Long ago, in the storm rocked Cantabrian Sea, My friends and I heeded some impulse to strip And plunge below the jagged breakers. Blood pounding in my ears the only sound As waves swirled above like illuminated thunderheads. Later, we sat on pockmarked boulders at dusk, An electric charge in the air. Hushed breath, chests rising And falling as though joined by an invisible current, The shared knowledge of what we had risked. Today, I enter the pebbled shallows of a man-made lake. My footsteps tear through the reflection of pine trees, Warp their curve upwards with hill’s rise, their sun-bright Branches greening the water’s mirrored darkness.
Today I’m thinking about youth and the vitality I once had. When I wrote this poem this past spring, I was feeling content with the peace and calm I had arrived at.
But as I’m going through another depression of the agitated variety, my nerves completely shot, I marvel at how I used to thrill at riding wooden roller coasters or swimming in rough water.
Yesterday I took the second Covid booster, which hasn’t seemed to cause me any great distress, but the new medication I’m taking for anxiety has tired me as my body adjusts. I’m still hoping the anxiety will ebb, but so far, after ten days, I’ve only experienced minor improvements.
Guided meditations and lap swimming have helped ease some of the pain. Distractions like walking my dog or gardening when the heat is not too unbearable also help. Remembering that all things change and are changing every moment is a consolation, too.
After the windstorms, we wake to snowslides of petals on the grass, First loss of the season, these lung-soft ghosts.
Fire-striped tulips affront our sorrow, waving their wild colors as we pass. After the storms, we awaken
to what we should have known, that the first kiss could also be the last. Memories linger like soft little ghosts.
A flotilla of pollen cloaks the lakeshore, concealing the water glass surface– opaque in the storm’s wake.
We used to fear a certain swimming-hole, so dark, where the children might slip from our grasp. Time has turned our fears into mean little ghosts
that drag us down like an undertow, our breath heavy in the laden air. After each rainstorm we’re awake to a springtide of loss, these sallow ghosts
This poem is a variation on a villanelle I started a few years ago during April and that I recently revised a bit.
Dark pools of water show up frequently in my dreams, and they show up in my poems, as well.
Sometimes I see animals coming up out of the water such as alligators. In general, when I see dark, murky waters in my dreams, I think I’m dealing with the unconscious mind, memories I might be afraid to look at.
But if I do manage to sit with the fears during the dream, the water sometimes will become clear and the creatures inhabiting the dreamscape become colorful and whimsical, not at all scary and creepy.
My poem doesn’t get past the fears as the speaker contemplates loss of petals, the memories in the dark pools of water, and in the background, the loss of so many lives to covid.
Although I haven’t been posting them on his blog, I have written several new poems during the last two years, some of them directly about the pandemic.
I think most poems sort of slip their meanings into the reader’s mind without plainly stating their focus, but this one that I’m sharing is my recollections of the pandemic as they occurred.
Last year at this time I took a Zoom writing workshop with poet Tina Mozelle Braziel, which was all about recording our experiences of the pandemic. She stressed the importance of relating our experiences as a way to express our collective impressions of this upheaval in our lives.
Everyone who has lived through the pandemic has their own story to tell, and I hope to read others’ impressions as we emerge from our covid cocoons.
We Tried to Name Our Sorrows Until We Learned This Is What the Living Feel
We were all in it together, we went it alone.
We attended funerals, weddings, bar mitzvahs
concerts, conferences, basketball games,
still ignorant of the aspirated particles in our midst.
We washed our hands to the Happy Birthday song
until we didn’t know the two red crab claws
creeping from our rolled up sleeves.
We doom-scrolled Twitter for signs of relief.
@Honeycomb said, Smear cow udder ointment,
wear cotton gloves to bed to ease torn cuticles.
We scoured surfaces with lye, sprayed germ killer, isopropyl alcohol,
witch hazel, essential oils.
We tried to ignore the sick feeling when we flushed toxins into water streams.
We opened windows and turned on fans.
We wore bandanas, gaiters, balaclavas, repurposed bras
over our mouths and noses.
We dreamed of surgical masks and dining in public
rooms with barefaced others.
We dreamed of dark passages, of driving into oncoming traffic.
We became survivalists, conspiracy theorists, kooks.
We followed directions–one way for pasta aisle, another for bakery.
Flour and yeast disappeared off shelves. Frozen pizzas,
beans, toilet paper–only two per household allowed.
When meat and chicken thinned out, the tyrant ordered
factory workers back on the job, no hazard pay, crammed
together breathing the same tainted air among the carcasses.
We watched the numbers ticking up state by state.
We were told it would disappear by Easter.
We were told it’s just a little flu.
We were told to ingest bleach and hydroxychloroquin.
We were told it came from a pangolin sold in a wet market.
We were told it was someone else’s fault.
We were told to blame the liberals, the Chinese, the Antifascists,
the scientists, the doctors, the governors of states.
We were told to stay at home.
We were told to open things up.
We parked our cars in bread lines at stadiums until we ran out of gas.
We donated to food pantries, gave out twenty-dollar bills
to people holding cardboard signs.
We spotted folks cash for Uber rides, helped family pay rent.
We made mushroom soup and discovered adaptogens.
We boosted our immune systems.
We stopped hearing cars and trucks whining above the canopy of birds.
We saw satellite photos of smog clearing over Beijing, Tokyo, Mexico City.
We saw Dolphins swimming in the turquoise canals of Venice.
We crooned ballads of gratitude on balconies at sunset.
We danced to Despacito on rooftops in the fresh air, planted
tomatoes and basil in pots.
We remembered the before times, the Himalayan salt caves
with mediums and the angels they channeled,
with zero gravity chairs, meditations
moon circles with candles, the bay leaves and crystals we buried,
rituals we continued in solitude.
We protested in the streets and declared Black Lives Matter.
We lost friendships. We stayed in touch. We cut ties.
We lost our elders, our beloveds.
We drew ourselves into storyboards that chronicled our inner journeys.
We consorted with the lions, gators, and dodos of our imagination.
We read tarot, runes, oracle cards, the stars.
We cut out silhouettes of acrobats and jugglers in gold paper.
We ate popcorn for dinner in the dark on the back porch.
We drank cheap wine from Trader Joe’s.
We scrounged around for cannabis brownies in places
where it wasn’t legal to consume.
We forgot what days and months were.
We lived inside a shaft of light.
We lived inside a leaf floating to ground.
We lived inside a wilted amaryllis blossom turned the color of a bruise.
* * *
“Wild Thing” or “Reading the Newspaper” by L. Kleysteuber, used with permission of the artist.
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.
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.
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.