In Their Own Words

Too Soon to Tell

Early in the Covid-19 epidemic, Forma Gallery in the UK asked if Erica Baum and I would like to take part in a project about distanced, artist collaboration during quarantine. Eight years ago, Erica and I worked on a short book together with Erica's images and my poems for the Cahier Series and we both welcomed the opportunity to collaborate once more. We started the project in March, when the number of COVID deaths in New York was terrifying and continuing to escalate. We were both staying home as much as possible and consciously writing in the moment, and then the moment changed radically. After the murder of George Floyd, that era of isolation ended and we were both out marching, and also listening. That time of intense listening became part of the collaboration, too.

Idra Novey


How long can you remain smooth and reflective as a full glass of water? Or will your stillness be more like vinyl, some kind of matter through which sound can pass but no luck with light. Are you growing dim is the question.

Yes, is the answer.

Early April
Perhaps now is the time to play violin again with the kind of exuberance that came to you in high school. Within the fixed lines of your quarantine days, you wipe the dust from your violin.

You dust and sit, days of this.

Late April
The few voices that pass outside the window begin to sound as dynamic to you as music. You realize you are indeed honing a skill in this long spill of days inside.

It is for listening.

Your theme for the evening is desolate breakfast. With each week of the same spoon, the injustice of who keeps dying, and who doesn’t, becomes more brutal and bewildering. Your relative who is essential leaves at night for the hospital and says her theme is fractus—

every hour another jagged fragment of cloud.

The light bulbs burn out all at once in your apartment. In the darkness, you remember you still have the alphabet and turn it on. You tap at the keys and fear you are hitting every other letter wrong. This far into the era of isolation you don’t know what else to do except continue tapping

rapid letters in the dark.

You ask the oak outside your window about your motionlessness, your role in the atrocities happening on monstrous repeat. You memorize the long list of names someone has taped to the tree and you do not need the tree to answer.

You stand and find your shoes.

"Too Soon to Tell" by Idra Novey. Reprinted with the permission of the author. 

Erica Baum, Melted Down (2020) and Full Circle (2020). Courtesy of the artist and Bureau.

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