Category Archives: Hot Take Poem

A Fundamentally Backward Metaphor Since Young People Are Less at Risk from COVID-19 but Anyway, a Parasite is a Parasite: Thoughts on Being an Essential (Teacher) Worker During a Pandemic

Please sacrifice your young, the cowbirds say,
depositing their eggs in someone else’s nest.
You know, it didn’t have to be this way—

all the precious hobbitses are safe.
Other countries made a safety net.
But. Sacrifice your young, our cowbirds say,

and we bob our stupid avian heads and let them take
the food we worked for. Our own babies are just waste.
But no, it didn’t have to be this way—

“Many parasitized species routinely recognize and reject cowbird eggs…
destroying the egg, rebuilding the nest to cover the egg, or abandoning the nest.”
Please sacrifice your young, the cowbirds say.

Restart the economy. Open your campus. #vacay.
Do we always, always, always have to say yes?
Maybe it doesn’t have to be this way—

maybe we don’t have to curtsy every single day.
Billionaires don’t always know what’s best.
What if we don’t do what the cowbirds say?
What if it doesn’t have to be this way?

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Quotes on cowbirds from: https://web.stanford.edu/group/stanfordbirds/text/essays/Cowbirds.html

No cowbirds here. None in our yard. We’d holler at ’em. Scare ’em away. Throw rocks.

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Of course I’m lucky to have a job. Lucky I’ve been working from home since late March.  Lucky in that there’s a chance I’ll get to teach my courses the way I want to this fall–all online, but lots of group work for students to interact with, and lots of one-on-one conferences with me (possibly in person, depending).

 

But universities are opening for all kinds of reasons other than “this is healthy and safe and best for the public good.”

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AFTER SCHOOL SPECIAL

Am not the productivity queen, though trying,
every bad habit I have is worse right now.
I’ve learned a new word—“recrudescence.” Wow
is that my life at 3 a.m. I keep thinking I’m dying
from the virus that makes my lips a little blue
but is not, not according to the test, the hot new sick.
You can learn a lot about a person in a pandemic,
but what you think you know might not be true.
I’ve been thinking about the shows I used to watch after school.
Who would and wouldn’t wear a mask because it was or wasn’t cool.
Leave it to Wally to be the most consistent.
The Beave would try but lose his in a minute.
The actor who played him just died—let’s take a second to grieve—
or really however long we need—but I think we can all agree
Eddie might wear his mask in front of June,
but he’d take it off the moment she left the room.

—–

(pandemic poem #11)

IN WHICH THURSTON HOWELL III DECLARES THE PROFESSOR IS EXAGGERATING COVID-19 NUMBERS AND THAT THE HOWELLS HAVE NEVER WORN AND WON’T EVER WEAR MASKS OR PRACTICE SOCIAL DISTANCING EXCEPT FROM PEOPLE WHO AREN’T WORTHY OF THEIR TIME

“Of course not dear,” Lovey says to her Mister
but she puts her mask back on when he looks away,
which is often, as unabsorbed as he is with her.
Dollar signs in his eyes and under his nails.
Who’s in Lovey’s eyes when she closes them?
She’s just smart enough to play dumb.
It’s not the rich man who sets her heart drumming.
It’s not her husband’s coconuts she’s rubbing.
Once more amusing myself takes an extra turn
as I’m sorting through what I’ve learned
in quarantine. It’s you I’m unhappy with, you
and your mask, or your lack of a mask, you make me rage, make me panic.
You can learn an awful lot about people in a pandemic,
but what you think you know might not be true.

(pandemic poem #10)

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QUARANTINE ABECDARIAN THAT AMAZINGLY DOESN’T USE “QUARANTINE” FOR THE “Q”

Aline is a poet
Bob likes to fish
Chuck likes to throw things
Doug plays in the dirt
Ed likes to teach
Fanny likes to WHAT? WHAT DID YOU THINK I WAS GOING TO SAY?
Gale is a blowhard
Hi says hello
I spend so much time
Just amusing myself. I wonder if I can
Keep it up when we start
Losing people we know to the virus.
Mom and Dad are in lockdown
Now, we can’t hug them
Or even visit except online.
Prayers seem distasteful when the religious
Quacks sound them the loudest.
Really trying to focus, to be there for my
Students, but I feel stunned a lot of the
Time. But I keep trying. Which of
Us will turn out to have the right
Vision for how this all will
Work? Imagining the future takes e-
Xtreme optimism, which I don’t have. Do
You? Let’s talk about it more on
Zoom.

