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.
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.
It’s been a month since I returned from Delray and the Palm Beach Poetry Festival held there in the Old School Square, and since then I’ve barely looked at the five poems I started in Adrian Matejka’s workshop.
Matejka is not only a gifted poet, but he’s also a brilliant teacher. We started the week off by reading A. Van Jordan’s essay on ways to enter the writing process of a persona poem, and each day we wrote a different type of poem by following some of Jordan’s guidelines.
The Big Smoke, Matejka’s book-length persona poem collection, explores the life and relationships of boxing legend Jack Johnson. Matejka writes in the voices of Jack Johnson and the women in Johnson’s life, an ambitious project that took eight years of research and writing. It wound up as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, a well-deserved honor.
In the workshop, he told us that the hardest poems for him to write were the ones in the voices of the women, and that he would never attempt to write in a woman’s voice again, not feeling able, artistically, to accurately portray a woman’s psyche in the first person.
Part of this discussion of whose voices to write in involved the subject of cultural appropriation. The week of the poetry festival, American Dirt launched, and with it, the controversy surrounding the white author’s choice to write in the first person about a migrant Latina woman and her struggles to cross into the US.
It was a timely example of the pitfalls of choosing to write in the voice of someone whose life is completely outside our own experiences. Maybe if author Jeanine Cummins had written in the third person, her book would have been more honest. Latinx writers felt justifiably angry that a white author would receive a six-figure advance to tell a story that wasn’t hers to tell.
All of this is to say that it’s no easy task to choose a voice to write in that’s also relevant to the times we’re living in. I tried to create the voice of the Mona Lisa, but gave her a sort of feminist mindset. I also wrote in the voice of a street tarot reader, a crystal ball, and Anne Boleyn, who was accused of applying witchcraft to seduce men who attended her in the court of Henry VIII.
The week in Delray went by in a blur and I was fairly exhausted the entire time, probably because we drove there from Atlanta in one day and didn’t arrive at our Airbnb until close to midnight. Delray is only an hour north of Miami, and has the unfortunate distinction of being close to Mar a Lago. While the festival was going on, the impeachment trial was, too. All of that was an uncomfortable tension buzzing in the background.
We’re in an Emperor year, but it feels like the Emperor is reversed.
According to Mary Greer, when the Emperor card shows up reversed in a reading, it indicates: “Autocrat. Self-righteous tyranny. Or, weak-willed, unmanly cowardice… Trust betrayed. Failed leader.”
All of these words can be applied to the current occupant of the White House as well as most members of the Republican legislature.
Where can we as a society find the stability, security, and order we seek? How can we heal the planet and also ourselves? By integrating our shadow and becoming whole. By reconfiguring old patriarchal values, a square pillar, into a circle divided by a cross, a mandala for wholeness, stability through inter connectivity.
The Yoga Teacher Leads the Women in Camatkarasana In the Time of Fetal Heartbeat Bills
Nothing is born and nothing dies, she says.
Wheels of light keep spinning, circles
of energy that turn through the spine.
As you arch the back from root to crown,
cinch the energy with your rad corsets–
light your abdomen and lumbar from within. Indigo waves pulse at my third eye, in sync with Tibetan bowls and gongs sounding in the background, a flashpoint of understanding, a head rush. Ground your feet, she says,
shine your heart toward the sky, extend
one arm to the clouds. You’re wild things,
wheels of astonishment glittering in the sun
This is a poem of resistance in the face of State efforts to curtail women’s rights over their own bodies. I wrote it when this bill was passed in Georgia and elsewhere, and although a judge has placed an injunction on applying this law in Georgia until the case is settled, another case in LA is heading to the Supreme Court. It’s hard to stay focused on each limitation, each attempt to oppress the people, so in this poem, I focus on internal liberation, available to each one of us.
Tarot Card Spread from a prompt at Pretty Owl Poetry
Pretty Owl Poetry is calling for submissions of poetry prompts based on the Tarot. I decided to write a poem based on their prompt, but going forward, I might try my hand at an original prompt.
[The Camino Spills Across the Highlands]
The Camino spills across the highland
after crossing Basque Country mountains.
Poppies constellate gilded barley fields,
blood-red blossoms fibrillating like hearts
against the sky. So close to the sun here.
The astonishment of flower-comets
wilts with the heat, the weight of all the miles,
if I can remember the way home, no map
but the riddles spelled in the stars.
