“The coronavirus pandemic is a world-changing event, like 9/11. There was a world before Covid-19. And there will be a world after Covid-19. But it won’t be the same.” Oliver Markus Malloy,What Fox News Doesn’t Want You To Know
They’re heroes, you know, real heroes
Not the ones in capes and caps, No!
The ones in scrubs, masks, nursing clogs
Daily on extended shifts, exhausted
As fate would have it, often succumbing
And when not, still the concerns for
Possible transmission to family, to friends
To strangers along their commute, and “I worry for my parents,” says one
On his steadfast mission, another
Fears for her unborn child, six months
pregnant, with rounded tummy she works
For her patients, for colleagues, for the
Greater good, while a president sets
A precedent for lies, misinformation,
Stupidity, cruelty, self-absorption in the
Face of a nation in need of solidarity,
A peoples at risk, a worldwide community
In want of coordination and collaboration
They put him to shame, the heroes of
The pandemic, honoring their trust,
Donning their scrubs, masks, nursing clogs
Daily on extended shifts, committed
Compassionate, self-sacrificing, latter-day
Heroes of the human condition, heroes of
A world that will never be the same
Dedicated to all medical workers but especially to my own critical care and palliative care teams.
WEDNESDAY WRITING PROMPT
This week, let us honor the heroes of the pandemic catastrophe. I have chosen to write a poem in gratitude for healthcare workers, but there are other heroes: the garbage collectors, the postal workers, the store clerks, the police and firefighters and first responders, the Meals-on-Wheels teams, and all the people who are sheltering in place. Which latter-day heroes do you want to honor? All are worthy. Let us know in your poem/s and . . .
please submit your poem/s by pasting them into the comments section and not by sharing a link
please submit poems only, no photos, illustrations, essays, stories, or other prose
Poems submitted on theme in the comments section here will be published in next Tuesday’s collection. Poems submitted through email or Facebook will not be published. If you are new to The Poet by Day, Wednesday Writing Prompt, be sure to include a link to your website, blog, and/or Amazon page to be published along with your poem. Thank you!
Deadline: Monday, March 30 by 8 pm Pacific Time. If you are unsure when that would be in your time zone, check The Time Zone Converter.
Anyone may take part Wednesday Writing Prompt, no matter the status of your career: novice, emerging or pro. It’s about exercising the poetic muscle, showcasing your work, and getting to know other poets who might be new to you.
You are welcome – encouraged – to share your poems in a language other than English but please accompany it with a translation into English.
“Kleitos, a likeable young man, about twenty-three years old with a first-class education, a rare knowledge of Greek is seriously ill. He caught the fever that reaped a harvest this year in Alexandria.” Kleitos’ Illness, Constantine P. Cavafy
Of special note:
Please don’t miss Iron Wind, Zimbabwean poet in exile Mbizo Chirasha’s response to the current prompt. An explanation for its solitary publication is included in the post.
Wisconsin poet, DeWitt Clinton, wrote, “I’ve visited many hospital rooms over the years, and occasionally, I was a patient. I’m always drawn to Sylvia Plath’s poem about her stay in a hospital following a surgical procedure.” I didn’t have enough time to get Harper Collins’ permission to publish Tulips today. You can read it in its entirety HERE.
Irene Emmanuel and Diana Lundell, if you have sites or Amazon pages to which you’d like me to link, email the links to me at email@example.com
Today I am pleased to present the responses to the last Wednesday Writing Prompt, At the Beginning of the Pandemic, March 11, in which Michael Dickel asked poets to ponder: “How to bring illness (personal or pandemic) of the ailing body, pain, and language to point to culture, philosophy, and consciousness in poetry that also points ‘…to what is still to be learned about our fragility, our mortality, and how to live a meaningful life’? Especially at this cultural-historical moment of an emerging pandemic?” The result is a journey through a spectrum of experiences and perspectives.
The poets who contributed to this collection are: Paul Brookes, Jamie Dedes, Irene Emanual, Joe Hesch, Diana Lundell, Sonja Benskin Mesher, Nancy Ndeke, Bozhidar Pangelov (bogpan), Corina Ravenscraft, RedCat, and Clarissa Simmens. Joe Hesch, Diana Lundell, and RedCat are new to Wednesday Writing Prompt and warmly welcome.
