A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
Some thirty years ago, a great friend, Miles Donald, an English novelist and literary critic, who lived somewhere in the wilds of the English countryside, invited me to come for a weekend visit. When I arrived, he said that he wanted to show me something in which, he believed, I would be very interested. We walked behind his cottage where there was a barrel shaped structure of indefinite age. When we entered, he threw the light on the ceiling where some of the most fantastic imagery I had ever seen in my then vagabond life came into view. The space was filled with writhing figures, horrifying, and as I immediately understood, victims of the plague in the 14th century. So, the humble structure that Miles insisted I visit was 600 years old and inhabited by a gallery of tortured souls. The experience was…”sobering.” I wish the hundreds or thousands of careless spring breakers on the Georgia beaches could have seen this before they arrived to possibly infect each other.
— James Hopkins, historian (private letter)
José Alcantara: New Love in the Time of a Global Pandemic
for Matt Like bodies of unpolluted sky, bluebirds appear in the elk pasture. More and more of them every day. It begins with a fever and a dry cough and soon the meadow is flush with blue outbreaks. It does no good to distance yourself. There is no vaccine. Best to just throw yourself across the ditch and start singing. When the sun hits you will break into beauty. -- Cynthia Atkins: Social Distancing My ex-brother-in-law died this week in the middle of a Tsunami pandemic, this illness of global might. And at this moment, when the world is shutting down of each last concert and diner— I’m remembering that it was he that taught me about Jazz. At 15, my friends listening to Peter Frampton, as I inhaled Miles Davis, Stanley Turrentine, Coltrane’s long vowels of sound. Today, the news is bleak, and it’s not too far-fetched to imagine all of us breathing with masks on. We will not be getting dressed for weddings or funerals, any time soon—all markers of life—be damned. Nocturnes in the moon light, where people are singing Acappella out their windows. Stitch by stitch, we pick up where we left off. Now file this under biblical or epic---Our daily rituals parted like an ocean. Invisible venom in the snake’s jaw--now, human laws keep us six inches apart, keep us from touch. Awash in all our natures, this will be the portent of who we really are. A new normal— comedians without laughter, jazz without smoky rooms, burying my ex-brother-in law with a prayer and lethal hands. -- Charles W. Brice: Bottled Lives We’re living in a laboratory beacon. No restaurants No coffee shops No Nothing Avoid everyone by six feet Stay in the house The backyard’s okay Walk outside away from people Words emailed to our friends from their daughter, an infectious disease physician. Judy, my sweet wife, riddled with arthritis, pinned and prodded by a ruptured disk, prepares medical marijuana squares garnished with cream cheese and brown sugar. I make my world famous self- distancing chicken noodle soup (In my apocalyptic panic I forget the noodles!) and my quarantine-special yellow cake with homemade chocolate frosting. We sit in our porch room, listen to Chopin, write poems, and marvel at how shadow and light prism through our lives. Like bees captured in a jar we buzz around, bump into glass walls, dream of the world outside.
-- Judith Alexander Brice: CORONA’S JAWS- Week 1 Yesterday he prowled across the front yard— white, reverse-raccoon face— black eyes peering through the tailored ivy, skinny tail sweeping back and forth and legs quick- skittering across the grass, as if to glance, to search for minutes of food, perhaps even rest— like that time when his uncle sashayed along our drive, ‘til Zorba’s canine jaws made short shrift of this thing that so resembled a squeaky toy he couldn’t help it, couldn’t resist the shaking, the grabbing, ‘til this strange thing went loose, went silent in his mouth— then limp, went dead ‘til I ambled out to dispose of the helpless soul in a refuse bag and found he’d walked away, played possum in his baby rose slippers, guided by the scents coming in to his tiny pink nose— and led by his sense of life, his instinct for tomorrow. The beveled windows of our sun-room refract a prism of sunlight today, yesterday as well. We look out at the manicured garden which our silent possum left behind, and wonder when the jaws of COVID might grab us, shake us. Which of us will rise again, amble away? And will a rainbow of colors be there to greet us, steady us on our way? -- Judith Alexander Brice: CORONA— Week 2 You are so much bigger than I and yet you cower, even wince when my name is whispered. You run and shy away as you think of me, my crown. Though why? I am so lovely, I say, all blue and pink— dainty, tiny. I wear my power softly, shed it in silence from face to arm, from breath to sleeve to lip and back to lung as I dance invisible from tiny drop to vest your shroud a desperate peace. You can’t hide, never run away. Forget your fears I say. Just seize the moment with its sway, its solitude and quiet I have offered, as you await my victims, my death that will surely come in time. And watch, pause these days, their weeks of change, the merge of winter into spring, grasp the gold of forsythia, its turn to lilac, a scent of summer sure to come.
