I found this book, along with some others from the 1860s and 70s, in a pile at the back of a closet, and now I’m altering it as a form of therapy.
It’s also a way to play, to discover, and to stay curious. What strange repetition of images and contexts will I find? What is this found poem trying to say say to me?
In my mind there’s an emotional context that a reader might not experience, but it doesn’t matter. We make our meaning of it as the moment happens. The reader finds their own meaning, and the drawings add another layer.
It’s very restorative, the process of finding poems. It’s a moment I can dip into over and over, pour m’amuse.
The nutsy granola, aging-hippie in me chafes at the book’s intended purpose and audience, which is to introduce young, working class men to “polite society,” to help them polish off the rough edges and give them a boost in status.
But it also is fun to leaf through it to read the party tricks they teach, which all rely on word games or versions magic tricks such as “the three matches.”
Passing through wind currents above the clouds, I thought of the ancient Tibetan prophecy from the documentary When the Iron Bird Flies, that the teachings of the Buddha would travel far and wide when the iron bird flies west.
It was shocking, and not a little dreamlike, to experience going from a very small social circle that included my nuclear family, my sisters and niece, and a few very good, close friends and suddenly finding myself in Memorial Day travel at the Atlanta airport.
We were traveling to Oak Park, Ill to see my mother-in-law, more than likely for the last time, or maybe not. She is quite old, infirm, and suffering from dementia. She remains tied to her body by a silken thread, and so we plunged into the stream to be with her.
At the airport we moved in a steady stream of humanity, all of us wearing masks at all times, and I couldn’t stop staring at the sea of faces. The masked chins, the necks, the people wobbling like bobble heads with their neck pillows and luggage.
Driving on 285 toward Camp Creek Parkway was it’s own kind of anxiety spiral, with rows of trucks jamming up the lanes and stop and go traffic from an accident that appeared, when we passed it, to have incurred no injuries. People in the breakdown lane were smiling with their cars bashed from behind, relieved to be alive. I was relieved for them.
The Pandemic has made me much more conscious of my mortality. At 60, I’ve retired from public school teaching with a small pension, and I try to spend evenings on the back porch watching the sun set through the poplars and pines.
I’m so grateful to be alive, to have survived thus far, for breath, community, and connection. I want to dwell in these moments. My body and mind bask in the peace I feel under the trees in the evening air.
Even though the sea of masked humans was a jolt to my nervous system, I’m grateful to have survived the worst of Covid19, and I try not to live in the future. I practice acceptance of what is, to let my hopes and fears linger “out there” somewhere. I try to let my desires float like clouds, and I kiss their as wings they fly.
you seek the garden a place where the wind will inform you you are acquainted with a tempest of passion
My trip to the library in April for an outdoor community poetry workshop has continued to inspire me.
As many evenings as possible, I get out my work bag full of scraps of text from the librarian’s packet, and I begin to search for poems.
While I skim the text, I also allow my feelings to make themselves known, and lately what comes to the surface is worry about what some people close to my heart are going through, especially as we are nearing the end of the pandemic.
I also feel the strain of resistance. Four years of resisting the tyrant, starting with the Women’s March in 2017 and the activism I engaged in through demonstrations and letter writing. My body has aches and pains all over from holding stress.
I make collage art and found poems with watercolors and Mod Podge. My little chapbooks are therapeutic for processing my journey through this tunnel of time.
Lately I’ve been thinking about foxes. While walking my dog Red through the neighborhood, we saw (or smelled from Red’s point of view) a fox sunning itself in the middle of the street with a carefree attitude. It lifted its hind leg to scratch an ear as we approached. The mail carrier driving by said he sees that fox and others regularly in different parts of the neighborhood.
A large tract of farmland adjacent to our suburban street was sold a few years ago. A sizable woodland was plowed over and turned into another subdivision, so many of the animals that used to live there have had to migrate. In the last week or so I’ve encountered, wild turkeys, coyotes, Canada geese, mallard ducks, and now, this fox.
My good friend, probably the one friend who has helped me the most to get through this pandemic in a creative and soulful way, taught a few of us how to draw a fox, and as usual, I combined my drawing with words and images inspired from archetype decks.
In western folktales, the fox is often depicted as the villain who violates the hen house, or else the concept is applied to women as “foxy ladies” in songs.
