Farewell Poems by Manuel Iris and Pauletta Hansel for Postcards from the Pandemic: A Cincinnati Poetry Month Project

Poetry Month is over, our friends. It has been a moving experience to read and share your words, and to revel in your encouraging and compassionate responses to each other. We wanted to end this correspondence by each sharing a poem of our own with you. We encourage all of Cincinnati’s poets to keep writing about our lives during these challenging and historic times, and to stay in touch. And a reminder, too, that all the Postcards from the Pandemic published during Cincinnati Poetry Month can be accessed from this page. Be safe, friends!

Cuarentena
Por Manuel Iris

Obligados a asistir al simulacro
de nuestra propia extinción
podemos afirmar con absoluta confianza
que nuestra ausencia caerá sobre el mundo
como lluvia fresca,
como el acorde necesario para abrir
la sinfonía del futuro.

Da gusto la presteza
con que el planeta puede sanar
del daño que le han hecho
sus inquilinos humanos:

luego de un par de semanas sin turistas
los canales de Venecia tienen peces.

Un jabalí camina con sus hijos por las calles de Roma.

La renovada pureza del aire
en el mismo pueblo en que inició la pandemia
podría salvar la vida de miles de personas.

El cielo, otra vez, le pertenece
sus legítimos dueños.

Naturalmente, el mar
tampoco nos extraña
ni lo harán las montañas, el desierto,
la selva o la tundra.

Nuestro planeta seguirá su baile
sin nostalgia.

A nadie le hará falta Debussy.

El Guernica será masticado
por alguna cabra silvestre
y convertido luego en abono para plantas.

Es decir: convertido en vida.

Disculpará quien me lee
que tal metamorfosis no me parezca mal
puesto que el tema, el terrible
tema humano de ese cuadro
será obsoleto en ese nuevo,
primigenio mundo,

y porque nadie puede lamentar
que se pierdan los motivos
para pintar el Guernica.

Porque debe celebrarse el milagro
de toda la belleza que nunca merecimos.

18 de marzo, 2020

Quarantine
By Manuel Iris

Forced to attend the drill
of our own extinction
we can affirm with absolute confidence
that our absence will fall upon the world
like fresh rain,
like a chord needed to set in motion
the symphony of the future.

One can be glad to see how quickly
the planet can heal
from the damage inflicted
by its human tenants:

in two weeks’ time without tourists
the canals of Venice are teeming with fish

A wild boar walks with its piglets through the streets of Rome.

The renewed purity of the air
in the town where the pandemic started
could now save the lives of thousands.

The sky, once again, belongs to
its rightful owners.

The sea—naturally
does not miss us
nor do the jungles, the desert,
the mountains or tundra.

The planet will continue to dance
without nostalgia.

No one will need Debussy.

The Guernica will feed
some wild goat, to then
be turned into fertilizer.

This is: turned into life.

The reader may excuse
that such a metamorphosis
does not seem so bad to me
since the subject, the terrible
human subject of that painting
will prove to be obsolete in that new,
primeval world.

Because no one can grieve
the loss of the reasons
to paint the Guernica.

Because there should be a celebration
for the miracle of all the beauty
that we never deserved.

March 18, 2020

Manuel Iris of Clifton is Poet Laureate of Cincinnati. He is a poet and an educator who has received Mexico’s national award of poetry. His recent books include The Naked Light; Before the Mystery; and his first bilingual collection of poetry, Translating Silence/Traducir el silencio.

Pauletta lives in Paddock Hills. The poem above was published along with a recording of Pauletta reading the poem online at The Cincinnati Review. Another of Pauletta’s Postcards can be found at The New Verse News.

 

Poems by Roberta Schultz and Sherry Cook Stanforth for Postcards from the Pandemic: A Cincinnati Poetry Month Project

For the final day of Poetry Month, the yin and yang of our quarantined  lives, co-existing within us. Both poems are presented in English and in Spanish, as  translated by Manuel Iris. Join us tomorrow, May 1, for a bonus installment of Postcards from the Pandemic.

