To My Students in the Time of the Novel Coronavirus by Ann E. Wallace

To My Students in the Time of the Novel Coronavirus

I know you are struggling, that you had
already fought and kicked to make it
to spring break, to the week when we would
all come up for air before the final push
of a hard semester. But break week this year
was a last gasp, right before our class was sliced
in two—into before, into after,
when the fragile balance of everything
you were holding together, while holding
your breath, shattered, as if a cat had walked
across the shelf where your most precious
pieces were perched and casually swatted them
one by one, to the floor. We are stuck here
frozen, staring at the glassy shards,
knowing we cannot scoop the thousand
pieces into our hands and mold them back
into January or February, when life was sharp
and fragile but not broken.

I know you are struggling, and though I will
not tell you this, I know you will continue
to struggle. So much has shattered.

But I will not tell you because you are
surrounded by shimmering dust
that reflects off your face in ways
that we could not see before. And for every
piece of you that has broken, a new angle
becomes visible. And what I know
is that you are present and fighting,
and that though you are struggling,
you will not be broken.

by Ann E. Wallace

Ann on Facebook
Ann on LinkedIn
Twitter: @annwlace409

Editor’s Note: The repetition of words and images in this poem emphasizes the difficult and frustrating nature of struggle when the crisis is long and seemingly endless.

In the Trenches by Greg Watson

In the Trenches

We tunneled our way through
those long, winding winters of childhood,
crawled and slithered on bellies
made slick by thick poly-thermal
snowsuits, wet scarves trailing behind
like the tattered flags of nations
neither named nor conquered.
The maps we drew we drew within,
our detailed plans of conquest
and exploration unknown to others.
In empty fields, flat and frozen,
we could go on and on, seemingly
for miles, burrowing, inching along
unseen, only to re-emerge somewhere
deep behind enemy lines,
disoriented, studying the silence.
Then, — whap! — a sudden barrage
of snowballs, some coated with ice,
stinging, sent us scurrying back
the way we came, crawling on
padded elbows, the muted crunch
of packed snow beneath us,
while the world above became barely
a muffle, a fog, a rumor of a life
long since fled; then, at long last
a moment of calm repose in the rooms
we had carved out, fistful by fistful,
breathing the secret the air
between worlds, never afraid,
the afternoon sun already descending
on a kingdom that none of us
would ever know again.

by Greg Watson

Editor’s Note: The nostalgia of this narrative poem feels deceptively sweet until the very end, where the closing lines remind us that innocence is both fleeting and necessary.

From the archives – December by Jean L. Kreiling

December

Arriving modestly, without a sound,
the first snow of the season fills the night
with tiny flakes of other-worldly light
that settles in pale patches on the ground.
The stone-cold air turns flannel-soft, transformed
by small wet stars that fall and thereby lift
the eye and heart—a fragile, frozen gift
that leaves our spirits fortified and warmed.
Another silent night may come to mind,
another star, another gift, but He
need not be sought as heaven falls to earth
in icy, cloud-spun pieces that will find
the pious and the pagan, equally
anointing all who see the season’s birth.

by Jean L. Kreiling

from Autumn Sky Poetry DAILY, December 2, 2015

Photograph by Christine Klocek-Lim

Vintage verse – Winter Sleep by Edith Matilda Thomas

3black_leaf

Winter Sleep

I know it must be winter (though I sleep)—
I know it must be winter, for I dream
I dip my bare feet in the running stream,
And flowers are many, and the grass grows deep.

I know I must be old (how age deceives!)
I know I must be old, for, all unseen,
My heart grows young, as autumn fields grow green
When late rains patter on the falling sheaves.

I know I must be tired (and tired souls err)—
I know I must be tired, for all my soul
To deeds of daring beats a glad, faint roll,
As storms the riven pine to music stir.

I know I must be dying (Death draws near)—
I know I must be dying, for I crave
Life—life, strong life, and think not of the grave,
And turf-bound silence, in the frosty year.

by Edith Matilda Thomas (1854-1925)

Photo by Christine Klocek-Lim

On The Seven Canonical Hours by Christine Potter

On The Seven Canonical Hours

O, Lord open thou my lips and my mouth shall show forth thy praise—Psalm 51

Since the fifth century, someone has been praying this, always.
It’s like the wind this morning that comes from everywhere

and hammers our shutters against our house, like drafts that
get in around our windows, like new sunlight that is sharper

each day with the coming of winter. Everything that shaded us
over the summer is being scraped away, flying and tumbling,

wings without birds. And with them, lauds, terce, vespers,
night watch, the slow caress of sun over our foolishness.

Open thou my lips and I will praise thee. Praise my fear, my
shaky witness, the thrill of seeing more than I wanted to, even

the ugly parade of white trucks on the bridge over the Hudson.
It tried for but did not earn my fear. Praise the faithful dead,

the constant, daily sweep of the hours, the astonishing energy
of every heart in the world. Praise dawn every day. What planets,

what pinprick distant star, what shivery moonlight? What water,
frozen or free, what tides! Open thou my lips and I shall praise thee.

by Christine Potter

Christine on Facebook

Amazon Author Page

Editor’s Note: This is the poem none of us realized we needed, but oh, after reading it, we know. We know.