I’ve read a bit about the Japanese tales of the kitsune, and a while back I wrote this poem below that incorporates one of kitsune stories. It doesn’t feel like a finished piece to me, and I’ve since poached lines from it to include in other poems, but it does speak to a certain desire I’ve always had to journey on my own, to enter the wilderness of the world as a solo entity without protection from the structures of society.
The Fox Wife Leaves Her Husband a Note On the Kitchen Table
How to explain this need to flee our home. She might have entered the half-moons of my fingernails Or could it be that, when I unzipped my human sheath To find her in my body, she had always lived here. When the dog bared its teeth and growled You laughed it off, but she, the one inside me, Stopped eating. Sleepless, she stares At the silhouette of pine branches under the moonlight, blue-black fan of needles on the hard snow. I've asked her not to leave, this fox inside me, but once a dog bites, it doesn’t forget the taste of blood. I’ve left milk and rice for you and the boy. Remember to make a paste of his meat before you feed him. One night, I might return, if the vixen in me desires.
Drawing at sunset on a still cool spring evening. Such a balm to immerse myself in fantasy, to tell stories to myself about plant people among the trees, bringing them to life while sipping a Juneshine, listening to Ella Fitzgerald and the birds.
Starting in January of 2021, I joined Daily Sketch, a Zoom drawing class that meets three days a week.
The teaching artist is Meagan Burns, who, in the before times, led art workshops in Mexico and other places around the globe.
My friend discovered these daily sketch classes last year, and her enthusiasm for the experience motivated me to try my hand at watercolor sketches myself.
Meagan is a patient and upbeat instructor. She allows light banter during our warm ups, and after each 20 minute sketch, she gives us time to share our drawings. She asks where we started, what materials we used, and at the end shows us her work and how she approached the subject.
The drawing I posted above is a combination of two references, a photo of two hands opened up like a book, and another of a large butterfly that looked like it was superimposed with a layer of neon pink.
Since my drawing skills are limited at best, I always add an element of imagination to camouflage mistakes I make or to get my ego out of the way.
I love surrealism and the techniques the surrealists used to jettison conditioned thinking about art and to let chance operations and stream of consciousness come to the foreground.
So if I make a mistake with the lines, I go with the mistake and improvise with color or context. Then my imagination takes off and I start musing about scenarios and settings that are based in myth or folklore.
The poet Anne Sexton is known to have experimented with her typing mistakes by keeping them in the poem and allowing them to change the direction of her writing. In this way, I can see how my playing with watercolor sketches influences how I write and the kinds of poems I hope to create in April.
I drew at sunset again. For the second time in a row I pulled the card Thanatos from The Wild Unknown Archetype Deck, even after shuffling the deck several times. It was the card on top. From the bottom, I drew Agape.
I tried to connect my feelings of divine love and wonder and my inner, emotional concept of death. There are some feelings about death and loss in me that I doubt my capacity to handle. Drawing and coloring, writing the actual words, helps me process my fears or doubts in a healing way.
I listened to Nina Simone and worked on reconciling living in the eternal present while looking at Thanatos as directly as I could manage, knowing that my body will one day return to the earth.
The word “pandemic” derives from the Greek words “pan,” meaning “all” and “demos,” meaning “people.”
The etymology of “pandemic” is different but somewhat related to the word “panic,’ which traces back to the French, “panique” and the Greek god Pan, the deity with goat legs, the torso of a man, and goat horns growing from his man-like skull.
According to the Ancient History Encyclopedia, Pan became an exceedingly popular god whose name soldiers invoked in the heat of battle. Later, the terror and chaos that arises during war was also associated with this god.
My husband, a medical news journalist, began covering daily coronavirus reports the last week in January, after our return from the Palm Beach Poetry Festival.
By mid February, we saw how the virus was spreading like a panic. February 18, the stock market crashed in a virus-related scare, and I began to wonder if AWP would be canceled. But at that point I thought it would be fear mongering to ask my friends if they still planned to go.
Two weeks later, the conference went ahead as planned, but by late February and even into the first week of March, many of my friends decided not to go because they didn’t want to inadvertently bring the virus back to their own communities.
It wasn’t until the first week in March that the pandemic arrived in the county where I live. That week we were already doing “chicken wings” and “foot bumps” as greetings at the yoga studio where I practice. We were spacing ourselves at least six feet apart. The YMCA where I swim laps closed its group exercise programs, swimming lessons, and their child care hours.
