Here to Stay

by Anthony Tao, Liane Halton

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New Normal 02:32
The viruses had first and last names until there were too many to count. We grafted masks onto their faces and by that point, what did names matter? We locked them in boxes sealed within larger boxes built in ten days, but still they leaked out into the streets, bumping randomly into people who could not see. Watch for them, we whispered, but to us they all looked the same. We practiced saying plague, a fun word, not knowing the other ways we are doomed. We stalked the side alleys with déjà vu, feeling we’d done this before, back in another lifetime—spying on neighbors, reporting family, misery enforced as baseline. In a way, we are all the same disease. To survive humans, you have to give up humanity—so says the tyrant within. Our lungs cracked like sheet ice. Breath whistled through our veins like steam. We searched for sickness, but there was only sharpness, like guilt.
The virus watched, nose pressed against the window, but the lovers didn’t notice, they rolled like bonobos, shaking the bed. We heard through our walls, which means they could hear us, too, shaking in ways animals can, forgetting—forgiving—our limbs, our organs, all the ways our rococo parts can thrash, can work toward climax, can spoil, omphalos of all the worlds where we exist, our vigor omnidirectional. On the other side, our other neighbor pounded on the wall. Damn him, we thought, could he not take it up with the virus, out there? Of course, we knew we were being unfair. The virus was here to stay. We could sense it even now, lonely virus shivering in the cold, eyes alit upon the ecstasy unfolding, time and everything stopped, its breath fogging up our window, trying to leave a reminder, its mouth curled in an O, shouting Ooh-la-la. And, Bravo!
Solo 01:51
In the Air 02:40
Masks. Wearing them, we were more aware of the other. Our eyes locked more often, for longer, searching for provocation, gauging interest down to conjunctiva. We experimented with sounds, soughing and snuffling, and remembered the lessons our cats and dogs had taught: ears back, head tilted. We were polite to those we did not care for, widening our expressions, softening our brows to say we understand the feeling. But occasionally, next to a body we leaned toward, we grimaced with yearning, with agony and despair that we could not rip off these masks and laugh at our poor nerves aflutter. Our gazes settled on cloudshadow and withy, old tiles on rooftops and dragon wings rippling the pale blue. We saw the ways we merge with the world, with the air, taking into our lungs the trees, the purslane in pavement, the rewards for being who we are. Magic, we said to ourselves, forgetting what we were afraid of.
In Our Wants 03:50
We smiled through facemasks, said hello with our brows, held open doors to remind each other we were still here. We nodded knowingly on our grocery runs, greeted, The sky is nice. The air, clean. We were surrounded by kindness that made us forget our grief; we found decency that made us forget the rest. Our hearts itched for reason, our minds wanted for touch. Whatever else we craved, of insurrection or truth, whatever small bonuses we desired for ourselves, or ailments we nursed, of anger or temperatures, we did it indoors. We pulled our curtains and waited till the kettle screeched, then said exactly what we had always wanted.
In the Heart 03:20
We stopped saying hello. We infected with caprice, infected ones we love with doubt, those we dislike with conviction; with memories of the gone, which is an exacting affliction, afflicted as we are with the same disease; with misunderstanding; with truth blasted out like a sneeze; with borders we could now see; with suspicion and blame we no longer kept to ourselves. The virus was gone. In those early days we replaced it with energy and humor, then with our sense of what is righteous, trying to infect others. A triumph for our country, the news trumpeted, while we questioned if we deserved it. We leaned away from bodies, stopped holding doors. We dragged our feet on office carpets, burdened by familiar debts. We looked mockingly on those still masked, forgetting the ways we are infectious. We walked the streets like sorrowful ghosts and with two fingers rubbed our chests. What is it that was missing?
Here to Stay 02:40


In late 2019, the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 changed everything.

We were in Beijing when the outbreak occurred. Working on this album provided necessary catharsis as we watched the virus circulate through our neighborhoods, our society, our hearts and minds, and then our world.

We hope this album finds you safe and healthy wherever you are. It is natural to feel fear, grief, and anger during times of crisis. But far from dividing us, let these feelings be proof of our common humanity.


released May 22, 2020

Cover Photo: Nina Dillenz
Inside Photos, Art, and Design: Andrew Braun, Zuhui Ghang, Sven von Wildenrath, Simona Murrone, Wil Turner, Dennis Sazonov
Mixing: Kevin Carafa

"In the Air" video by Nina Dillenz:


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Anthony Tao, Liane Halton Beijing, China

LIANE HALTON graduated from Rhodes University in South Africa in classical guitar performance and composition. ANTHONY TAO is an editor and writer whose poetry has appeared in publications such as Prairie Schooner, Borderlands, The Cortland Review, Kartika Review, Frontier, Asian Cha, etc. ... more

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