Lilac Season by Ann E. Wallace

Lilac Season
—for Raya

As spring arrived once more,
the death calls petered out.
We made it through a full year,
just barely, and survived.

Scarred and struggling, we let down
our guard, celebrated our escape.

The final blow came then
in the thirteenth month, shots
burning fresh in our arms, cherry trees
almost gaudy in their pink finery.

Our joy as foolish, death ordinary
and unexpected would not stop.

Come lilac season, we swiped
a sprig or two from untended
side gardens and held the purple
blooms to our unmasked noses.

We inhaled the sweetness, so strong
and fleeting, and wept for you.

by Ann E. Wallace

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Editor’s Note: This poem reminds the reader that grief can happen even in the light and joy of a new season.

This Virus, a Villanelle by Ann E. Wallace

This Virus, a Villanelle

I’ve come to think of this virus as a mad villanelle,
like Sisyphus staggering up that hill under his stone
each week tumbling backward into hell.

For months I’ve heard the siren’s new death knell,
contrapuntal to my breath’s stuttered tone—
and therein lie the rhythms of this virus, a villanelle.

An unending circling round, each wretched swell
pushes me down, as I gasp for air alone
tumbling backward into these waves of hell.

At dawn, I renew my feeble fight to expel
the infection rooted within my chest, its pulsing home,
every gain dashed by this virus, the sour villanelle.

Over months, my breath grows stronger and body able
but the respite’s a tease, with relapse now so known,
Yet, each slip a surprise, a tumble back into hell.

And more, when I finally bid this disease its long farewell,
leave my sickbed to see what in time the world has sown
I fear I’ll see how fast we, unmasked, have fallen back into hell,
that it’s we, not the virus, who’ve created this tortured villanelle.

by Ann E. Wallace

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Editor’s Note: The best villanelles use the repetition of the lines to emphasize the poem’s message, and this villanelle does just that (and makes it look easy!).

Not Yet, Abby by Ann E. Wallace

Not Yet, Abby

When my youngest was just three,
or maybe four,
I took her to the dentist
one morning in early November.

As we left the house, she plucked
a bright red lollipop
from her bag of Halloween treats
and held it out, posing
a silent question.

You can’t eat that now, Abby,
I said as I lifted her into her car seat.
She held it tight
in her small fist as we drove
and left it safe in her cup holder
when we went inside
for the cleaning.

Back in the car,
she held up the candy,
Now, Mommy?

Not yet, Abby
I replied as we drove to her preschool.
I left her chattering with her friends
and headed to work.

At half past five, I rushed
back to the little school.
As I walked through the heavy front doors,
I saw she had been waiting.
She ran to me and held out
her tightly curled fist,
palm up.
She unrolled her fingers
to reveal her red lollipop,
still in its wrapper.

I laughed.
Yes, but first,
let’s put your coat on.

A decade later,
six weeks into a pandemic,
Abby quietly opened her bedroom window
and slipped outside
to sit in the afternoon sun,
perched in safety on her fire escape.

At thirteen, she already knew
the answer to the question
she had not bothered to ask—
Not yet, Abby.

by Ann E. Wallace

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Editor’s Note: The subtle difficulty of constraint in a global pandemic is beautifully illustrated in this narrative poem.

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

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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.

Spring, Fever, Snow by Ann E. Wallace

Spring, Fever, Snow

Last night I had to outrun a Zamboni
which isn’t so very hard to do
but is treacherous nonetheless,
especially in a dream when you’re not sure
why you’re on the ice in the first place.

Yesterday morning I slept to pelting rain,
a rhythmic ting of icy drops that left no trace
so I wasn’t sure when I woke, feverish
but not, whether the sleet was real,
though the sound surely was.

And today schools are closed for a first
day of spring nor’easter, the silence
entrancing me through long morning
sleep, so I’m not sure when I wake
if it has even begun to snow, but it has
and large flakes like coconut shavings are
swirling down outside my window, already
blanketing the footings of sturdy daffodil shoots.

I rise woozy from fighting off the lingering
almost fever and outrunning the ice machine
in street shoes when skates would
have been better. After coffee and toast
and a small dose of slow grading,
I dress in ski pants, waterproof boots
and an enormous hat to protect my head
and neck from the frozen flakes
that disintegrate unwelcome into cool
damp patches on contact with skin.

In the white swirl, I push, scoop, lift,
toss snow into piles so people can pass
on the almost bared walk or climb
the slippery front steps, but no one does,
the silence complete save for the
scraping of my shovel and the rhythm
of my breath as I clear snow
and clear it again while it falls
in fresh determined layers in the bright
glow of this springtime afternoon.

by Ann E. Wallace

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Editor’s Note: Sometimes winter lingers for so long that feverish dreams can punctuate the imagery of a poem.

Girl of Summer by Ann E. Wallace

Girl of Summer

I had forgotten the small town girl of summer in me–
the good New England daughter in plaid pleated skirts and woolen knee socks,
in penny loafers shiny stiff each fall,
swapped out for salt-water stained topsiders in summer,
the worn cutoffs, the burn turned to tan, the girl in love with the ocean.

I had forgotten that girl who tore through boat yards on her bike with the boys,
who slid to a stop, popped off, raced down the dock, wheels still spinning in the dirt,
forgotten how she sailed and sailed until she turned too quickly this way or that, defiantly ignoring the will of the wind
and toppled over, keel up.

I had forgotten how she splashed and laughed and cursed and feigned outrage,
hoisting herself atop the centerboard, bouncing her slight weight
to right the boat.

I had forgotten how she would be up again
and sailing, skimming along, tempting the ocean
with sharp jives until she dipped deep and the water pulled her in once more,
the allure of the capsize so strong
that she never learned to read the winds
and sail straight.

Day after day, she returned to the dock
sopping wet, devouring ice cream sandwiches
and French fries and BLTs, as shoes dried salty stiff on the deck.
Late afternoon, she rode home satisfied, spent, a shade darker.

Come September, the ripped jeans stuffed
in a drawer, the wild girl of summer drifted away,
and away and away.

But here now, you remind me that I was once
that girl who sailed with no regard for the wind,
with no desire but to throw myself
into the pull of the deep ocean.

by Ann E. Wallace

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Editor’s Note: Nostalgia for one’s past can often trap us in sadness, but the final stanza of this poem opens the emotion up with a more positive direction.