Shelter In Place Poem, Day 5

It is everlastingly funny that the proud, metaphysically ambitious, clamoring mind

will hush if you give it an egg writes Annie Dillard in her essay about a total eclipse

which she watched a hilltop in Washington state. As the “monstrous swift shadow

cone of the moon” rushed toward her and everyone else on the hilltop,

screams filled the air. Then the eclipse ended and she went out for breakfast.

She had a fried egg and felt better. Perhaps this is why in tough times

people buy baby chicks,  though it will be months before they produce eggs.

Yesterday in the grocery story the security guard sitting at the sliding doors

next to the on-sale oranges smiled at me as I entered. A man wearing an actual

N95 respirator passed me on his way out, carrying a brown bag and a bouquet

of Gerber daisies. And that was the thing, finally, that made me burst into tears,

the man in the mask with a handful of flowers, the utter lunacy of it.

But my mind was obedient, after a moment, and pulled itself together,

and led my body to the coolers where the eggs are kept, and eggs were there,

and I bought my allotted two cartons and drove home.


Shelter In Place Poem, Days 3 & 4

If you google an animal’s name on your smartphone, say, lion, then scroll down and select View in 3D, the animal appears in your camera’s viewfinder as though it were suddenly in your home. The giant lion takes up my whole bedroom, startling me; a panda sits on our bannister, eating a piece of bamboo. In my household, I am the only one impressed. My daughter shrugs, used to the things that phones can do. My husband is busy with his virtual world of dragons.  I watch an octopus waft through the kitchen. The cat, our real one, vomits. The octopus is unconcerned.

I wipe up the vomit and wash my hands. Although my Calm app tells me I have experienced over 28 hours of mindfulness, I can’t remember to wash my hands for 20 seconds. I forget, go too fast, and have to wash them twice, hoping that will suffice.  The octopus disappears, leaving me alone with the newsfeed, where New York City paramedics must make quick choices about who to transport to hospitals: the 23-year-old with a cough and fever, the 72-year-old with a cough and fever, the woman who drank an entire bottle of vodka in despair because her cancer treatments had been delayed?

Three weeks ago, I was in urgent care with a cough and fever. No coronavirus tests were available. If you’re not better in 7 days–give it 7 days–go to the ER, the masked nurse practitioner told me. Masked myself, I nodded. In New York City a paramedic sews her own masks with bandanas and coffee filters. How is this going to end?

Screenshot 2020-03-29 at 7.32.32 AM



Shelter in Place Poem, Day 2

“Shelter in place” was the name of a particular drill
at the West Virginia high school where I taught sophomores

literature and grammar in 2002, where Sammie who wore her hair
in pigtails like a little girl once outlined her desk

in Elmer’s glue, paying particular attention to filling in
the long narrow indentation at the top of the desk

meant for holding a pencil. Sammie dated Derek who wore camo
every day and wrote in his journal because I forced him to

about hunting deer on the weekends. In my memory Sammie is
6 months pregnant but she wasn’t pregnant yet, that year.

The school was a mile down river from the factory
the locals called “the chemical plant;” the “shelter in place” drill

was for in case the chemical plant caught on fire.
When the alarm sounded, the whole school was to

stuff itself into the gym. Standing in the the gym
with a thousand teenagers, I remember saying to myself

hell no. If ever this is not a drill, I am walking directly
to my car and leaving this entire city.

My classroom that year had no windows.
The sophomores were sweet but unruly.

One of my students was a Syrian refugee.
Three unrelated boys in second period had parents in prison.

With enough classroom structure, I could get them
to practice correcting comma splices on worksheets.

That was the year I first tried to meditate.
I sat on the stairway of our home on Charleston’s

“west side,” where we’d chosen to live because
the hills looked pretty from the plane window,

and sobbed. The rent was cheap. The stove was
infested with mice. The scent of what we would

eventually place as a meth lab mixed in the air
with Tide from the nearby laundromat.

The neighbors were friendly and curious.
The elderly Sylvie to our south was kind

and chatty; the teenage Cassie across the street
teased us about the six-packs she watched us

unload one day with groceries: y’all fixin
to get twisted. Hell no, I thought, in the gym,

where in my memory 50 Cent’s “In da Club”
plays over the loudspeaker, though surely

I am mixing that up with a different assembly,
one more celebratory. Absolutely not.

And I was lucky. At the end of that year,
I could leave.


Shelter in Place Poem, Day 1

I decided to write a long poem, a section or so each day, for the duration of Colorado’s shelter in place, which will last at least through April 11. Here’s day one.

COVOD-19, 2020

If you are reading this,

you are so far a survivor,

not only of the obvious virus

but also of whatever else it is you’ve survived

or are surviving, your own particular list

unique and distinct as your fingerprint.

Heartbreak, abuse, betrayal, deception.

You’ve been overlooked, underappreciated.