I didn’t look up the traditional meaning behind the cards, but tried to intuit the actions in each one and told a little story that the cards reflected to me.
I’m in the middle of writing a collection of poems about a pilgrimage I took to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, so when I saw the Page of Pentacles, my mind went to the moors in Spain and the delight of seeing the poppies in the fields.
The words in boldface come from Kimberly’s prompt. The words in italics are my impressions of the cards.
1.Mind of the poem, Page of Pentacles: awe and childlike or youthful curiosity at the beginning of a journey. Finding a treasure in a field.
2.Structure (body)– The Ten of Wands: The burden of gathering all ten wands, leaning into the labor, struggling against the work. The poem is bunched together in ten lines of ten syllables each to reflect the number ten and also the bunched up wands the man is carrying.
3.Spirit— The Chariot: The future is an enigma (Sphinx) that draws the chariot. The stars above are his only guide. He is a messenger of the gods (caduceus, symbol of Hermes). He’s leaving the comforts of home behind, unafraid.
His essay about invention (titled “Invention”) and how writing poetry was how he confronted the panic of possible death has also inspired me to write every day. Poetry is a means of survival.
I’ve been trying to write at least some lines of poetry every day as a challenge to extract myself from the mini-depression I went through this winter.
Winter was dark, rainy, muddy. Even in March, depression clung to me, like sticky hands holding me down.
When the sticky webs started to feel like a cocoon, I understood on a more personal level TS Eliot’s opening lines in The Waste Land:
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
To cope with the intense melancholy and anxiety, I started thinking of the time between winter solstice and spring equinox as a period of germination.
I was a seed in protective darkness, no need for the light, even if I did crave sunlight and walked my dog whenever the sun was out, no matter how cold.
Once the clocks changed and the days grew longer in March, I wasn’t ready to emerge from the safety of my protective shell, the haven of my bed, the soft armchair, the warm kitchen and the making of soups.
Even though I’ve taken the semester off from teaching, an unpaid sabbatical so to speak since I’m an adjunct professor, I haven’t been working on my manuscript about my travels in Spain.
The stickiness is still there, but the fire is returning. I’ve been writing new, unrelated poems to revitalize my creativity.
Jericho Brown’s “Duplex” series and the form he has invented (read them in his new book!) have opened up more pathways for me and others. He is a true bard, an oracular young poet who keeps astounding the world with his human songs.
I also realize that it’s somewhat problematic that I’m using Jericho Brown’s wholly original poetic form because I am a white woman. I’ve lived a protected life. As Brown says about his form,
In his essay he goes on to describe his process, explaining that his duplex form carries traces of the ghazal, the sonnet, and the blues. That the couplets grew from lines he had written and saved from as long as fifteen years ago.
What I want to make clear is that I’m writing in Jericho Brown’s form because I find it beautiful and musical, but I won’t try to profit from his inventions in any way, such as trying to publish a duplex in a poetry journal.
Here are my two attempts at the duplex, written over the last two days:
I walk to where the creek water pools
To see the smooth darkness of its surface
To see the smooth darkness of its surface
Is to behold a circle with no circumference
This circle with no circumference contains
A benevolent silence, a suspension of time
This benevolent silence, this suspension of time
Is what I’m seeking when I’m alone on the trail.
When I’m alone on the trail, the dark water
Stills, impenetrable, until I peer over the bridge
Peering over the bridge, a carnation tree weeps
Its petals onto the glassy skin of the creek
The pink petals fracture the surface–a mosaic–
My reflection where the creek water pools
I See Hawks
This day is a glass fishing float
Suspended in a net of clouds
Suspended in a net of clouds,
mineral smells of the river
In the mineral smells of the river
A hawk appears again. I’m tired
Of hawk sightings. I’m tired
Of omens, of signs that point to what?
Harbingers that point to what
I won’t fathom. A poem should have words
To fathom this–this net that suspends
The world, this day floating in blue glass
I’m writing you these lines to say goodbye before you forget you ever knew me. Under the eaves, a house wren trills its cry. In the morning, it wakes me from those dreams where you’ve forgotten you ever knew me. Birds whirl around your room, and then you die. In the morning, they wake me from those dreams of needing you to teach me how to fly. Birds whirl around your room, and then you die, even though you’ve swept them from the roof beams out the window. Birds have taught you to fly through this world, stitched with invisible seams. Even though you’ve swept me from your roof beams, I come to ask you where you’ve gone and why this world is stitched with invisible seams. You wake, then forget, leaving threads untied. Once more I ask you where you’ve gone and why. Under the eaves, a house wren trills a cry that wakes me from these threads I can’t untie. Dear friend, I’m here again to say goodbye.