Please do come out to play tomorrow for the next Wednesday Writing Prompt, All are welcome: beginning, emerging, and pro.
Stay safe and healthy,
As I write this, my daughter is watching a YouTube live stream lesson. The Ministry of Education streams a lesson to all first graders from 9–9:30 each school morning. My son is working on tasks and following links posted on this class web page. At 11 am the fourth graders, his class, will have their half-hour live-streamed lesson. I have a moment to write while they work, before I leave for an “essential” appointment, which will likely be my last meeting this week. Later, I will go to the grocery store to pick up three or four things we are running low on. I’ll probably notice a couple of other things to get, just in case. The people I see and I will try to maintain a distance of two meters. Yesterday I went for a walk, just to get out of the house. The sun was warm, so I sat on a bench with my iPad and answered some emails. Those of us out kept our distance, but more than usual we made eye-contact, greeted each other, wished each other good health.
Welcome to COVID-19 time. I think that it is important to make eye contact, to acknowledge each other, especially as we make wide arcs around each other. I think it is important too keep our connections, even across distance. And this is something poetry does. Here, we offer the week’s responses to my prompt on writing poems about illness (personal to global) and pandemic, creating a literature that points to culture and meaning in the time of COVID-19.
We have amazing and strong responses. They range from cancer to COVID-19 pandemic panic syndrome, from personal to observational. The language is strong. The poems succeed in doing what Ann Jurecic, (Illness as Narrative: Composition, Literacy, and Culture, p. 131) “…all point to what is still to be learned about our fragility, our mortality, and how to live a meaningful life.…”
In this COVID-19 time, please do your best to stay healthy. Support your community as you can, especially in helping to prevent spread, but also by catching a distant eye, nodding, smiling, saying “Shalom, manishma?” (Peace, how are you?) And wish them, “Libryut” “to (your) health.” Social distance need not be without connections.
Bronchi and alveoli seeking respiratory droplets
Float on the air, a nightmare of guided munitions
Always a reckoning when such assassins are loosed,
And now the vineyard of joy is dead and gated, the
Elders are on lockdown, prisoners of Corvid-19,
Of a government that moves too slowly and this
Virus that moves with speed, children sent home
From school, the workers forced from their jobs, a
Run on TP, tissues and hand sanitizers, breezes
Caressing the face, now just a memory like love
And blisses, handshakes and bracing bear hugs
Like social networking of the off-line variety
Chatter-clips in muffled murmurs
Overt opinions in strained silence
Tactful teacups in stilled saucers
Reverberating reels of sudden shock
Mystified minor in innocent ignorance
Death danced in devilish delight
Years later, I learned about
A TOUCH OF CANCER
Unasked, unwanted, it appeared;
a black dot on the middle of my right cheek.
A spider bite? A probable assumption.
It developed a white head,
I squished it, it spurted and grew a scab.
Then it became an unsightly scabby growth
of potent ugliness, taking over my cheek.
A skin specialist was consulted.
He was fascinated, he concluded that this “spider bite”
needed an investigation.
He cut and sent a sliver to be biopsied.
“Squamous Cell Carcinoma” of the cancerous type.
Immediate removal, non-negotiable.
Twenty-one stitches later, the growth lay vanquished.
As “Frankenstein’s” distant cousin, I faced the World.
Vitamin E oil has finally smoothed the scar
into a faded memory of a major scare.
I am eternally grateful to faith and Dr. J.
I have a small cold
and a library book to return.
Should I wipe it clean with disinfectant
and return it through the book drop?
Or let it become overdue?
I have a hair appointment
for next week Thursday.
If I feel better by then,
should I keep it?
I have a massage appointment
for the following week
which I really need
because I’m stressed
but they tell me not to come
for two weeks from the onset
of an illness. Do I count from
Monday when I began feeling
run-down or Friday
when I finally I knew why?
One means keep it,
the other cancel.
I don’t know if I have a fever.