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I’m not much of an optimist, but in a few weeks, my azaleas will be blooming.

Pandemic Poem #2: Singing Happy Birthday Alone

Life might get back to normal, but I don’t know when.
I’m trying to work. I’d rather nap. I just wash
my hands and sing happy birthday again and again

and watch my hands dry out. Here’s another concern:
if I don’t strive hard right now, really push,
my life will never, ever be normal again.

Pandemic, panic, politics. Alliteration is not our friend.
While I wait for everything online to crash,
I decide to wash my hands and sing happy birthday again.

I want to be a superspreader. I want people to die. I want
to die. I’m not as shocked as I should be by my awful thoughts.
“Things will get back to normal.” Can you tell me when?

I’m grateful for root vegetables and food in cans.
My hero potatoes: fry, roast, boil, mash.
Will we ever sing happy birthday at a party again?

How soon we have to cook over open fire depends
on how well the grid holds up. Such a specific wish.
Life might get back to normal, but I don’t know when.
I’m singing happy birthday all alone again.

Routine Magic

Attention, please–both from and to the very best
of audiences any company could ever hope
to play to, so we hear–that cellophane
you’re crinkling deci-bells itself far, far beyond
your little ears–and also, when the music starts,
post-intermission but before the actors
reappear, that’s not your cue to talk
a little louder–no, it means shut up.
What’s more–I could go on. I won’t. It’s just–
we’re so lucky that it feels routine.
Each night they crank up the volcano, test
the atom bomb, make love from paper, walk
a cobweb tightrope, grow trees from lowly beans….
We’re privy to it all, all summer, face to face.
There is more than routine magic in this place.

picture of lit path with nearly-full moon

American Players Theatre on a moony night.

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This is the last weekend for up-the-hill shows at American Players Theatre and for most of the shows in the Touchstone Theater. A Doll’s House, Part 2 begins later this month and runs through the middle of November–I’m super excited to see it.

It was a fantastic season and I’m so happy it’s not quite done.

The first bit of that very nonce-y sonnet up there–that’s me being crabby. I’m more and more comfortable being crabby. And then the sestet–that’s me being appreciative. Which I’m also more and more comfortable being.

So lucky to live down the road from this routinely magical spot.

The Sea-Lion Literary Awards

There once was a trope so wrongheaded, I’ve never forgotten
how fetid: “a woman’s period,” (the very young man said)
“the falling ash at the end of a lit cigar.”
The women in the class (of course it was a class)
said together like a chorus, “no,
no, no, it’s nothing like that, not at all.”
And now we’re grown up and now we’re grown old
and where is he now, that redhead?
In the bar where the mermaids wait tables, an old man
leaves a tip on a napkin: “You would be so much prettier
if you smiled more.” He looks less at her face than her ass
and at home he writes poems about “how her titties are
shooting out her shirt like two cannon balls.”
No one needs to read it to think “not at all.”

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Just killing time before a movie–there was a Twitter exchange about dirty old man poems & I was inspired. (The title relates to the Twitter exchange.)

thot-this

This Specific Grief So Far

The braille of my hives reads “nettles,” which
I’ve tackled just in time this spring, instead
of waiting until they’re taller than my head.
I should cook them up but won’t. There is so much
I am not doing with this gift of time
that was stolen just today from a woman younger
than me with children younger than mine. Also, her
good words reached farther and did more work than mine.
In this specific grief so far, what have I learned?
The God we prayed to didn’t grant our prayers.
Some plants protect themselves–beware. Beware–
female stinging nettles produce more stinging hairs.
I see pain and possibility everywhere.
“O death where is thy sting?” Right fucking here.

