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Poems of the Pandemic

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April is National Poetry Month.

That the occasion is marked this year by a worldwide pandemic-fueled lockdown is, to say the least, a perfect recipe for poetry. We asked Petaluma poet and former Sonoma County Poet Laureate Terry Ehret, to reach out to some of the other poets in the area, including Larry Robinson, who tirelessly curates a daily email send of poems, and as such, has received a large number of new, corona-themed poetry from writers throughout the county. With their help, we received dozens of submissions, including brand new original works from five current and past Sonoma County Poets Laureate.

As one might expect, they run the full course of emotion and scope, from the deeply personal and introspective to the pointedly hopeful and judiciously universal. We are honored to present these poems to you now. Thanks to the writers who are doing the important work of transforming this moment into the language of art and rhythm and metaphor and grace.

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NAVIGATION

By Kristi Hellum

Rowing together

Singing for cadence

Across a white capped sea

What is this place?

Unfamiliar is our own home

Rowing together

Muscles gleaming

We dip our oars

Carving into oceanic darkness

Rowing together

The North Star dims

So our hearts steer

Toward the mystic

Who is navigator now?

Rowing together

What brought each of us here?

Galaxies of hopeful light

These stalwart companions

Kindly illuminating the shadow

Rowing together

On an unknown sea

We begin softly

To know the light

Of our own humanity.

-----

THE PRESENCE OF OWLS

By Crystal Ockenfush

Now you get it

the medieval mind,

the world so suddenly

alien, incomprehensible —

illegible like a rain

soaked envelope returned

to sender.

What did you want

to say to me?

We’re out looking

for signs, the dead

crow means …

more than the presence,

the hunger of

owls. Or does it?

Symptoms, a cough,

the breath body praying

to pollen, to a bit

of RNA or the word

you swallowed at the last

minute. Who can say?

The fever, the woman

in the window — can we think

of her other

than trapped or on

display?

-----

An Angel’s Touch

By Jo Ann Smith

I dare not touch my face,

worse yet, not yours either,

Bodhi licked my nose,

things touched with love

really ought to have a voice

a poet’s voice

a scribe, who strives

if only for a moment

to touch our hearts with

invisible hands that shout

can you feel what I feel,

if I cannot touch your hand

may I caress you with my words,

connect without contact,

perchance to touch your soul

after all, it is not the touch at all,

it is the feeling touch evokes,

holding in my heart a sensual sense

I cannot hold in my hands

let me feel cool breezes

on my fevered cheeks,

soft raindrops on my eyes

to confuse my salty tears,

and let my arms be open

to an angel’s touch

disguised in a poet’s words

-----

HOSPITAL CHAPLAIN

By Ruah Bull

In the other room,

that only masked nurses and doctors can enter,

he hears with the ears of his heart the last breaths of the dying.

The family, in the emptiness of the waiting room, clings to him even though they may not touch.

How do you comfort — in another room, or from six feet away?

Only a presence that is prayer

can fill that distance with the breath of love

that is the one breath,

shared breath,

first and last and living and dying and waiting

and right now.

May the dying one sense the presence of his loved ones filling that almost empty room.

And may they accompany

with attention and awe and broken- open hearts

the work of letting go.

May you be there,

helpless,

and so helpful,

to patients and families and staff and all —

an emptied instrument through which

each breath of Spirit blows unimpeded

a vessel of that un-understandable peace.

-----

Our Chrysalis Moment

By Anodea Judith

This is our chrysalis moment

Where the transformation begins.

Every caterpillar must do it eventually;

Or die,

Never to sprout their colorful wings in the air

And fly.

So like the caterpillar,

We may as well surrender.

Cocooning in our homes

Our world turned upside down.

Inside, we can no longer spread

our vicious disease of consumption

No longer run mindlessly toward our destruction.

Inside there is stillness

Inside, there is rest.

Outside, the air is clearing,

The rains are falling.

You can feel the peace,

Settling on the land at last.

And Yes, there is death.

For there’s always a dissolution.

Old systems falling away,

That were already pretty slimy.

It may be frightening

All the uncertainty and loss.

But even in the darkness

Imaginal cells are awakening

Weaving a new web.

Recognizing that this is finally

Our time.

Our time to be heard

Our time to make new sense

Our time to do things differently

And when at last the dream awakens

To its nascent beginnings,

The chrysalis melts away.

A caterpillar no longer,

We spread our tender wings

And fly.

-----

Funeral During a Pandemic

By Larry Robinson

You will die.

Everyone you know will die.

You know this.

But you don’t know when.

Until now it has been easy

to believe it will be some time off

in the far distant future; too far

to really consider it a factor

in how you live your life.

But now can you feel the angel circling,

coming in for a landing somewhere near.

At the graveside service

we keep our bodies distant

as prudence and patriotism advise.

