Tag Archives: 2020

#375: Poem on April 1, 2021

Okay, first of all, happy National Poetry Month! Second of all, I feel just a little bit of shame that I have not posted a poem on this blog site since April 30th of 2020. I have, over the last seven years, been in the habit of celebrating National Poetry Month by writing a single poem on each day of April. In between the Aprils, I have, from time to time, continued the practice of posting poems here, you know, to keep things moving in the poetry department. 374 poems in all. But 2020 proved to be a dismal year for poetry, as it was dismal in many other ways as well, at least for me, at least until a very late kind of redemption that took place around November. I think I may have written one poem during all of the rest of 2020 after April–and for some reason, it didn’t end up on the site. Suffice it to say that things are a little rusty over here. I have, I suppose, been saving my poetry energy for other things, like writing about The Plague Year, like surviving said Plague Year, not only by remaining healthy, but by trying to keep my head above water in this brave new world of enforced Distance Learning and Teaching. I’ve been talking to myself, talking to a computer screen, talking to 9th graders’ junior high school pictures, all year long. It makes Jack a dull boy. So after this long preamble of excuses for not writing poetry, let’s dig in, shall we? See if we can recapture the spirit, get this poetry department back in order, open for business.

As always, it is my practice, at the beginning of each day in April, to visit the mighty NaPoWriMo website for inspiration. Every day in this lovely place there are things to read and consider and a prompt to get one started, if one needs a boost. The prompts are always optional–we wouldn’t want to make the compulsory poem-a-day feel any more compulsory than it already is by requiring people to write from a prompt. But I find these things helpful and often do take up the suggestion–especially if, instead of a subject matter suggestion, it’s a crafty one. You know, write a limerick–but write it about whatever you like–that sort of thing. Even as I write this I don’t know what I will do–but I will tell you what the prompt is, if you like, just to give you a feel for the thing. Here’s today’s prompt:

“Today, we’d like to challenge you to spend a few minutes looking for a piece of art that interests you in the online galleries of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Perhaps a floral collar from the tomb of Tutankhamen? Or a Tibetan cavalryman’s suit of armor? Or a gold-and-porcelain flute? After you’ve selected your piece, study the photographs and the accompanying text. And then – write a poem! Maybe about who you imagine making the piece, or using it. Or how it wound up in the museum? Or even the life of the person who wrote the text about the piece – perhaps the Met has a windowless basement full of graduate students churning out artwork descriptions – who knows?”

That was actually not the prompt from Day 1 of Napowrimo, but the early bird prompt from yesterday for those folks who, for some trick of the sun and the moon and the orbit of the Earth were already in April before the rest of us. I liked that prompt, and immediately I knew the piece of art I wanted to grab, one not found on any of those links. Do you want to see it? Here it is.

This is a piece by a Polish artist named Rafal Olbinsky. It appears to me that it was used to promote a performance of a work called “Don Carlos” by Verdi, but I know it, at least that part of it that begins above the tip of the naked guy’s sword, as the cover of a novel I am currently teaching, and have written about before here on the blog, called Kalpa Imperial by Angélica Gorodischer, a super important practitioner of fabulist, fantastic, or speculative fiction from Argentina.

My god, it’s late. Way later than I wanted to be writing my first poem of the month. The day has been a kind of train wreck. There is a part of me that would like to just bail and cry April fools! But there’s the other part of me, the Catholic part, that insists that a poem gets written today come hell or high water. So I proceed. Trust me. Even in this moment, as I’m writing this, I have no clue about this poem–what it’s called, what it’s about, how it will look. I only know that somehow it will be inspired by the art above, maybe by the novel I’m teaching, and that it will happen on this screen underneath this paragraph.

Poem on April 1

I have a city growing
out of the back of my head.
It’s ancient, built of stone,
full of towers and spires
that reach, as long as I’m
looking at the ground,
to the sky, to the stars
and the blood red moon.
The city out of the back
of my head prefers this
orientation, reaching up
while I’m looking at the dirt.
But if I hold my head upright
and look full forward,
the city out of the
back of my head reaches
behind me, always following,
always trailing, like ghosts,
like memory, memory like ghosts,
ghost-like memory, a whole
city of things I cannot forget,
things I would not forget
even if it were possible.
As much or as best as I can,
I try to keep my eyes focused
ahead; I move my body forward,
try to see straight, while the city
out of the back of my head
continues to grow, building
itself larger than life in my wake.

