Pandemic Poems 2
Some say pack away rice and beans—and cumin,
if you can….and would a bag of onions be too much
to ask? Some say a flute and sheet music, all the magic
spells of Bach—and maybe a little wine? Some say seeds
for the garden of my dreams, and wild birds glimmering
against the sun. Some say guns and ammo—and DVDs
for my long nights of fear. Some want books—epics, trilogies,
finally War & Peace, and even Moby Dick. Some get by
on a screen and wi-fi, going down the rabbit hole for days
and nights and days. Some say money under the mattress,
so much it’s bumpy when I sleep. Some say a phone
with a good charge, all my friends at my fingertips.
Some say I need final forgiveness, a call from my brother—
all I ever wanted. Some say love, love, love—a few words,
a look to live by. Some say all I need is health, the illusion
of long life. Give me, some say, silence and a meditation mat…
an existential question to worry in my mind…only to be
left alone…dusk without a clock…the night sky.
All these needs, wishes, yearnings, plans—and just think—
we’re all one world, one people, sheltering in place.
Symphony in a Minor Key
In the pandemic, it all comes at you with a roar—
the strings inflicting see-saw statistics of infection
and demise, crescendo building like a wave, while the winds
drive a descending economic scale, fretted with shrill alarms
on piccolo. Someone hammers the tympani for hunger, fear,
and fury, while the xylophone speaks news notes like bells—
and one brazen political trumpet blares from a throng
of muted brass bleating in cacophony. This is the scherzo,
the brazen rush some Beethoven left unfinished, raw
and random, longing for adagio.
From the promontory of your little life, you face this storm
of discord, your hair blown back, tears streaming from your eyes,
turning your head to seek inside this thunder, somewhere in there,
surely, a throbbing double-bass—oh beating heart, sustain us.
What You Always Wanted
Know how you never had the time? Intentions
abounded, then days passed, then months, years.
But now the pandemic has a wicked way to grant
your wishes. You wanted to sleep in—but the alarm
called your name. Just once, no rush hour?—but there
you would be, again, fuming, inching along at a crawl.
You wanted a garden—but the season passed you by.
You always wanted to play guitar—but the radio was
best you could do. You wanted to walk before dawn,
meditate, write letters to friends growing older far away—
but where were those stamps? You wanted to know birds—
but they sang from hiding, their wing bars a flash
of mystery. You wanted a world-class nap—
but at your cubicle, no way. You even wanted
to try poetry, of all things—and here you are,
making a list, as all around you the world
hungers for visions.
Hidden in Our Hardship
In the Great Depression, when hunger
filled the land,
Woody Guthrie’s ballads held out
a helping hand.
For all the screaming headlines,
and all the silent breadlines,
it was songs that helped that generation stand.
Now corona virus fills the news
and lock-down or contagion is what
we have to choose.
We don’t need no mystics
to understand statistics
telling us it’s time to sing the blues.
Hidden in our hardship there’s a song—
if only we can find it there’s a tune
to keep us strong.
Deep inside our sorrow
there’s a seed to grow tomorrow,
for hidden in our hardship there’s a song.
Do You Miss It?
A Catechism for Lock-Down
Texting: “I’ll be a few minutes late.” Calling: “I’ve hit
some traffic.” Thinking: “Does this meeting matter?”
Wondering: Is this how it has to be?
East side errand, appointment on the west, bridges
totally stalled. Idling in rush hour, blue smoke swirling,
talk radio percussive, circling the block for a parking spot.
Telling the boss, “That’s my birthday, but, okay, I’ll be there.”
Telling a child, “Maybe on the weekend…or summer.”
Telling yourself, “When I retire…maybe.”
Impulse buys online because—hey, the money’s rolling in.
Wondering what an eight-hour luxury sleep might be like.
Old friend encounter: How’s it going…Good, busy…
Great to see you. Gotta go. Telling your friend, over
your shoulderas you stride away, “Sometime, let’s talk…
I’ll call you…we’ll figure it out.”
Inmate Calls Home
Mom, I been all night worried—
this virus thing, they say it gets everywhere.
So don’t go out, okay? Get food, sit tight.
Read. Just read. You like that. Make calls.
Not great, I know. You love those friends.
Nights, I hear you tell them things.
Mom, I been worried—cabin fever. Yeah,
on the inside we’re used to that. Lots of practice.
Time just turns like a silly dancer, you watch it.
But Mom, what you gonna do with all that time?
No visits, no go where you want, no bench
in that park you like.
Nights, Mom, no worry. No worry,
okay? Me, I’m good. I’m so good.
In Virus Hardship Now
I Remember How My Father
Pulled the Plow
That summer deep in the dirty thirties—dust bowl,
no job, bread line, lean time—my father and his
high school friend found an island in the Ninnescah
unclaimed under the fiery Kansas sun, drew straws to see
who would guide—or drag—the plow, and to my father
fell the horse’s chance, climbed into harness, bent low,
and pulled. From face to dust, sweat dripped as furrows
opened for their few seeds of corn and beans, pearling
buckets of Ninnescah slathering the rows, my father
growing strong enough for war.
Dew in the morning when he wore leather and brass
to drag old iron through earth, scant willow shade
at noon, whippoorwill at dusk, and then, over lazy
waters of the Ninnescah, the moon.
Remember back in the day? There were weeks—
weekdays, and weekends, Sundays off, lots of
zigzag driving (how long to get across town?)…
and when spring turned the trees crazy we could
surrender and throng, mingle, pack a restaurant
or concert hall, a school or church, pump hands,
bump shoulders, laugh in each other’s faces.
Now, in lockdown, who knows what day it is
in the Sunday morning silence of the afternoon?
But we notice phases of the moon, know when
to call a daughter, when to write the friend
who lost her son. Now time grows long—
pandemic time, the mystic stretch before
a remedy, vaccine, any means of safety.
Is it twelve months, Dr. Fauci? Eighteen?
That time horizon keeps receding, fugitive
beyond our power to plan. “How soon?
Don’t hold your breath.”
Deep in the labyrinth of the Information Waterworks
a busy man hunches over his pipes and valves, easing
one open, another shut, so a trickle of truth may feed thirst
in one quadrant of the country, but starve another—or
he opens the silt valve to muddy the waters everywhere:
The virus has peaked…Miami can be saved…
money brings happiness…the poor deserve it…
free enterprise will solve it all…wars work…
wolves are the problem…super storms are natural…
men are just that way…out of sight, out of mind….
Problem is, that busy man is us, afraid of facts that hurt,
guarding positions instead of seeking convergence,
preferring comfort now over our children’s future,
ready to crank the spigot tight, but deep down
hungry for a long steady rush of clean rain.