being, and not being lonely

Earlier in March this year, I wrote the following excerpt about Edward Hopper's paintings for a MOB Journal piece:

The beginning of the global pandemic saw art twitter swimming with Michael Tisserand's tweet remarking how "we are all Edward Hopper paintings right now". It fit the bill. Hopper painted people seated at the edges of the scene, somewhat resigned to their tasks but not quite committed to it. His art is poetic and creased with sadness reminiscent of social distancing.

Ever since the C-word popped up on the internet, its fear and statistics have become an inmate in my head. I am constantly washing hands, and measuring the appropriateness of my social distancing. But social distancing isn't linear, its a wave of allied emotions, of which the most prominent seems to be loneliness. What moves me about the Hopper paintings, beyond the paintings themselves, is the seventy thousand promptly retweeting it in acknowledgment of an incoming bout of loneliness.

Under the layers of work from homes and sweeping and cooking during a pandemic, is an underlying pandemic of loneliness itself. Hopper once remarked that the lack of communication between the people in his paintings was a reflection of his own loneliness. "I don't know. It could be the whole human condition."

Right now I imagine all of us sitting by the window, collectively making up the dim-lit-equidistant-squares of the rectangle building, swimming in a sea of buildings. We are all Edward Hopper paintings. We are all asking the same questions, dwelling in the same fears. How long will this last? How do we bring intimacy into our isolation?

Now, towards the end of the year, I attempt to answer these questions, starting with this poem by Ocean Vuong:

— Ocean Vuong, from “Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong”

— Aracelis Girmay, “Elegy”

—Margarita Karapanou, tr. by Karen Emmerich, Rien ne va plus

“It’s so effortless to let my loneliness defeat me, make me mold myself to whatever would (in some way - but not wholly) relieve it. I must never forget it… I want sensuality and sensitivity, both… Let me never deny that… I want to err on the side of violence and excess, rather than to underfill my moments.”

— Susan Sontag, Reborn: Journals and Notebooks, 1947-1963

“Loneliness deepened by being a loner. Everyone else must be asleep for me to feel that I am not asleep.”

—Marina Tsvetaeva, from Letters Summer 1926: Pasternak, Tsvetaeva, Rilke

— May Sarton, from Cantickle 6

—Tomas Tranströmer, tr. by Robert Bly, from a poem titled “Track,”

And finally, this particular excerpt,

“I remembered the scent of loneliness / in my coat left draped over the chair. / I had fallen in love with its cut, / how it made me walk straighter.”

— Yusef Komunyakaa, from The Chameleon Couch

and this particular song,

As always, you can find more art & poetry on