But we touch with eyes,

with voices joined in song,

wondering who will be next and

how often we will gather this way

to remember…

How precious these days and

how precious these glances that say

“I see you; you are not alone!”

May we learn to hold each life tenderly

and see it for the fragile,

luminous and improbable gift that it is.

-----

Corona

By Katherine Hastings

Former Sonoma County Poet Laureate

Bursting red flowers

Invisible to the eye

Your beauty slays us

We lather our hands

And with only you in mind

Close ourselves from life

We listen for stars

For wind rapping at our doors

And discover peace

In our solitude

In the true present moment

It is all we have

It is all we need

Our essential bouquet

-----

Easter Broken Sonnet

By Iris Jamahl Dunkle

Former Sonoma County Poet Laureate

1. Could not identify the bird: small blue body. Is there an app for that?

2. The far-off tree has leafed out. Some days hummingbirds sit on its topmost branches.

3. No hawk’s on the thermals today - just vultures roosting, arching their wings on the fallen branches of the dead oak.

4. The peacock had spread its wings and stayed frozen in glory for over an hour.

5. The skies press gray down all day without breaking into rain.

6. Faith has hidden itself in the cave. I can’t find the stone to roll back.

7. The breeze brings the memory of the sea. Think, police tape. Hazard cones.

8. Some Days I wake up and forget whose body I’m in until I walk out into the dawn and see the moon, the seven sisters..

9. The apple trees have blossomed but there will be no parade for the first time in 100 years.

10. I can hear traffic from far off. Where are they going? Are they wearing masks?

11. Silence throbs in my ears. It’s made of cotton.

12. Lone bird, a silhouette that wings the air then disappears.

13. No need to hide the eggs. We are already hidden. Holidays are makeshift.

14. Will I forget these passages inside my head when time catches up to us?

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Corona - A Pantoum

By Sande Anfang

I am waiting for the death of coronavirus

I am waiting for sheltering to end

I am waiting for the ahas! of epidemiologists

with their beautiful nomenclature

I am waiting for sheltering to end

I am waiting for the streets to fill with dogs and children

with their beautiful nomenclature

I am waiting for the lost embrace

I am waiting for the streets to fill with dogs and children

I am waiting through unnamed weeks and months

I am waiting for the lost embrace

for the great re-leveling.

I am waiting through unnamed weeks and months

for disinfecting to end and dancing to begin

for the great re-leveling

I am waiting with taut muscles

for disinfecting to end and dancing to begin

for the water to be filled with fish & swimmers

I am waiting with taut muscles

for the peal of the dismissal bell

for the water to be filled with fish & swimmers

I am waiting for the death of coronavirus

for the peal of the dismissal bell

I am waiting for the ahas! of epidemiologists.

-----

Songs From School

By Phyallis Meshulam

Current Poet Laureate of Sonoma County

“Someone sang for me and no one else could hear it.” Joy Harjo

The sign on my school

says CLOSED,

the soccer field’s silent

but the parking lot is filled

with a parade of family cars coming through.

With teachers and volunteers,

faces covered with bandanas.

distributing food, need in any age,

passing out computers, this age need.

I was graced to hear flocks

of words fly through classrooms.

Songs of brown-in-a-white-world,

Girl-in-a-boy-world songs.

A song of skinny.

Many songs of shame.

Songs of loss and deportation.

Celebration songs, too.

So many songs in the air at this moment,

may they find their words

in this moment up in the air.

-----

Skin Hunger in Corona Virus Times

By Vilma O. Ginzberg

Former Literary Laureate of Healdsburg

largest organ of my body

first contact with my mother

taught it what to expect from this world

outside her watery embrace

we were meant to be touched, stroked, held

having learned the many textures of it

the hurtful kind to avoid

the tentative tries of first friendship

the tender passionate strokes of intimacy

the lingering fades of goodbye

dry and furrowed as it may now be

in this dustbowl of aging

it is not prepared for this period of distancing

my dearest friend sits across a vast emptiness

as we blow meager breaths of squeezed intimacy

across the divide

a word of understanding from six feet away

does not a comforting hug make

we trudge bravely through the techno- jungle

of zoom and skype and facetime

for desperate connection

we have been relegated

to the emotional ice floes of our times

I will ask the true and painful question:

might I be putting off the dying of this flesh

while each lonely hour shrivels my soul?

-----

In the Time of the Virus

By Elizabeth C. Herron

In the fullness of time, you said

By which I remembered

all life is vibration, a sine wave

an ebb and flow

Even a virus has rhythm

gathering and tightening, loosening

and letting go

On the valley oaks the nubs of leaves

are a promise of shade

In the orchards

blossoms promise apples

and in the fullness of time

you will bend to see

your granddaughter’s first smile

the gap where your grandson lost

his first tooth

In the fullness of time

we will greet and hold each other

close as the season’s light

and shadows close

as the fingers of my hand

raised now to wave to you

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