Photo by Christine Klocek-Lim

Labor of Love by Coleman Glenn

Labor of Love

The heavens fill with smoke as campfires blaze
and actors paint themselves into their pictures
while speakers echo back the choral strains
of tracks laid down in living rooms then mixed
for these tableaux. Cars crawl down Quarry Road
past shepherd families gathered in the gloom,
past travelers barely sheltered from the cold
beside the inn, told, “Sorry, there’s no room.”

Eight miles away a shepherd’s son, a nurse,
turns left to leave St. Joseph’s Hospital,
his finished double shift among the worst
since COVID hit — breaks skipped, the ward past full,
his team a missing-membered skeleton,
outbursts, code after code. A patient dead.
He hears among the blended baritones
his own voice as he nears the church ahead.

The wise men know, and Mary, and the choir,
that all their work here won’t bring on the dawn —
that they cannot supply the balm required
to give untroubled sleep to anyone
whose days and dreams of harried desperation
permit no heavenly peace, no silent night.
Only for this their weeks of preparation:
a single touch of myrrh, one tiny light.

by Coleman Glenn

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/julia.k.singer/

Editor’s Note: The mix of perfect and slant rhyme (and iambic pentameter) nudges the reader along in this poem, past the hopelessness of despair, until we arrive at the last two lines where a tiny smidge of hope concludes the poem exactly right.

Comfort Measure #5 by Cheryl Snell

Comfort Measure #5

Because my brain hurts, I’ll focus
on the body. I’ll applaud its machines,
the way they stick but then recover ─
as when the breath held captive in the dark
reconsiders death and bursts from the mouth,
spittling champagne bubbles. We must always
celebrate something. I’ll toast with this bottle
of fake tears, which lets me continue crying
at the place where my grief left off.

Because we never run out of sorrow
I’ll roll through these bright halls knowing
no one is safe. This wheelchair can’t outrun
disease, speeding up so that time itself
goes backward, however much the woman
in the next room would like that. She’s calling
for her mother again, but doesn’t believe in
the notion there is no death. She remembers
blossoms blooming only to wither.
Once she told me she was sure they dream of water
and the taste of air.

by Cheryl Snell

Cheryl on Facebook

Editor’s Note: Grief is deceptively complex, and the poems I have been receiving recently are all true, and all completely different, even as the pain remains the same. This poem uses blunt, brilliant imagery to convey the difficulty of functioning with grief as an ever-present companion.

Intimacies, Number 18 by Julia Klatt Singer

Intimacies, Number 18

We set off into the woods,
never a glance back.
Nothing in our pockets
but the stones and pinecones
we find along the way—
the occasional treasure
of bone and eggshell, moss
and feather. We knew the story
of Hansel and Gretel.
The old woman’s house—
much like our grandmother’s
we’ve just left
for these woods.
Deeper in until the sunlight
struggles to find us.
Deeper in until the sound
of the dead trees we’ve kicked down
fall silent. Deeper in
until neither of us knows
how long or how far
we’ve gone. The hunger
in our bellies, the light
now slant, we turn
let the panic quicken
our pace. Let the trees
usher us out.
They never scold us.
Lay us a path
of leaves and twigs
roots and soft needles.
Lead us to the sounds
of the road, the short walk
back, the smoke from the chimney
reaching like a long arm, fingers beckoning.
Entering the house (how contained it feels)
we smell like trees, like air;
cool and free and endless.

by Julia Klatt Singer

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/julia.k.singer/

Editor’s Note: This narrative poem deftly captures both the folly and risk of youth, and the delicious freedom of it, leaving the reader yearning for more at the end.

Pandemic: “Repurpose Old Shirts for Masks” by Amy Miller

Pandemic: “Repurpose Old Shirts for Masks”

I expected regret, but not
this dissection. How clever
the sleeves—each a single sheet,
shoulder shirred, wrists

tapered. Such skill in the bound-off
seams, square cuffs. I cut it all
away, lay each part flat on the table.
I keep thinking of charts—

loin, shank, ribeye, chuck—the countries
of a body. The back, for instance,
perfect for the long ties, strips,
plaid lines to guide the shears

as it gives up all that held it together,
making an almost beautiful sound
like someone who worked all day
and is now changing into something else.

by Amy Miller

Amy on Facebook
Twitter: @AmyMillerPoet
Instagram: @AmyMillerPoet

Editor’s Note: The allegory inherent in each image of this poem aches so beautifully one must read it again and again.

From the archives – This is the Face of a Widow by Susan Butler

This is the Face of a Widow

These are the hands of a widow,
seeking comfort in pockets and pages,
flapping at the questions
like a frantic small bird trapped in a tangled snare.
These are the hands of a widow, ineffectual,
lurching, reaching for someone they will never touch,
growing thinner, even bones
nearly vanishing.

These are the eyes of a widow,
eyes that don’t see but never stop seeing,
dead stars that still must wake.
These are the eyes of a widow,
burnt crumbs
that still must burn, must disguise,
poorly,
this aching vacancy.

This is the mouth of a widow
. . . .

This is the face of a widow,
stained with weeping salt, skin brittle,
this half moon
cradled in no other hands.
This is the face of a widow,
trying to look forward
instead of down at the earth,
the dirt that covers him,
that will cover her.

This is the word widow.
It means what will never be.

by Susan Butler

from Autumn Sky Poetry DAILY, December 14, 2016

Photograph by Christine Klocek-Lim