Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Verses for the New Plague—National Poetry Month 2020

Poets tackle the Coronavirus pandemic.

One of the big jobs of poets is to reflect on the world around them.  Whole books were quickly assembled after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and after the launch of the War in Iraq.  The international refugee crisis and the U.S. persecution of asylum seekers and immigrant families is another recent example.  And, of course, resistance poetry has become a staple of the Trump maladministration.  So the Coronavirus pandemic and the extraordinary changes it has brought to all of our lives is fertile gist for verse.  Here is a short roundup of just some of the poems and poets whose work I have encountered recently on social media.

Rev. Theresa Novack.
The Rev. Theresa Novak has been featured in previous National Poetry Month entries.  She frequently posts insightful poetry on her blog Sermon, Poetry, and Other MusingsA graduate of the University of California at Berkley, she had a career as a Social Security Administration manager before enrolling at Star King and embarking on a second career as a minister.  She is the Minister Emerita of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ogden in Utah.  She lives in California with her wife.
Covid Poem

Live Your Life
Live your life
Such as it is now
This isn’t ending soon
The world grows smaller
Shrinks down to a neighborhood
A house, a room, a prison cell.
Our connections are more distant
But deeper too
As we share the fear
The grief, the loss.
Howling in the night
We find some small release.

Live your life
Such as it is
While you have it
While you can.
Relish the sunshine
Savor the flowers
Bursting with spring
They are
What your soul needs now.
Talk to your neighbor
From a distance of course
Help them if you can.
We are all refugees now
There is no escape.
There are no borders
This is the whole world
A planet in pain and fear.
Live Your Life
Live your life.
It is what you have
For now.
Enjoy each day, each moment
Find a way to laugh
To smile.
Courage will come.
This isn’t ending soon
I hope not for me
Or for you.

—Theresa  Novak

Ken Balmes.

Ken Balmes is a stalwart of the McHenry County poetry scene who has read at the Raue Center for the Performing Arts in Crystal Lake,  at Atrocious Poets programs in Woodstock, and at Poetry Night Open Mics at the Hidden Pearl in McHenry.  His work is deeply personal and often lingers in the quiet spaces of life.  He is noted for the devoted care of his disabled and wheelchair bound wife who he brings to all of his events and for the kilts he always wears.  He described himself as a “still living white male of mixed European ancestry (Celtic, Spanish, German, French Canadian) who never had a class in poetry.”

Covid Poem

Alone in the house
Not that unusual.
But mandated so
Makes verbal constraints
Feel as if physical.
A dictated singular solitude
Hiding from a twenty-first century plague.
Calling to neighbors across the way
Daring not to get closer.
Passers-by in the street
Greeted, but not approached.
At the market
Runs on goods and cash.
Days of overcast skies
Deepen the feel
Of imaginary bars on my door.
Those who could have prevented
Or lessened the scourge,
Did not.
Recalling Poe’s Masque of the Red Death
How fitting if they should meet that fate.
Yet out my window
Daffodils rising in the lawn
Birds at the feeder free to fly about.
There is hope, or at least solace
Life endures.

—Ken Balmes

Jerry Pendergast.
Jerry Pendergast is a Chicago poet and activist who frequently shares his work on the Chicago Revolutionary Poets Brigade Facebook group and can be seen at readings around the city at venues like The Guild Annex and Green Mill Tavern.  This highly topical poem was inspired not only by Easter but by the Covid 19 death of John Prine and other artists.

Easter 2020 USA

A line by Yeats Revisited
Was it needless death after all?
Fingers that will never press another key
Others that will never strum another string.
Or hold another bow
Songs left unfinished, unsung
How low have we sunk?
Feet on a bed
with the rest of someone’s body
mouth waiting for a breathing aid.
Will they ever touch a stage or even a floor again?
spring the body in a leap
or a glide?
If not, will it be needless death?
Is breath, that will never again
send notes rising and falling
Voices that will never sung or speak
another word,
Goodbyes remote
or only imagined
needless death?
When recovered unable
to thank some of those
who helped them
because they are gone,
            how deeper can we fall?
A panel that has no answer
Not even a guess
Are these needless deaths after all

—Jerry Pendergast
Copyright 2020

Jessica Miller.

Jessica Miller is a young woman who lives in Crystal Lake and recently began attending the Tree of Life U.U. Congregation in McHenry.  About this poem she wrote, “Patrick Murfin from UU Tree of Life inspired me to write a pandemic poem. I’m looking forward to his event [Poets in Resistance] in the future! It’s been awhile since I’ve written anything, but I’m feeling the muse today.”


Day by Day
Hour by hour
Minute by minute
I’m starting to know people
Who’ve got the Corona
A teacher
A friend
A Mother
A Brother
Touching us all
Sneaking past
Our carefully
Or not so carefully
Crafted tower defenses
Churches open in defiance
Anointed in the BLOOD of Jesus
And the innocents
Just trying to pay the rent
With a job in the gig economy
To put food on the table
That has been taken TO and FROM
With great risk
We navigate the
But making it’s self more visible
Day by Day
Hour by Hour
Minute by Minute
The death toll rises
1,997,666 DEAD

—Jessica Miller

The Old Man reading.

And finally one from the Old Man recycled from just a month ago.  Somehow it seems longer.

Love in the Time of a Plague

Have you wondered what it would be like—
            in an Egyptian mud hut when the Angels of Death
            did not passover your door?
            When the calls of bring out your dead
            rang from overburdened carts on London’s muddy lanes?
            When wrapping your children in the Small Pox blankets
            so kindly given to you by the invaders of your country?
            When Yellow Fever seemed to rise in the swamp air
            or Typhoid and Cholera did their mysterious work?
            When  Doughboy camps, refugee havens, and troopships
            brought death dwarfing the gore of the trenches?
            When ordinary summer colds sent children in the thousands
            into iron lungs on crowded wards?
            When the unwanted and despised were reaped by God’s wrath
            and rest stood aside until the innocent were touched?

Now we know, or imagine we do, as Cassandras cry alarm
            and we retreat into isolation.

That fear and isolation may be more lethal than an alien virus
            sapping our lonely souls even if our bodies are spared.

Now comes the time of love in the age of a plague—
            how do we reach out to caress a face we cannot touch?

—Patrick Murfin
March 15, 2020

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