For me, today marks three weeks of my kids doing school at home, practicing social distancing, and trying to find a new rhythm for work, exercise, solitude, and connection. With routines and relationships turned upside down and less alone time than normal, I have not been drawn to shows or movies in my tiny pockets of spare time. I have been craving art that is quiet and calm, words that acknowledge grief, perhaps with a pinch or two of hope. Reading and writing poetry these past few weeks has been just what I needed.
Here are a few poems of mine that I hope bring a moment of refreshment for you today. The first two were written years ago and the third one I wrote last week as part of a series of poems called “Today I Will” that I’ve been sharing recently on Instagram.
Use Your Words
All day long I say: use your words.
I train my voice to calm, choose
to not match the tantrum—diffuse it. His hands
flutter and flap, body sprawled, eyes turn
to me—something shifts, body lifts. I provide
arms, kisses, comfort, discipline. I am only flesh
and bones. I am more than flesh
and bones. All I have is words—
they swivel, coil, turn
him towards me, turn into leopards, turn
him away. This marathon provides
motivation. I fill myself with words
of life, slurp tide pools dry, hand
out harps to passersby, cleanse my flesh
Give me silence
and all the words that flow
“But for the opera, I could never have written Leaves of Grass.” —Walt Whitman
Without opera, the leaves would have stayed dull—
unnoticed, unannounced. But opera opened his eyes,
opened his whole body like the doors of an old house
now bought and lived in for the first time in years.
The house had been boarded up for so long there was no one left living
in the neighborhood who even remembered what the inside looked like.
People walking their dogs or pushing strollers down the street barely even
glanced over anymore to say, “Such a shame, such a lovely home that could be.”
And then it is purchased; the real estate agent so shocked she forgot
it was still on her list of available properties. She hands over the keys
and the new owner spares no expense in the revision, every crevice cleansed,
every inch of wood re-polished. The owner hires a famous landscaper to create a marvel
out of the yard. New windows, new exterior paint. Now everyone sees
what had always been waiting to be seen. The whole neighborhood
is transformed. One by one the other homes are repainted, reinvented.
High windows that no one ever bothered to wash can now bear witness,
yards that had been allowed to sprawl now trimmed with care. A young boy observes
the transformation every day as he walks to school and devotes his life to becoming
an architect, later designing sacred spaces. A blind man with a cane walks
by the reborn house and is so full of awe from the garden’s aroma
and the spirit of renewal hovering
he goes home and writes an opera.
Today I will (ii)
be a pendulum, swinging between awe
and disgust. The beauty of a bee paused
on a peach blossom is nothing
compared to the beauty bringing me
to tears these days: doctors and nurses
unretiring, unpausing. The sacrifices
of all the unseen people pile on my heart
as I hunker and hold, hope and heat
soup to eat. So much soup. I am stocked
up on compassion but my long aisles
of average patience are empty. All I have
to do is stay home with these precious
children and try not to yell at them
while I work, pass out waffles, send a group
text, cry, manage kid video call schedules, cry,
force everyone outside while it’s not raining,
work, inventory my pantry, pass out tiny cups
of raisins, kiss boo boos, pray, work, remember
to get fresh air, drink water, remember
this is grief.