My thermometer’s broken
and there are none in the stores,
but I’m in the target age group who die.
I have health insurance. Should I get tested?
The news says not to just show up
at your doctor’s office,
if you think you have the virus.
But will they then show at mine
making a spectacle, lights a-flaring,
outing me to the neighbors?
Or will it be like China
removing me by force?
My job tells us to stay home if sick
but they don’t provision for those
who don’t have enough sick leave
so I don’t call the doctor and go to work,
pretending to be perfectly well.
Like the wind, your exact birth is shadowy, even murky,
But the flow, and rush, like an old bull, is marked by scores of bruises,
Laughter is now whispered jest,
Camaraderie is thinning like a slippery path,
Ten fingers pointing at one location,
Might we be missing the point?
Like the wind on a sneeze,
Breath carries death so they say,
Goose pimples on a population that now hibernates indoors,
Scrubbing hands behind masks to keep the stray bullets off the air waves,
Palpable is FEAR rippling down the spines of the assumed healthy,
Boarders shrinking before the eyes of a cruise ship afloat a memorable trip,
Statistics roll out with diversity,
Some minimizing, some maximizing,
Along while back, we learnt a sweet investment called individualism,
Fenced diffences against the onslaught of our privacy,
Would the wind honor this paid service or even approve it?
Death is a chief garantor of flesh after a time,
It’s the fate of birth,
But fear is the monster that serves deathness to the living,
As we suffer shortage of basics in the war against a warring virus,
Some have hoarded food supplies for a decade,
Some are stocking distance for their own in remote homes,
Some are breathing through masks In bunkers below the ground,
History has a thing about life,
Mans best intentions are tested by calamity,
And the world has one right now,
The morbid fear of catching a dreaded virus,
That has already taken some down and has no respect for boundaries,
How we die depends on how we live,
If fear governs our senses enough to barricade ourselfs away from those in need,
We shall for sure die,
But before the physical,
Our Soul will have died Twice over from fear,
And thrice over from the meanness of withholding help to the needy, in an effort to preserve ourselves,
So ” I name you fear”, O you colonial hunter of human health,
And banish you to the deserts of dusty horizons,
Where your barren unconcern must remain buried,
To give man a chance at rebirth in the genuine concern of one facing this ultimate test of living,
I ” name you fear” O you coward who escaped your masters rogue shed to shade the color of life a night without the dance of the stars,
I ” name you fear” and tag you loser for records show others came before you and perhaps did worse,
So we know we shall survive you for life is a survivor from the realms of amniotic fluids to the trenches of war,
For life is held by a divine hand that constantly looks onto it wellness,
So though unwelcome you came and may stay a bad season,
Tomorrow is not yours except in records.
And those too, shall remain in archival shelves,
Once more to remind tomorrow that the human soul is a giant ,
And indomitable to any spirit that is not from it’s maker.
We shall suffer pain.
We shall lose some.
But we shall overcome the fear that you sow indifference that kills the living.
because we all
get influenced by all
and all is you
and the air is heavy on the shoulders
let’s sit down all
(the night is a round table)
accept each other and
give ourselves to all
then the song remains
(because is chanted)
They call it COVID, magic number 19,
One letter off, from birds who pick the bones clean.
Who are the carrion crows of this battle?
Who rake in profits from each, extended death-rattle?
The child king fired all the medic Gunslingers.
Now that he needs help, he only points fingers.
Has “Captain Trips” finally come at long last?
Does the Man in Black wear a plague doctor’s beaked mask?
“KA is a wheel…its one purpose, is to turn.”
Maybe Gaia just got tired of watching the world burn?
Each life snuffed out: a brick in the Dark Tower,
Each one, marking Mankind’s plummet from power?
All the child king’s puppets, and all his “Yes-Men”
Can’t put the world back together again.
If only we had some sort of Pandemic Team!
Or money for tests, instead of golf on the green.
Hindsight in 2020? Remains to be seen.
They call it COVID, magic number 19,
Perhaps it’s KA…and “All things serve the Beam.”