You’ve been silenced, made sad, flat-out bored.

The number of times you’ve been misunderstood

is almost as large as the number of times

you’ve misunderstood others. And you’ve survived

your own sins–think of the unspeakable things

you did in middle school. You’ve starved yourself,

sliced your own skin, made yourself sick

with numerous chemicals. Yet here you are in a year

that in our previous millennium was held up

so often as the hard-to-image, sparkling future:


Today the skies where I am are clear because

no one is driving their cars to the city.

The air is filled with the sound of invisible birds.


When we remember too clearly the dystopian novels we’ve read,

we wonder how far our instinct to survive

would endure. How long would I want to live

in a world where I must shoot

my neighbor-turned-intruder to protect

my box of uncooked pasta, my pound of rice?

I might choose to lay down and join my great-grandmother,

the orange cat, my grandmother, the let-go-of balloon.

Let me become a crow. Let me make a nest.


In my dream last night I became my daughter

on her first day of middle school, her-not-her,

trying to find my math class, deciding where to sit.

My locker combination was 22-2-32,

and I turned it a hundred times before I woke,

relieved, confused.  Was it my father or yours

who works construction and can’t stay home?

Was it my mother, or yours, whose housekeeping clients

cancel day after day without offering to pay?

Where does toilet paper come from?





Pushcart Prize Nomination from Cagibi!

I am thrilled to share that Cagibi nominated “My American Childhood in Reverse” for a Pushcart Prize!

Read the announcement here. I am unbelievably honored that it was nominated alongside such other wonderful poems and authors.

And this is what a Pushcart Prize is. I am not sure when they announce the winners… but send me good luck for this (difficult, terrifying, healing) poem (a sestina!) that I wrote in 2015–and that was rejected at 40 other journals before Cagibi accepted it for their wonderful journal–and then nominated for a Pushcart.

The Angel of Death Comes to the Playground

March 19, 2018

We are locked out of the playground
because this morning a man
so young he books like a boy
escaped from Denver Health and the boy
may or may not have murdered
another man yesterday so the boy
was wearing handcuffs and his legs
were bound in iron bars and
he was wearing an orange jumpsuit
so he should have been easy to find
yet no one could find him so
five blocks away my daughter’s school
is under lockout which means
no one can come inside
and though texts and phone calls
from the school assure us the children are safe
we worry and wait just outside the playground fence
and imagine the boy in the school with a gun
because at this very moment in another state
a boy is entering a school with a gun
and beginning to shoot and the children
are pushing file cabinets against doorways
and huddling in closets and though
we don’t know any of this yet I see her
on the swings, the angel, she is smiling at us
whispering something we can’t make out
and just before the bell rings making us all jump and
startling the angel away I hear
her silvery wings swishing in the breeze

from Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own”

I’m posting a series of poems and excerpts from poems and essay that I love. Today’s is from Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own.” This except encourages me to keep writing “through obscurity.”

from Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own”

… if we face the fact, for it is a fact, that there is no arm to cling to, but that we go alone and that our relation is to the world of reality and not only to the world of men and women, then the opportunity will come and the dead poet who was Shakespeare’s sister will put on the body which she has so often laid down. Drawing her life from the lives of the unknown who were her forerunners, as her brother did before her, she will be born. As for her coming without that preparation, without that effort on our part, without that determination that when she is born again she shall find it possible to live and write her poetry, that we cannot expect, for that would be impossible. But I maintain that she would come if we worked for her, and that so to work, even in poverty and obscurity, is worthwhile.

Virgina Woolf

John Wilde’s Happy, Crazy, American Animals and a Man and Lady at My Place.

I’m posting a series of poems and excerpts from poems and essay that I love. But today’s is a painting! It’s John Wilde’s Happy, Crazy, American Animals and a Man and Lady at My Place. This is the feeling I am going for in my best poems.

Happ American Animals

John Wilde, Happy, Crazy, American Animals and a Man and Lady at My Place, 1961

Ruth Stone’s “Train Ride”

I’m posting a series of poems and excerpts from poems and essay that I love. Today’s is Ruth Stone’s “Train Ride.” This is one of the few poems I have memorized. Its duality is outside of reality to me, in a magical and reassuring way. It’s what I want all my poems to be.

Train Ride

All things come to an end;
small calves in Arkansas,
the bend of the muddy river.
Do all things come to an end?
No, they go on forever.
They go on forever, the swamp,
the vine-choked cypress, the oaks
rattling last year’s leaves,
the thump of the rails, the kite,
the still white stilted heron.
All things come to an end.
The red clay bank, the spread hawk,
the bodies riding this train,
the stalled truck, pale sunlight, the talk;
the talk goes on forever,
the wide dry field of geese,
a man stopped near his porch
to watch. Release, release;
between cold death and a fever,
send what you will, I will listen.
All things come to an end.
No, they go on forever.

                                    Ruth Stone