Covid-19 Times · Quilt Finish

Memorium: Speech Acts for a Dying World

Speech Acts for a Dying World
19″ high by 20″ wide

I thought a long time about whether to alter this quilt’s perfect original symmetry of twenty inches square. The design, by Yvonne Fuchs, called out for such a premise: neat, ordered, tidy, structurally sound. Even-keeled, if you will. But with the advent of 500,000 dead Americans from the covid-19 pandemic, our world was none of the above. We were not even-keeled, neat, ordered, or even structurally sound, given the riots in the Capitol in January over the continuing big lie of the election. I feel this keenly.

When our guild proposed a challenge, calling it Sounds and Voices, I was all ready with a design in my head of a vision of people beating pots and pans in solidarity with the essential workers in New York City, a rite that has its origins in the protests in Chile years ago: women in the streets beating pots and pans, protesting in what was known as a cacerolazo. These sounds and voices of a cacerolazo have spread to Spain, to Mexico, to many other cities around the world, but coming home to America as show of strength for those in the early days of this pandemic. Knowing now the roots of this sound, I wonder if it wasn’t also in protest: protest against our inability to take our American-made gumption and beat this thing soundly. But the virus is boss, no matter what we think, no matter how many pots we bang.

After too many weeks inside and of not traveling more than five miles from our home, I got up from the computer where I’d just seen the image above, and said, “We have to go to the beach. Today.” My husband and I had tossed the idea back and forth many times, but all of a sudden we just had to go.

We took some photos of a grandson’s quilt, had a burger at a local shop and even grabbed a few groceries at a new-to-us store: in other words, we refreshed, just for a few hours. Back home, in looking at my ideas for the challenge quilt, they too, had to change.

Less than two weeks after our trip to the beach, this awful number came into the news around me. You all know the statistics: how many more dead than our wars or combined wars, how many families with that proverbial empty seat at the table, how this number will not stop here, but keep going. And now I realized that I would change the quilt’s dimensions and purpose, making it 19″ high (for Covid-19) and 20″ wide, for the year 2020, when our pandemic started.

I started quilting while watching QuiltCon lectures.

This quadrant is about the noise: sounds, voices, getting larger and more obstructive. It’s the daily statistics, the numbers, the news, the anxious waiting for vaccines.

This quadrant has the wind, clearing my mind, corralling the noise and sounds into a restricted space, even though they try to expand. The starfish is on the beach, a transition between the offshore refreshing winds, and the ocean calling out a rhymthic hushing of the clenched ennui in our world.

Beach at the top, descending into the sea, with lots of shells, some of which I brought home with me.

I thought I was done at this point, but I kept thinking about all the references to hand-work and stitching at QuiltCon this year and last. How do I stitch a shell? A starfish? Questions with no answers are my needle and thread.

This quilt is in memorium to those who have died, and the title is taken from a poem by Peter Gizzi. I spent a long time with this poem, using all my rusty creative writing/reading skills to tease out the meanings from his words. This section shown is the final set of stanzas. It references voice with its “whole unholy grain” and I took grain to mean the quality of it, the chorusing of voice, but then he cuts to an allusion of paradise, that place where the dead will congregate after death. Grizzi carefully charts the passing of time with his naming the constellations in the sky: a hunter, a bear, all undergirded by the “sound of names,” calling out for the dying, the naming of those who are sick, or gone, or merely absent in a rest home or a hospital.

He ends the poem with the line “the parade of names,” a bell-like tolling, a constant recitation in our obituaries and our news stories, a clear marking of those leaving this world for the next. It’s this era’s verion of John McCrae’s classic poem In Flanders Fields, a short poem about the dialogue between the dead and the living, a reminder of those buried there, keeping watch yet battling onwards, wanting us to

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
    The torch; be yours to hold it high.
    If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep.

While their enemy was about territories, and the next war’s was a horrific grinding of ideals and democracies under the hand of one small man, we must catch the torch, and not break the faith, no matter what our foe. Death is death. Those who are gone can never come back, yet are alive in memory and stories, fragments of lives told with the sound of our voices.

16 thoughts on “Memorium: Speech Acts for a Dying World

  1. Oh my, such a poignant, meaningful and beautiful quilt! Your words help us all maybe let out a bit of that grief we may feel, thank you.

  2. A deeply thought out rendering of the effects that a virus has had on mankind and how so many have approached it’s first appearance and the lingering affects is as staggering as the death toll Itself.
    I feel your struggle.

  3. So very beautiful, thoughtful AND thought provoking. It takes my breath away when I think about the past 12-months and the losses the world has incurred as a result of this virus. Your work is always so beautiful, Elizabeth, and very inspiring.

  4. It’s hard to wrap your arms around the totality of it. I think part of it is the inability to come together and grieve. After 9/11 there was service after service, vigils – you held someone’s hand. The distancing provides…. distance.

  5. We have escaped to the beach several times. Even before the pandemic it was our go to place.
    Crystal Cove seems to be our favorite spot. Moro Cove is so delightful. Something about looking out to sea and the continual motion of the waves is soothing and encouraging. Your quilt is beautiful and your words thoughtful. Thank you!

  6. Very insightful thoughts, Elizabeth. You have a way of doing that that few of us are capable of. A trip to the beach sounds perfect. I’m looking forward to the day we can do the same.

  7. The words are so spot on for what I and most likely others are feeling. I’m happy that we have begun to heal, however, “we have a long way to go baby”. Feeling as though I can only think about my small world and hoping the vaccines come soon. Hope and trust is what we all need but it seems to be in short supply. I believe there is hope and trust somewhere in the world.

  8. The mountains are our escape . . . just to be outside away from most people and free to breathe fresh pine scented air and hear the wind. It refreshes my soul. Going there tomorrow . . . : )

  9. As always, you combine your words with those of others to inspire, make me think new things, and also bring peace to me. Thank you.

  10. I’m honored by the alterations you made with the piece and the meaning you have embued into it with your quilting motifs and thoughtfulness. I’m glad that you were able to get out for a refresh and my hope is that we can continue to hold steady for long enough that we vaccinate well and more of us can safely begin to emerge.

  11. This post reminds me of Four in Art days and how I used to look forward to the quarterly design and meditation. A welcome post, a beautiful quilt, and thoughts to ponder.

  12. You have such depth to your experience and explanation Elizabeth, which speaks volumes on the type of person you- fierce, loyal and humble. I love the message behind the quilting of your challenge and how perfect is the size!

  13. Oh, Elizabeth, that is my home beach, my heart’s home. How often I have longed to return there during this pandemic, to think, to center, to renew. How long will it be before I can make the drive from my new(ish) home in Oregon back to HB? Who can say? Yesterday someone I love like family said she will never vaccinate her family, and I, an immuno-compromised person, had to wonder whether I will ever see them again. Where will I ever be safe again, and what kind of world do we live in, in which people begin their sentences, “Since the threat to us is only…”? For tonight I am going to turn to the positive and thank you for the glimpse of home. That will sustain me for awhile.

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