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from the June 2020 issue

notes from this city

Carolina Pihelgas maps a city emptied by coronavirus.


notes from this city,

which pants around me like a prehistoric beast. its skeleton juts from the riverside brush and the framework of buildings that crop up on the banks, wind flapping in their sheeted windows. its movement is fairly steady and silent, and yet careless, rooftops glinting, trees towering in the parks like obelisks.

with each day, the view from the window is increasingly my own gaze, telling me more of what is happening within than of without. the window frames have become national borders, the doorknob a border guard. the more the silence grows, the more the firmament contracts, constricts, congeals, and stifles, until ultimately the only boundary is my own skin—tensile and imperfect.

walking through the park some evenings, I see a little girl blowing bubbles by the pond. in the twilight they look like thoughts drifting away from her, semi-transparent, semi-silver, liable to burst.

the traffic lights blink yellow, empty city buses circulate along lanes painted on the streets, seeming to follow some long-forgotten rituals, the meaning of which no one knows any longer. and yet it seems so important, that movement, repetition.

wind walks the streets. when people are absent, there is always wind. dust flies down my throat and I try to keep from coughing. wind flies through my sentences like a bird that cannot remember from whence it set out or where it should alight.

sometimes fear approaches. it is an animal that can pass through walls. it appears out of nowhere and stares at me dully. sometimes in the morning, sometimes the middle of the night. it stares as me, just as dully, and then leaves. I’d like to offer it some food, for I feel it is hungry and weary from its long journey, yet I know that if I move, all will disappear.

the shrieks of seagulls in the night. inland gulls are so odd and yet, the white undersides of their wings against the dark sky. the day is wrapped, packaged into a tight bundle. sound is an echo with which to catch fractured dreams.

the city is still, the air crumbles like soil, brimming with doubt. at that moment, one may ask: of what do our shadows speak? perhaps of the loneliness we once tried to hide beneath tree roots, perhaps of some new expanse that will carry us to morning’s raw moors like tired children who keep on asking: are we there yet, are we there yet now?


"märkmeid sellest linnast," © Carolina Pihelgas. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2020 by Adam Cullen. All rights reserved.


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