Introduction to 'LEVITY': Seven Writers Look for Respite from Our Daily Doom & Gloom
Antidotes only exist out of necessity, given against something already present, already acting upon the body. Without the danger that calls them into action, they may hold no value for us—but when we need them, we need them desperately. This one-off series is designed to have antidotal properties, by collecting and dispatching a sustained chord of light-hearted positivity, written against a cultural moment that overwhelms and frightens and covfefes us daily.
‘A light when all lights are out’, ‘a welcome reprieve’, a cute story that plays at the end of the news telecast featuring the baby elephant at the zoo: these are some of the ways we describe such instances where the pressures upon us are alleviated, when we can avoid thinking about the gloomier realities of this life. But we wondered, what other kind of meaningful comforts might be possible? A writer friend recently spoke about the need to capture moments of levity—especially when working with subject matter that might be brutal or traumatic—moments that, however small, offer respite and a provisional hope.
In need of a blast of hope ourselves, we asked seven of our favourite writers to respond to this prompt of ‘levity’. How different, how bright and nourishing their responses are! Some are catalogues of everyday epiphanies; some revel in the freedom of a disappearing future, or the sick pleasure of our own debasement; and others carve out new ways to imagine what lightness can consist of, whether through matriarchy, joyful subversion, or play.
This series explores the healing properties of lightness, and of fleeting, unexpected ecstasies. It asks how these experiences relate to one another and what they can achieve in accumulation, relieved from their usual role as an afterthought to tragedy.
'Winter Litany' by Josephine Rowe
If you want to know the whole of it:
I woke at 5am at the end of spring and gambled on stars if I see a shooter, I’ll stay the winter a child’s bargain but there it was, a heartbeat after pale scratch through wet emulsion, the first and last and only (who or what has this kind of time for us?) and what might be so flawless as the unflown flight, the unspent summer? the forfeiting of longest days, the 42nd parallel south for the 42nd north for the woods on the far bank in the final riot of their turning treeline all fiery plumage and the house filling with ladybirds the Hudson at the outer edges of daylight, colloidal the voices of the porters on the Empire Line boats wintered in blue and white ship-wrap overhead clamour of goose-traffic the vivid, inexorable apparition of my grandmother in an airline seat, face tilted to sunlit window, mild smile directed at which landscape? If you will tell me why the fen appears impassable strangers materialising with sprigs of blue gum, as if in sweet conspiracy: the Hollywood film producer at the Metrograph bar, the St Lucian on the overcrowded 5 train the first hush of snow, frail bird and squirrel tracks stitching fresh powder letters twice-forwarded, care of Toronto, care of New York (i.e.; being found) branches of oak and birch and maple now leafless and feathery as axolotl fimbriae birds’ nests of all sizes laid bare, their architects elsewhere work-roughened hands catching on silk, catching on the pages of Akhmatova You will hear thunder and remember me, / And think: she wanted storms a suitcase of love letters between his lost parents buying pirozhki in Little Odessa to eat on the Coney Island boardwalk, brilliant winter sun clanging around the shuttered amusement park rink ice after the Zamboni has smoothed it to steaming glass the word Zamboni elderly couples learning to ice skate, holding each other up small dogs in small rainboots the chirring of a landscape in brief thaw listen Daiginjo and green apples wolf sock blocking the draft from a door lights from river tankers flooding the bedroom how the heart interprets a freight train fellow strays; You needn’t belong where you needn’t belong a ring carved from a block of cedar heartwood favourite warm dress in the post, in lieu of a new dress The Gramercy Typewriter Co., up four flights through an unmarked door threading new ribbon with ink-stained fingers watching squirrels communicate with their tails, a bushy telegraph (he doesn’t get it) tips from the war photographer on sturdiest hiking boots handwritten markers to the Atlantic Ocean (135 miles), to Lake Tear of the Clouds (185 miles) the Adirondack Northway on Christmas Eve with nothing in the rearview geophony, biophony, anthropophony it is somebody’s job to name storms (but Ethan?) it is somebody’s job to turn the pages of the Shahnama under glass at the Aga Khan, to decide which gilded heroes, horses, flames it is somebody’s job to take the koi out of the fountain before it freezes and to care for it indoors until spring Persian lessons in the next room: I’ve hurt my paw. Please bring me a salad. Please also bring me some cheese two palm-sized stones from Lake Huron, one pink, one grey Washington Phillips a blue linen shirt rolled at the sleeves walking down Bloor Street with five gold balloons on the coldest New Year’s Eve in a century an obsolete constellation memorialised in a meteor shower postcard dated this time last year slipping from a book of poems (Li-Young Lee) the place it was marking now lost, or at least, not certain: the moon never hangs in both skies / on the same night going silver, already a deer appearing in the yard at the word deer
This is the first in a seven-part series called 'Levity', published in the Lifted Brow 37. You can purchase a copy here.
Josephine Rowe is the author of two short-story collections and a novel, A Loving, Faithful Animal.