Pinned
By Roberta Schultz

There’s a paralysis
that happens during sleep.
You try to run, but suddenly
your legs won’t obey.
The heft of gravity smacks
your face to the mat.

That’s how I ended up
spread eagle on the roof
of a semi last night—
face down, gasping for air
as the massive truck throttled
through the dark tunnel of my dream.

My fingers grasped the slippery edge
between cab and windshield.
When I dared look, my knuckles bent
white against gale force.
My limp body flagged
in the head wind.

I can’t do this anymore.

I whimpered to my husband
who wrangled the 18-wheeler
into the nearest parking lot,
leaning hard on the brakes.

You don’t have to.

He opened the door
to help me climb down
into the warm cab equipped
with a cassette player.
As I rifled through the glove box
in search of a tape, any tape,
I woke up, cat clinging
to my soaked back.

The overnight news
droned its steady toll:
the sick and the dead,
the sick and the dead.

 

Inmóvil

Por Roberta Schultz, traducido por Manuel Iris

Hay una parálisis
que sucede durante el sueño.
Intentas correr, y de repente
la piernas no obedecen,
el peso de la gravedad golpea
tu cara contra el colchón.

Así es como anoche terminé
con las piernas y los brazos abiertos
sobre el techo de la cabina de un tráiler
boca abajo, sin aliento
mientras el enorme camión aceleraba
a través del oscuro túnel de mi sueño.

Mis dedos se aferraron al resbaladizo borde
entre cabina y parabrisas.
Cuando me atreví a mirar, mis nudillos palidecieron
contra la fuerza del vendaval.
Mi cuerpo flácido se mecía como un trapo
en el viento.

Ya no puedo seguir haciendo esto.

Le gemí a mi esposo
que forzó al camión de 18 ruedas
a entrar al estacionamiento más cercano,
pisando fuertemente los frenos.

No tienes que hacerlo.

Abrió la puerta
para ayudarme a bajar
a la templada cabina
equipada con un reproductor de cassette.
Mientras yo revolvía la guantera
buscando una cinta, cualquier cinta,
desperté, con mi gato apretándose
a mi espalda empapada.

Las noticias de la noche
zumbaron su conteo permanente:
enfermos y muertos,
enfermos y muertos.

 

Roberta Schultz lives in Wilder, KY which is approximately 6 miles from downtown Cincinnati. She wrote this poem as part of an epistolary poem prompt in Pauletta Hansel’s From Draft to Craft Poetry Class at Thomas More University, where partners answered each other’s poems. Her forthcoming book, Touchstones, is available for pre-order.

Home Dharma
by Sherry Cook Stanforth

I.
A house sparrow has nested
in my gardening boot,
stashed on a garage shelf.
Three eggs, dappled and glowing,
form her simple agenda—
when I open the door
to the shadow-sliced world,
off she sails, living
without terror or boredom,
each day a sanctuary,
each worm a reason to sing.

II.
Barking venerable masters
rake paws along my leg—
gentle force to liberate me
from virtual time’s clutch.
I go as asked to fetch leashes
hanging in the garage.
The sparrow sails.
The dogs whine with joy:
I’ve chosen to look
beyond this path.

III.
Coyotes howl near
lavender bushes,
so close that I think
they are coming for me
or the people I love.
Clockwatching, I smell
my pillow and dream up
old tunes in the dark.
Come morning, I’ll free
a hungry bird, then go
creek-walking with dogs
before this purpose
I hold dissolves.

Dharma doméstico
Por Sherry Cook Stanforth, traducido por Manuel Iris

I

Una gorriona anidó
en una de mis botas de jardinería
escondida en un estante del garaje.
Tres huevos, moteados y brillantes,
son su simple ocupación
—cuando le abro la puerta
al mundo, que queda cortado en rodajas de sombra,
surca el aire, viviendo
sin terror ni aburrimiento,
cada día, un santuario,
cada gusano una razón para cantar.