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A Journal of the Plague Year: #23

If it ain’t one thing, it’s another thing. Welcome to the shit-show that is 2020. First, we had the coronavirus. Schools close from March all the way to the end of the 2019-2020 school year. Teachers learn on the fly to conduct the business of teaching and learning from a distance. George Floyd is murdered, one more death in a catalogue of violence against black men at the hands of police. Then, civil unrest, of which, Portland seems to be the epicenter. Then, in Kenosha, another black man is shot seven times in the back while he reaches into his car where his children are watching. More civil unrest in which people are shot and killed, in Kenosha, in Portland, the violence exacerbated by members of right-wing extremist groups converging on protests for justice to “keep the peace.” An endless litany of Trump administration scandals, only two of which include the reveal that the president knew how deadly the virus was before making a number of public claims to the contrary, and additionally, that his administration has syphoned millions of dollars away from a fund to help New York City Firefighters suffering from illnesses caused by the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center–this story, no-less, published on September 11th. The virus, after killing nearly 200,000 Americans, shows no signs of abatement, and schools across the country decide to continue with distance learning at least until November, but more likely, indefinitely.

Then there was a wind storm.

And then came the fires.

As of today, 860,000 acres have burned. Estacada, 23 miles away from where I live, and Molalla, 22 miles away, have been ordered to evacuate. Oregon City and Canby, respectively, 4.3 miles and 13 miles from where I live, have been ordered to get set for orders to evacuate. And my town, Milwaukie, about 9 miles from downtown Portland, has been told to get ready. We are wringing our hands–should we be packing? Has anything changed? Nothing has changed. What should we take? Where would we go? Why am I coughing? Has anything changed? Nothing has changed. Over three days, essentially, the alert level has remained perfectly consistent. We put some supplies in a bag. We’ve made some lists. We’ve gathered up some key paperwork. I’ve taken pictures of valuable instruments and books. None of our clothing is packed.

Mostly, we’ve closed all the windows in the house and we try to stay inside. We haven’t seen the sun since Wednesday. It’s hard to be outside for any length of time. The Northwest regions of the United States, and in particular Portland and its vicinities, are reported right now to have the most dangerous air pollution in the entire world, the effects of which cannot even be guessed at by health officials. A week ago it was 90 degrees and clear; now, it’s smoky, foggy, and cold. It looks and feels what I imagine it would be like to live in a war zone.

In the beginning stages of the pandemic shut-down, as frightened and sad and weirded out as I was, I was feeling centered and purposeful, maybe even a little bit inspired, as strange as that might seem. I was meditating daily. My Journal of the Plague Year series was reflective, contemplative; I was finding inspirational favorite poems to read and record. I was interested in bringing comfort to others if I could, through poetry, encouraging words, reasons to be hopeful. Even this summer, I found zoom meetings with my writer friends to be sustaining and motivating, and I found literature to read that made me feel human and less afraid. But as I approach a school year, my 32nd, for which I have to reinvent everything I know about how to do my job, as the pandemic rages, and as the state of the union gets more and more depressing, I think a fatigue has set in, finally–one that has proven to be difficult to shake. And this fire on top of everything else is doing its level best to take me to dark places, away from the things, the habits and practices of mind and body, that I find healthful and helpful. Sometimes I feel hope slipping. Sentence by sentence I have slogged through this blog entry over the last four hours or so. And, as I’ve noticed that I haven’t written a single word for the better part of a month, maybe that’s part of how we get through this, sentence by sentence. For me, sentence by sentence means returning to the written word, returning to music as best as I can, and bringing the best of what I can to the new school year. Those of you in my boat, so many of you, all of you, I imagine: how do you move forward, sentence by sentence? How can you help yourself so that you are better able to help others. How can we use our gifts to light ourselves and our communities out of this mess?

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#343: Dudes, Step Aside. Let Women Steer This Ship. It’s Their Turn.

female-presidential-candidates-and-the-media-2020-4x3.png

When I think about the
most effective principals
I have ever known: women.
When I think about my
most effective, most respected
colleagues: women.
When I think about my
most influential mentors,
college professors, coaches,
teachers, and facilitators:
mostly women.

So, I’m thinking, when it comes to
the 2020 elections: dudes, step aside.
You’ve had this whole show in your
greedy little hands, in this country,
for about 244 years, in history,
more than 2,000, perhaps thousands
more than that, with an exceptional
matriarchal bubble here and there.
And you’ve mostly
made a mess of everything.
I look at the faces of those 25
senators in Alabama, all white,
all male, and I am just devastatingly
embarrassed by my gender
and my ethnicity. Fuck you guys.
Let women steer this ship.
It’s their turn.
It’s their fucking turn.

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