One of the last times I met with my therapist, a beautiful elderly woman who became like a mother to me, she was seeing clients in a home office. She had suffered a car accident, and she thought the accident was contributing to her memory loss.
That day in her office a bird flew into an adjoining room, so Joanne (a made up name to protect her privacy), got a broom and swept it through the open springtime window.
Around the same time period, we had a bird’s nest near our bedroom window, probably a wren, hence this poem.
I thought of Joanne the other day after reading Robert McFarland’s “word of the day” post on Twitter:
He asked readers to share someone who has acted as a mentor in our lives, and aside from a few excellent poetry teachers, Joanne’s spirit came to my heart-mind.
When she sold her house and moved to an assisted living home, she stopped seeing clients, of course. And I was bereft, not in the way I was when my father died, but a long, slow, heartache that still hasn’t quite healed.
Now we have another nest in the wall, but this time, it’s a squirrel. We have a wildlife management company working on relocating the animals, and we’ve sealed up the hole, but there are tin patches that we’ll need to replace with new siding once the weather warms.
Joanne was the first person in my life who reflected my own spiritual beauty and worth back on me. She taught me to show compassion for myself, to value my inner hopes and dreams. I will always be grateful for her guidance.
I can’t replace the void that Joanne’s illness left in my life. Since her retirement, I haven’t found a therapist who relates to me the way Joanne did.
My mentor is my inner guide, my own true nature, often elusive. To connect with my inner voice requires patience, stillness, faith, and hope.
For six months we drove to the clinic every day–
infusions to cleanse his septic blood.
Sometimes we’d stop for coffee along the way,
and I’d try to go inside the shop alone,
but he’d insist, he could walk on his own,
so I’d help him out the passenger seat and we’d shuffle
into QuickTrip, get donuts, too, then trudge
toward the clinic for the cure, a dose a day,
antibiotics for his heart that wouldn’t heal on its own.
He refused surgeries, transfusions of blood.
He even drove to church to do his prayer shift, alone
at two AM, a 24/7 adoration of the Virgin, his way
to ease the shame, I guess, maybe for his wayward
youth, he didn’t say. I’d chide him as we stepped
from car to curb, tell him not to drive alone,
to let the others pray for him this time, a daily
vision of healthy cells washing his blood.
Always the father, he never did listen or own
his eldest daughter had some sense of her own.
On these drives we’d talk politics and the way
the country was heading, the bad blood,
the fear one candidate stoked, but walking
was painful, and he grew weaker by the day.
He watched the news from his recliner when he was alone,
but he didn’t live to hear the words I alone
can fix it. He believed what he saw with his own
two eyes on cable news, the lies they spun every day.
He wouldn’t have it when I said propaganda was their way.
I tried to show him how they twisted the truth, stomped
all over the facts. But his kidneys were failing, his blood
ever thinner. In the end, all that mattered was blood
relations, forgiveness, love. In hospice, I left him alone
the night before he died. Still thought he’d walk
out of that place. The nurse said he was afraid on his own
in the dark. Even with opiates, he couldn’t find a way to sleep.
He asked for me. I drove right over. He stopped breathing that day.
There was a blood moon, auger of end times, in the days
before his death, a lone orb pointing the way,
an opening of sorts, a door for him to slip through, quite easily, on his own.
I wrote this poem last year and was thinking of including it as part of a manuscript I’m working on, but it doesn’t quite fit the project.
My father died in the spring of 2016, right after the Republican primaries. He was still following politics up until maybe the last month of his life. When the primaries came around, he was too sick to think about voting.
He watched cable news quite a bit when his decline set in, although he read a lot, too. When I told him that Fox News was biased and prone to hyperbole if not outright lies, he downplayed it and said, “Oh, they can’t do that, they have to report the facts.”
My father was an old school, corporate conservative who saw the Republican Party as the party of wealth and prosperity. His parents, my grandparents, were blue collar union workers from PA who always voted Democrat.
I think he wanted to be different from his father, who did not receive any schooling after eighth grade.