Archive for August 3rd, 2021

This month I am participating in The Sealy Challenge by reading a poetry book each day. Today’s book is An Oral History of Covid-19 in Poems gathered by Sarah Donovan of Ohio State University. Sarah curates Ethical ELA with an Open Write event each month. During the month of April, she posts a prompt each day. In the spring of 2020, the daily writing was a way for teachers isolated by the pandemic to connect through writing. We wrote poetry to process this unusual time. Sarah and her colleagues decided to preserve this work in an oral history project. Through that project, they conducted interviews by zoom and collected submitted poems into a collection. The book is free to read online or you can purchase a book copy for the cost of printing. (Link to Free Press Book.)

The thread that holds this collection together is the shared experience of teaching in 2020. Many of the poems are narrative while some follow forms.

I’ve chosen two poems to feature today.

Elms on Death Row


Three trees stand solemnly
in a row just as planted
nearly one hundred years ago

Each tendril root
tapped deeply into place
somnolently holding to earth

Craggy rough bark
like aged hands so many
life stories harbored there

Each now marked: a bright red dot
some roughshod city worker
sprayed just doing his job

Their days are numbered
soon hewn to stumps
then those ground flush

I place my hand on one
breathe in breath out
say “Thank you”

then the next: Thank you.
then the next: Thank you.

Lest they go from this world
unappreciated for all
they have provided.

Thank you.

I relate to this poem as I have experience the chopping down of trees for development. Haven’t we all? I feel sad for the marked trees. Denise captures that feeling well. I love how she decides to deal with this sadness, not by ranting, but by gratitude. This poem also holds together as a metaphor poem for Covid. The illness strikes some with little or no symptoms while others are very ill and die. Senseless deaths. Like the Elms, they leave behind their stories.

Washing Hands


They say that all poems are
political; all poems are
an expression of freedom
against oppression are
innately radical.  Their
mere “existence is

But not this one.

This one is just about me
washing my hands
and how sometimes I lose
count, so I need to start
over to ensure that
I’ve done it for the proper
length of time.

Hands lathered up, I stare
out the kitchen window
at the neighbor’s house,
at my neighbor who, although
it’s the middle of December,
and sure, it is unseasonably
warm, looks to be planting fake
flowers in the sills outside
of her windows.

This is the same neighbor
who was surprised when her
racist lawn ornaments were
stolen this past summer
when yet more videos
of atrocities and injustices
were going viral,

which, of course, makes me
scrub more vigorously, thinking
of the UPS package that came,
the actual reason that I’m standing
here in the kitchen —
Was that one thousand seventeen
or eighteen? —

So, I apply more soap from the
hands free dispenser, and
watch, transfixed, as she carefully,
artistically even, places various
colors and kinds together, creating,
to her mind at least, a pleasing
arrangement, taking more care
and effort to arrange these fake
flowers than she has ever
afforded her neighbors.

And I just wanted to wash my
hands, wanted to not (potentially)
infect my wife or myself, wanted
to simply go about my business,
maybe read a little, grade an essay
or two,

but I keep thinking
about the sad fact that
cultivation does take
time and effort and
persistence, and,
for some, it really
is easier to arrange
plastic flowers

than to plant
and nurture
live ones.

In Scott’s poem about washing hands, I appreciate how he sets up the poem as an ordinary moment, not a political poem “not this one” and yet, it becomes more and more filled with emotion, and in the end, imparts wisdom with an extended metaphor in “plastic flowers.”

I hope I can continue this daily blogging practice around a different poetry book each day, but realistically, “cultivation takes time and effort”, as Scott McCloskey says. I’ll take it day by day. Thanks for reading.

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