(Stephen King fans are probably likely to enjoy this piece a bit more than other readers. The number 19 is important to him, and figures deeply in many of his works, but none more so than in his Magnum Opus, “The Dark Tower” series.)
Can a novel virus teach
What climate emergency so far have not?
The interconnectedness of a global world
No country beyond its reach
Collective action the only sensible plot
Work together without accusing insults hurled
Can a novel virus show
What’s closest to our hearts
What we value most of all
Do we dare accept, have courage to know
Faithfully confess what we display in all our art
Happiness only ever lay in following loving soul calls
Can a novel virus reveal
How compassionate living will be
Only way out the materialistic maze
Can we make a New Green Deal
Accept responsibility humbly
Changing our planet wrecking, extreme storm inducing ways?
Moving toward the Megallion Swamp
My mystical swamp with a
Host of ghost characters
Summer sweats pheromones for
Mosquito troops hunting sweet blood
Females, say the science sites
Pregnant females feed on humans
I swat and stomp in ankle combat boots
Water moccasins visible
In the evaporating water
But me, I have a mission
Peopled swamp calling me
Some dressed in white
Hoodoo circle chanting
Others in white Baptismal light
Some in Grays or Blues
Maybe reenactment troops
Some in cheap suits like old
Blues bands shredding their guitars
Ghostly voices drifting over a
Tract of swamp advertised for sale
Of More-Or-Less 4.5 acres
Me, my mission moving toward summer
In the Sunshine State
Candidates spewing hate
Smiles and frowns hid behind
Medical masks while hoarding
Cases of hand sanitizers
The swamp shadows I see
Doctors with beaks
Bubonic Plague masks
“Bring out your dead!”
Time an illusion as
Because surely we’ve
Stepped off the Tardis of Time
Without Dr. Who to rescue me and you
Into a swamp of history
Repeating itself and all the
Impotent in the swarm of germs
What mission can a high-risk
So-called “elderly” woman claim?
What can I do except
Crash through the watery milieu of
Carrying a bag of herbs
Extracted in Winn Dixie vodka
Waiting for the full moon to offer
The untried elixir to swamp denizens
Gathered beyond my back yard
Of a once-sane haven
Beneath Orion’s protection.
And I hear voices
Voices in the swamp
I see miasmic misery
Smell the smoke of
And must see if it is
A vision of expectations
Or the real thing
Healing Reiki bear
Comes bearing herbal gifts
From the Forest of pure rain
Mighty words that
Might as well
Yet even that has worked for some
In the past
“Authors, like coins, grow dear as they grow old; It is the rust we value, not the gold.” Alexander Pope
I come to this place of Elder Power through a cascade of chronic catastrophic illnesses and disabilities, which – like life – are ultimately fatal. Some have encouraged me to write from a clinical perspective. It would seem, however, that the clinical lessons have less significance than the life lessons. It is the life lessons that give us the strength to keep going, that are the true value to be shared, and that make us elders. To me “elder” implies more than “senior” or “senior citizen,” which I see as demographic terms for people who have reached retirement age. A senior is someone who has merely put in time, while elder is about attitude and state of mind. Elder implies one who is accomplished, who has learned a few things along the way.
As a poet, writer, and content editor, it is the life lessons, not the clinical ones, which inspire and inform my work. I have learned, for example, that all humans are in process and therefore imperfect; and that, no matter what our differences are, the most important thing is to remain open to communication and to accept and release our own follies and those of others. I have learned that neither illness nor threat of death preclude joy. I have learned that people who are joyful rarely do harm to themselves or others. I have learned that fear of death has to be directly addressed and then firmly put aside in favor of the business of living. As the saying goes: “It’s not over until it’s over.” Until then, we have responsibilities to others and ourselves. The only real difference between someone who has a life- threatening illness and someone who doesn’t is that the former is no longer in denial.
“If people bring so much courage to this world, “ wrote Hemingway in A Farewell to Arms, “the world has to kill them to break them. The world beaks everyone, and afterward, many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break, it kills. It kills the very good and the very brave and the very gentle impartially. If you are none of these it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.”
