Distanced: Julia Gaskill

Editor Sam Preminger, Poetry, April 30th, 2020

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“Distanced” is designed to connect artists impacted by COVID-19 with potential patrons.
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April 1st.

I saw this coming a good week before
any friends or family or Facebook acquaintances.
Feels like that week was an eon ago, these days.

How I watched my salary suddenly slip
through my fingers, powerless, and
was left gasping for air while everyone else
still had their heads above water.

How at the end of February I had
a cold, and I worried aloud
          but what if?
and was told to jump to that conclusion
was an absurdity – when I guess it really wasn’t.

While everyone was still going to work
and sipping their morning coffee with content,
my body crafted itself into a panic attack,

and oh how much it hurts to say
that I am so comfortable here.

Feels like senior year
of college again.
Feels like my sexual assailant
in the class I am TA-ing again.
Feels like my mother’s funeral
again, again, again.

My body panics and my brain says,
          good.
I wake up from a nightmare and my brain says,
          we have been here before.
I break down in my car and my brain says,
          this is the price of survival.

I turn my panic into a buoy,
a lifeboat, a lighthouse.

Something to keep me
alive.
Something to keep me
still coming back up
for air.

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the poet logs 100+ hours of Animal Crossing
and feels the need to justify this act with poetry.

I am worried I will come to resent my villager.
How floral patterns dance around her head
as she chatters with Marina or Derwin, no six
foot requirement necessary in their conversing.
She goes to the store multiple times a day
without even flinching, as if that isn’t in and of
itself a miracle or a health risk. Money is not
even a factor, all she has to do is go fishing,
test her patience, and she walks away with
enough bells to cover my rent for the next
four months. My villager dresses so well. Like,
so so well. Her wardrobe is overflowing with
the brightest colors and raddest styles. In her
shadow I am but a shadow, clad in black
and gray, trailing behind, an afterthought. My
villager owns her own house, did so by day three,
didn’t have to wait thirty plus years to brag of
this achievement. She can assemble so much
furniture, doesn’t have to ask Scrambles or
her boyfriend to hang a picture frame for her,
nope, she can do it all on her own. I named my
villager “Julia” because I am human and want to
see myself in all that I do, but the longer I play,
the more I don’t recognize this virtual entity. How
much she smiles, goes outside, gets shit done. You
wouldn’t catch her on the couch for hours on end,
crying in her car, sleeping in too late. On my villager’s
island, the words “depression” and “pandemic” and
“isolation” do not exist. Why would they? She lives in a
paradise where everything comes simple and flowering.
Hers is a heaven which, even before our reality shifted,
I have never recognized, but in the now I find myself
full of ugly want, hotheaded words. What I would give.
For a world where everything is sugar-sweet ease. A
morn that does not start with the breaking but, instead,
with a wave from a cheery neighbor, who just happens
to be a pink rhinoceros. An eve that is not an endless
rattle of panicked spirals but a chance to wander a
world beautiful and manicured and safe. A life where
I do not envy that which is not even real to begin with.

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April 6th.

I had to go to the ATM today,
and when I arrived there was
already a man attending to business.

So I did the thing.
I planted my feet,
fostered two Shaq’s worth
of distance between us.
This man saw me at a glance
over his shoulder, nodded, continued.

As I lay in wait,
hands adorned with
cotton candy rubber gloves,
an older man, face wearing
the kind of mask
my dentist tends to prefer,
approached the scene.
Without a word,
he pointed at me, then the ATM’d man.
I nodded. This man nodded.
Then he planted his own feet
just as I had done.
There was what felt like
a mile between us three.

All of us planted firm,
growing patience, blooming
in our understanding
that this is how it is now

and look how we
can still show kindness,
still keep humanity
in our back pockets

by giving each other
more than enough space.

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April 8th.

 

i.

The woman to my far far right wonders aloud
if we are living through a waking nightmare.
She is sitting astride a maroon bicycle
as the pair of us watch figures clad in hazmat suits
evacuate an ambulance and enter an apartment building.
It is the closest I have felt with another human in weeks.

ii.

I keep rubber gloves the shade of pansies in my Subaru.
I put them on and feel invincible for the first five minutes,
until I touch my face or my phone or my fanny pack
without thinking, and then it becomes all for naught.
This is the epitome of a placebo, how these soiled gloves do
nothing but we all feel better once we slide them on.

iii.

A bag of homemade masks now sits on the desk in my bedroom.
I stare at it and know I will have to bury my face in one tomorrow.
I am scared that my clients might see me and, in return, be scared.

iv.

Three weeks ago, I was walking and saw another human
quickly retrieve their mail while wearing a hazmat suit,
and I laughed out loud at the absurdity.
Last time I checked, I’m no longer laughing.

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April 8th.
Part 2

i.

The woman to my far far right wonders aloud
if we are living through a waking nightmare .
She is sitting astride a maroon bicycle
as the pair of us watch figures clad in hazmat suit s
evacuate an ambulance and enter an apartment building.
It is the closest I have felt with another human in weeks.

ii.

I keep rubber gloves the shade of pansies in my Subaru.
I put them on and feel invincible for the first five minutes,
until I touch my face or my phone or my fanny pack
without thinking , and then it becomes all for naught.
This is the epitome of a placebo, how these soiled gloves do
nothing but we all feel better once we slide them on.

iii.

A bag of homemade masks now sits on the desk in my bedroom.
I stare at it and know I willhave to bury my face in one tomorrow.
I am scared that my clients might see me and, in return, be scared .

iv.

Three weeks ago, I was walking and saw another human
quick ly retrieve their mail while wearing a hazmat suit,
and I laughed out loud at the absurdity.
Last time I checked, I’m no longer laughing .

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Julia Gaskill (she/her) is a professional daydreamer hailing from Portland, Oregon. She has competed multiple times on national stages with her poetry across the country. Her work has been featured on FreezeRay Poetry, Ink&Nebula, Rising Phoenix Review, Knight’s Library Magazine, Voicemail Poems, and more. Her poem ‘I Will Not Beg For Scraps’ was nominated for Best of the Net in 2015. Julia is the author of four chapbooks, runs the mic Slamlandia, co-founded the Bigfoot Regional Poetry Slam in 2019, and just released her debut spoken word album, Stouthearted Bitch. It goes without saying that she loves Muppets more than you. Find Julia at @geekgirlgrownup or facebook.com/jgaskpoetry

 

Learn more about “Distanced: Artists Under Quarantine” here.
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Sam Preminger

Sam Preminger is a Portland-based poet. Their work has appeared throughout various publications and they hold an MFA from Pacific University.