The new coronavirus pandemic has also caused pandemonium, Latin for “the place of all demons.” It created “panic buying” among the people, as we raced to stores to buy cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, and pantry items.
On Thursday, March 5, I pulled into a Trader Joe’s parking lot after a blissful yoga class. Even under ordinary circumstances, it’s inadvisable to enter a Trader Joe’s parking lot after practicing yoga, just because of the parking lot squeeze.
But I braved suburban car frenzy to buy some wine and a few other items for dinner, and was shocked to find almost the entire store depleted of bread, milk, frozen food, and staples like rice, pasta, and canned goods. (Plenty of beer and wine remained!)
It turned out that while I had been supine in savasana in a state of relaxation, the county school system had announced that schools would close and would transfer to an online platform.
One man in the county had been hospitalized and died, and several school staff members had come down with covid19. Apparently, many individuals had traveled to Italy during February and thus were exposed at airports or at their destinations.
We are all makers now. We are pan-artists. Some will make songs and stories to express their longings, their fears, their loneliness,
Others will bake bread, make yogurt, and grow gardens, domestic work that many have now recently embraced if they have the privilege of staying home.
I’ve written only two poems so far this month. The concept of April as poetry writing month has lost urgency for me. Poetry and art and all forms of myth-making and meaning-making are a means of spiritual survival now. It’s an ongoing practice that continually renews and sustains me.
Yoga, poetry, painting, long walks, and chopping vegetables are my way of loving the world and loving life. I hope all beings everywhere can look within and find what makes them whole, what heals them.
April is the cruellest month, breeding Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing Memory and desire, stirring Dull roots with spring rain. Winter kept us warm, covering Earth in forgetful snow, feeding A little life with dried tubers.
In 1996, the Academy of American Poets designated April as National Poetry Month as a way to bring attention to the importance that poetry plays in our lives.
Last year at this time, I wrote about four or five poems, sharing them each week with a friend, and we would then give each other suggestions for revision or offer an interpretation of how we read the poem.
We’ve agreed to do the same weekly sharing of a new poem during April this year, too, but I can’t find a subject that I want to write about. I know many poets are probably writing about quarantine and social distancing, but that’s not where my mind is as far as writing goes.
I signed up to receive daily writing prompts from Two Sylvias Press, and I’m planning to go back to them at some point, but I can’t find the release valve on my writing brain to let the words just come.
Instead, I catch myself staring out the window for long stretches, watching the new hickory leaves unfurl. I’ve been walking my dog and letting him get filthy in the pond where pollen pools on the surface like a film of a crushed hard boiled egg yolk. I’m washing my hands probably more than I need to, considering the raw, chapped patches on the left hand.
I’ve re-started my personal yoga practice finally, although I have taken a few Zoom classes. It’s hard for me to pin myself down to a specific time to practice now that the classes are streamed live. When I’m home, I don’t usually keep to a schedule.
But maybe a schedule is what I need, especially if I want to beckon my creative mind. Sitting myself at my desk or out on the back porch with a pen and a notebook every day, just like I roll out my mat. Yoga, meditation, and writing are interconnected for me. One leads to another.
As far as The Wasteland goes, last year I was emerging from a painful depression during April, and I agreed with Eliot’s first line that “April is the cruelest month,” though maybe it was for different reasons than his own intentions for writing.
This year April is also a cruel month. Just when the earth is greening in the Northern hemisphere, thousands of people are dying. It’s a sorrow that’s hard to reconcile with the season.
Though we’re separated physically, mentally and spiritually we can still stay connected to each other.
Today, I took a Yin yoga class on Zoom and had the chance to engage with the instructors and the other students, who are also my dear friends. Honestly, the whole experience was a true delight.
Of course, I’d rather practice in person, but the energy we created together, each in our own rooms, transcended the limitations of physical space.
We connected on the imaginal plane, or the astral plane, as this concept is described in yogic philosophy.
When I left the room after the session, my husband was at his computer working, and I was so relaxed that I couldn’t enter into a conversation with him, since the wavelengths of our energy were so different.
He’s been working long hours because of the coronavirus. He’s a journalist who covers medical news, so it’s all hands on deck for him.
My job has been to prepare healthy meals, clean, and maintain an upbeat attitude. It’s the least I can do as we ride out this storm. I’m so grateful to all the people who are working to provide yoga classes, food, and mail to all of us.
If before this virus people didn’t realize how interconnected we all are, I hope more are now aware of our mutual dependence.