimacy? She combines shamanic and energetic healing with plant & animal medicine and teaches workshops on inherited trauma, healing, and writing. She is Founder & Executive Editor of Entropy, Co-Publisher at Civil Coping Mechanisms, and Co-Founder of The Accomplices LLC. She currently lives in Portland, Oregon where she is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Portland State University.

Brenda Iijima is a poet, playwright, choreographer and visual artist. She is the author of nine books of poetry. Her involvements occur at the intersections and mutations of genre, mode, receptivity, and field of study. Her current work engages submerged and occluded histories, other-than-human modes of expression and telluric awareness in all forms. Iijima is the founding editor-publisher of Portable Press @ Yo-Yo Labs. She lives in Brooklyn.