The Poetry Project

To-Do List, a recent archive

Alexis Almeida

For the past year, you’ve been making lists. You’ve been making lists your whole life, but maybe these were different.

At first the lists went: do this thing and then, once you do it, you can do what you really want. The least exciting things at the top. An email, or worse, a follow-up. Meanwhile, it hurt to walk, look too closely at a screen, or bend your knees, you were peeing all the time. Not often did your body appear on the list in any palpable way. You would peruse menus online trying to find something in your neighborhood you hadn’t tried – you were so hungry – but eating and all its ancillary threads didn’t appear on the list. Acupuncture appeared, but not often at the top. Plus another list cropped up: things you were supposed to eat to induce labor, which apparently were medjool dates and pineapple. You honestly didn’t think this would make a difference, and dates and pineapple tasted fine; still, you wanted cheese, and very spicy pork ramen, on this you felt very clear. And you loved apples so much. Never in your life had you loved a food like you now loved apples – particularly Empire apples – and though you spent many hours finding and eating them, smudging paper with their juice and leaving, then finding their cores around the apartment, this food and this love didn’t figure anywhere on the list.

There were ways of reading the list, once you had written it, or once you gotten some distance from it, that would reveal bits of subtext, residue from other trains of thought, or kinks the language itself had not fully worked out. Some days you wrote nothing, and those days were marked by fatigue, and freedom. Other days you wrote many things, as if at once, and those days were marked by the heaviness of time. There were things you needed to know: like what would happen, or what might happen to your body while giving birth, and though it was hard to say, you were definitely afraid, so you wrote the times of classes at the top of the list and later, and while sitting there, squinting at a screen, you watched a woman feel her away around a plastic pelvis she was holding to the light. “The pelvis will widen,” she said, tugging at the edges, and you could feel yourself rubbing the insides of your long sleeves, your stomach muscles tightening, then bearing down or whatever was happening you didn’t know. You instinctively added things like, “update syllabus,” “research triangles,” “read Sophie Lewis,” “send translation,” and then just names: “Lewis Warsh,” “Ulíses Carrion,” “Mónica,” “Shamala,” “[ask] Ben.” Each day the list (the future?) seemed more flustered and less doable, and the past became, at least you kept fearing, a more definite, immovable shape.

There were also things you couldn’t know: like how much “swaddles,” and “flanges,” would soon factor into your life – beyond appearing as words that stood for objects you needed to acquire, though you didn’t know how yet – meanwhile lockdown had begun, a prospective job with health insurance had disappeared into the pandemic and it had become dangerous to touch. Your anxiety sometimes weighed so heavily, your need to give it structure so ingrained, that there was suddenly a mysterious charge to the language, a wild dissonance between the words you wrote and what they seemed to say. Sometimes you wrote “put gas in car,” which seemed like an undertaking, and a branch started to fork its way across the page, with things like “read Renee,” “almond flour,” “go for walk,” “poems.” You wrote “eggs,” and “garlic” and meant “take a drive,” and “don’t shower.” You wrote “call Antonia,” and instead of doing that you looked up twenty random ocean towns; you wrote “buy plants,” and meant “read old emails,” or “cry.” Once, you had a long dream about floating inside a cave where the cave paintings, Ben’s paintings, were also “breastmilk.” Once you wrote a small poem a few weeks before Ash was born. Once you drove to Maine – peeing so many times along the side of the road – and while you watched Monroe swim you felt the baby move and said you were ready, though you didn’t know what you meant by “ready.” The love you felt was suddenly so intense, and this didn’t ready you so much as overwhelm you, though you couldn’t tell the difference at the time. When you got back, you still had to find a way to get the objects that loomed at the top of the list, though the labor and money it took to acquire them wouldn’t appear on the list; the trip you took also took place to its side.

The list also started to present caveats, and in those caveats a gentler tone. The things you wrote became more extreme – “set up the room” – which you knew you wouldn’t get to in one day. Perhaps with this in mind, the tone became gentler, but maybe also ironic, something funny was there – “make a cake,” “make a quilt.” You did not want to make a cake (though you would eat some given the chance), and you did very much want to make a quilt, though you’d never done this before and couldn’t learn at this very moment. Still, your friends came and wrote their name and little messages to “Mini,” which was then Ash’s nickname, on fabric for when you did; for this your friends’ names started to appear at the top of the list and stayed there a while. When you read things on the list like “walk the loop,” meaning the Prospect Park loop in the middle of cold December, in your own voice, it made you feel anxious pressure, but when you heard it in someone else’s, it made you laugh, like the feeling of wanting to break someone’s too-serious expression. The list also didn’t account for what it wasn’t making lists of, like Places You Would Love to Go (Portugal, Chile), Things We Almost Named Ash (Jonah, Orr), Places You Want to Eat But Can’t Right Now: Cocoron, Ivan’s Ramen, literally any place in Buenos Aires.

Just two years ago, you went to Greece. It seems impossible you were there but you were. You rented a car and saw the ocean from almost every part of the peninsula. You took hundreds of photographs at the Epigraphic Museum, you went to the same bakery every morning and got food for the day. You didn’t know how much you wanted to go (and in this sense had fulfilled a wish), and you can’t explain exactly why you loved it so much, just like you can’t explain, even though you’ve tried exhaustively, why you’ve loved certain people so much. The water was so blue. Just looking at it you felt good, and then you both got in. We’re sea creatures, returning home, writes Eileen Myles, or something like it, in their book about their dying dog. This is family. The hills above Athens were foggy but through it you could see the ocean and the burning sunset. We sat there so quietly and content. This is something you can’t stop thinking about now.

Just after Ash was born you were always sitting up in bed. There were blankets around you, swaddles, milk, books scattered, bottles. Your things were all there. There was no list. There was love that made everything very painfully alive. He was asleep next to you, then on your shoulder, Ash. You were feeding him all the time. You were wrapping him up, it was January. You were not writing, but you were saying things out loud, which you always do as you write. You were saying these things so you wouldn’t forget: “get lanolin,” “Sara’s coming,” “Lucie Elvin’s novel,” “rent.” You were saying things to be close to them, and saying made you tired; you were writing to remember this feeling, or a certain sensation as it passed through your body, and it always seemed like starting over, but this is not so different from before you had a son.

Work from Memory Palaces: Visions, Echoes, Forms with Lucy Ives