Sydney Lea: Balloon and Flowers
–for Goran Simic I dropped into sleep while reading a book of poems by the Bosnian friend I write for here. They’re brilliant, full of red flowers and graves and wrenching accounts of his homeland during the 90s. They lend some perspective on our COVID-19 scourge, which I don’t mean to downplay, much less to discount the unforgivable part in worsening it of our leader, jackass and villain. Goran’s a Serb, and his wife was a Muslim woman: during the troubles, he really had nowhere to turn. His poetry makes my guts knot; it’s not a sort you’d think of as soporific, but being so anxious for three generations of family has made me restless almost each night, and so of course I was tired. I’d been sitting in my wife’s dear grandfather’s rocker, handsome but sternly wooden. I still nodded off, and when I came to, I noticed that I had drooled on my shirtfront, like any old fool might do; and yet the sun of afternoon through the kitchen window turned even the spot of spittle to something lovely. Unlikely enough, and the next things to snare my attention were a once-vivid mum in a glass and a reddish balloon left from my wondrous partner’s 64th birthday, back before we knew what the world was in for– although that contemptible leader had been forewarned. Our grand children’s eyes turned bright as my wife blew out candles, the smaller kids batting balloons like that one up into air… All that before some weeks unraveled and people got sick and some died and that balloon and that flower, sole survivors, puckered and shrank to half their old sizes and somehow looked so sad that I went back– it makes no sense, I know– to those agonizing poems of plunder and murder.
Adrian Rice: Beginning to Learn
First walk around our Oakwood neighbourhood, down past the silent school and into the cemetery. I chose to spend longer in the graveyard to avoid the living as much as possible. Not in the way I normally do, to be honest, just to be alone, but this time to try to stay away from other walkers who might be out, in case they’d worry we’d pass by each other too close for Covid comfort, invading each other's 6 ft zone. Last time I felt such an unnatural hush was when all the Irish birdlife suddenly shushed as the last century turned with a full eclipse. As I got back close to home I noticed, for the first time ever, a couple of robins in the middle of the road outside our house, pecking away at bits of mossy grass breaking through the tarmacadam. The robins moved slowly, unfussed, not their normal edgy selves, no usual fear of big wheels rolling past. It’s like they know. Already discern. What we are only slowly beginning to learn.
John Samuel Tieman: marriage and the coronavirus today we went to Sunday Mass virtually we kept thinking of the Danse Macabre but not so much the dance as the time before the habit of death has yet to visit upon us like when we hear the plague is in the next village so we go to church virtually and think again of the medieval monks and nuns and the deacon who understood distance from the other and from God and distance from the violent black bird and the crimson ice cliff and of a cloister where there are only holy oils and a breviary in a chapel of terrible blue stone but for now I shower and my wife shaves her legs because the disease is just down the street so we slow dance in the living room to Satchmo's “What A Wonderful World” and we are wonderful old barn owls in the belfry of our modern convent all eyes in the dark way up here and waiting
Michael T. Young: Spring During the Outbreak My daughter trots into the living room asking what the tree in the neighbor’s yard is. It’s a magnolia. One of those short-lived, early blooming spring beauties. Malia swings back toward the kitchen, singing, “It’s so pretty.” And I think of all those pink hands cupping the morning light, how, in mere days, they will drop it all. Something Malia would never let happen. She needs to touch everything in her exuberance, pull it in close, which makes our newly instituted afternoon walks obstacle courses of infection, where we warn her to drop the broken necklace she picked up from cracks in the sidewalk, not to tug at each tag on the posted sign advertising a room for rent in the next block. Beside us, my son walks a spartan line with hands in pocket. We instruct Malia to do the same. Still, before home, she presses her face to a storefront window, and jumps to smack a stop sign on the corner. I think of hands, these most versatile machines, gripping, poking, finding their way or losing and how a priest in South Africa, during apartheid, lost both his hands to a letter bomb, and was never again able to hug those of his congregation, to press his hands onto their shoulder and reassure them, how our hands reach toward a need that has no words, a need my daughter is desperate to share. Magnolias open, Malia’s hands, and the world Holds out to be held. --
Compilation copyright 2020 Michael Simms. Poems are copyrighted in the names of the individual authors. All rights reserved.