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Rachel Held Evans, a writer I admired and learned from so much, has died. She was one of my favorite thinkers on Twitter and I appreciated her blog posts and books. I never met her. I never said “I think you’re great,” not even in a tweet. So there’s this sadness, in proportion to how much she occupied my brain and engaged my heart, and there are so many others hurting so much more.

What else can I say except–read her if you haven’t already. And we all need to understand what she said in her last blog post:

“It strikes me today that the liturgy of Ash Wednesday teaches something that nearly everyone can agree on. Whether you are part of a church or not, whether you believe today or your doubt, whether you are a Christian or an atheist or an agnostic or a so-called ‘none’ (whose faith experiences far transcend the limits of that label) you know this truth deep in your bones: ‘Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return.’

Death is a part of life.

My prayer for you this season is that you make time to celebrate that reality, and to grieve that reality, and that you will know you are not alone.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

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thumbnail

darkness and light and pain and pleasure

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(At some point, I will be more in the mood to celebrate her life. Right now, I am grieved and angry, and I feel confident she would support my feeling of my feelings.)

Oh children let me tell you of the 80s

Oh children let me tell you of the 80s when
we learned about gay because so many of
the men we loved got sick, they died, so
now when people try to calm themselves
about political mayhem they sigh and say, “Well,
we survived Reagan, we’ll survive ________.”
We say no, we didn’t, we didn’t all survive,
we didn’t, some pretty ones died,
they got skinny and sick with awful red blotches.
People wouldn’t touch them. Doctors wouldn’t
treat them. People wouldn’t say the word.
Reagan wouldn’t say the word.
I will say the word Reagan wouldn’t say,
AIDS, I’ll say it and I’ll also say
I blame him. I blame him. I blame him.

The ones who didn’t die, we worried they would,
the pretty ones, the ones who did their eyes better
than I ever could, and some of them loved women,
too, but we knew they loved men or
maybe they did or they just didn’t care what we knew
or what we thought we knew and we loved them so much
it turned out we didn’t care either and
they’re part of why we have non-binary rainbows now,
but children they’re dying now, too, too
soon, some of the prettiest ones this year, and
your middle-aged people are crying because
we were young and pretty once and
all the prettiest ones are dying.

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img_4605

Red wine in a blue glass #sad

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Update 12/26

One of my students last week was saying “Freeze frame!” and other students knew the song, and I said, “Wait–are you talking about the J. Geils band?” Yes, they were, they love it. This was in a class where they were practicing teaching a p.e. unit to elementary students (I volunteered to be a naughty student so they could practice how to handle that). One of the lessons involved teaching us the words & motions to “Y.M.C.A.” I asked one of our staffers (who was also volunteering) if he thought students knew what a big part that song played in gay culture, and he didn’t seem to know it, so I’m guessing students don’t, either.

So the 80s are back, but as far as I can see, in a pretty shallow way. Which is fine, except there are things that are important to know about the 80s, including AIDS. One of the reasons I give away condoms on campus is that I heard on the radio a couple of years that the only demographic group where AIDS cases were going up were college-age people in rural, white areas (my students, in other words). I suppose I could look up the stats to be more precise, but the point is, as with so many things, there’s so much they don’t know.

Some caveats: I remember spending so much time early on when we talked about AIDS saying over and over again “it’s not just a gay disease,” and it wasn’t, and isn’t, but we nearly lost a generation of gay men, so many of them creative and amazing–what would the world be like if we could’ve slowed it sooner?

(I also remember that we said to each other that men wearing so much makeup didn’t mean they were gay–or two earrings, or one earring on the right–and of course it didn’t, but we wondered. I remember spending a lot of time wondering. Just barely post-adolescent, I remember how sad I was to find out some singer I loved was gay because that added one more layer of impossibility he’d ever marry me. I felt the same way when I found out Walt Whitman was gay, because not only was he dead, he wouldn’t have loved me like that, anyway. Because, of course, it was all about me.)

And another thing–I revised the wording here a little. The day after the election there were several tweets saying “But we didn’t all survive Reagan/Bush.” I can’t find one that said “The thing is,” but I woke up this morning worried I’d copied the wording too closely. So I changed it. If I find that specific tweet, I’ll link it.