I am not good, or brave, or particularly gentle. I do not – and never have – suffered fools kindly. Sometimes I let it all get me down. I descend into fear. I am impatient with process, with taking meds and going for seemingly endless tests and doctors’ appointments. Maybe that’s why I’ve outlived my original medically-predicted expiration date by over eighteen years. My mother used to say, “Only the good die young.” My best quality may be that under my protective shell of intractability, I actually am willing to be broken and reformed. I suppose only time will tell if I have grown “strong at the broken places.”
So, here I stand, twenty-odd years into it, hugging my 70s at the dawn of a bright new day in a body that is now dramatically disabled and quite a bit older. It’s still a good morning and a good body. I recognize I once dealt with a worse handicap than my current disabilities. That handicap is commonly referred to as “youth.” I survived. Maturity on the other hand is a true boon, a gift to savor and enjoy with layers of luxurious nuance I had not anticipated. I do not long for my youth. I love my graying hair. I love my wrinkles and the loose skin on my neck. I love the mild deformity of my feet. These things remind me that I am still here after all. It’s unlikely that I’ll dye my hair, though I have. I will not get chemical injections or cosmetic surgery. I will not use rejuvenating grooming products that have been tested on defenseless animals. I am inspired by civil-rights-era African-Americans who sported Afros, said essentially “this is who we are and what we look like,” and chanted “black is beautiful.” I am graying. I am wrinkled. It’s all lovely and lyrical and makes me smile. It’s about ripeness, not rottenness. It’s honesty: what you see is what you get. Aging is beautiful. With maturity, one finds character refined and perspective broadened, energy expands and compassion flowers. The experience of joy comes more easily.
As survivors, we owe it to those who have gone on to live in gratitude for this gift of a long life. How ungrateful and what an insult it is to them for us to bemoan our maturity and yearn for our youth as we so often do. What an incredible waste of time and energy such yearning is. Many don’t survive childhood in their impoverished and war-torn areas. Some others don’t survive childhood due to congenital or other diseases. My sister died by her own hand when she was twenty-seven. I have a wonderful, talented, smart friend in her mid-thirties who will pass within three months from this writing. Like you, I have relatives and friends who didn’t make it to fifty, much less sixty or seventy. All things considered, aging is a gift not a curse.
“People worldwide are living longer. Today, for the first time in history, most people can expect to live into their sixties and beyond. By 2050, the world’s population aged 60 years and older is expected to total 2 billion, up from 900 million in 2015. Today, 125 million people are aged 80 years or older. By 2050, there will be almost this many (120 million) living in China alone, and 434 million people in this age group worldwide. By 2050, 80% of all older people will live in low- and middle-income countries.” World Health Organization MORE
Some of our power comes from our sheer numbers. According to the World Health Organization, 900 million of us were aged sixty or more in 2015 and as of 2018 125 million of us were aged over eighty. We represent a huge political constituency, a lucrative market, and an enormous fount of energy, experience, and expertise. If that isn’t power in this modern world, what is? What a force for peace we could be.
Some of our power comes from consciousness. We are awake now. We have learned how to live in the moment and how to live joyfully, hugely. That alone is a lesson to share. Some of our power comes from more time and focus. Many of us are retired or semi- retired or on disability, or soon will be. Implicit in that is the time to keep abreast of issues in our communities, countries, and our world. We can take the time and make the effort to get accurate information, to analyze carefully, and to share appropriately; that is, in a well considered, non-inflammatory, non-sensational manner. We can act with grit and grace.
Let the elders among us be the Global Movement of Strength at Broken Places. Let those of us who have this gift of long life seize on it and ply our elder power individually and in concert. Let’s live with joy, do good, and have fun. Most of all let us be generous with our love. Soon enough, when the time is ripe, our bodies will become earth once more. Our spirits will travel on but the river of mortal life will continue to flow. Our children will see us reflected in the eyes of their children. Our grandchildren will strain to hear our voices in rustling leaves and breezes that whisper to them in the night. They will seek us out in moonlight and the warmth of the sun, in the roar of the oceans and the gentle meandering of a lazy brook. They will find us in the hearts of the lives we’ve touched with concern and compassion.