II

Maestros venerables que ladran
pasan sus patas a lo largo de mi pierna
—fuerza gentil para liberarme
del amago del tiempo virtual.
Voy, como me piden, a buscar las correas
que cuelgan en el garaje.
El gorrión vuela.
Los perros hacen ruidos de alegría:
he elegido mirar
más allá del camino.

III

Los coyotes aúllan cerca
de los arbustos de lavanda,
tan cerca que pienso
que vienen por mí
o por la gente que amo.
Pendiente del reloj, huelo
mi almohada y sueño
melodías antiguas en la oscuridad.
Por la mañana, liberaré
un pájaro hambriento, y luego
iré a caminar por los arroyos
con los perros, antes de que esta voluntad
que tengo ahora
se disuelva.

Sherry Cook Stanforth, director of Thomas More University’s Creative Writing Vision Program,  lives along the river near New Richmond, Ohio. She writes, “A little bird did inspire this poem…as you read my words, she is nurturing her brood in our garage, cradled in a boot, determined to live.”

Poems by Dick Westheimer, Mary Nemeth, Helen Schwerling and Beth Smith for Postcards from the Pandemic: A Cincinnati Poetry Month Project

Four poems about the ways we are learning to keep each other close.

From quarantine I think about growing things

Dear children, wish you were here. Really I do. Last week
I set seeds in little pots: greens and beets, nestled
under a sweet coverlet of soil. These, I knew would grow
into a feast we’d share soon. Yet, this morning
at the sight of them sprouting, nodding out of the ground
as a child would from sleep, I cried in great heaves
because you are far and airplanes are incubators.
I will send you a packet of seeds and
care for the collards instead of you and yours.
Love, Pops.

Richard Westheimer lives outside Batavia, Ohio, “in a lovely place where we raised up five children who currently live in five different cities. Four grow gardens of their own, which will be one way we commune for the next year or so.”

Letter, March 24, 2020

Friend. I so agree that
it is essential that we serve as
touchstones for loved ones
in this depressing, daunting era,            f.
regardless of the distance                   f
and time that separate us,           u
least they float away.               l
like the dandelion’s           f

Just heard the latest on this vicious virus:
It took 67 days for
the first reported cases
to reach 100,000,
11 days to reach 200,000,
and only 4 days to reach 300,000!

Yet, those immune college kids
are still dancing on the beaches,
sure they are invincible,
as all youth seem to believe.

Yes, our lives have evolved,
Yes, we now treasure what before
was taken for granted, but now lost.
Yes, we perceive the world
through eyes, newly opened.

For me, being secluded
is not as devastating,
as I have lived alone
for five decades
and have perfected
the art of living with myself!

Each day, I resolve to
venture forth into nature,
soak up all its healing
powers. Tomorrow I will!

Stay safe
till the world is well again!

Mary Nemeth writes, I live in the Eastgate area with my two mischievous cats, Allie and Hobo.

Postcard from the Pandemic
March 31, 2020

The smell of wood smoke from a neighbor’s fire
The cries of a baby in the apartment below
We’re not supposed to touch, but you are in my nose
and in my ears.

In exchange for a pint of blood,
the comforting pressure of a gloved hand.

Small, strange intimacies.

So much now turns on our collective refrainings
As we dance our awkward dance in the streets
in the aisles
even in the woods:
s i x

f e e t

o f

s e p a r a t i o n

I long
To bathe again in the white noise of a crowd’s heartbeat*
To know proximity as something more than danger
or violence.

(How many hours to master the art of losing?)

Until then
We hold each other with poetry
solidarity
and sidewalk chalk.

Yours in solitude.

*J.H.

Helen Schwerling is a native Kentuckian living in College Hill

 

The Rooftops of Cincinnati

Unreconstructed late 1880’s
row house rooftops have become
my closest friends. From my down-sized
urban loft, the stove pipes send daily signals.
I have a deeper appreciation now of the angle
of certain slope-lines, so gentle, like no one could ever
fall off. And the sturdiness of brick! All of those raised fists
to social distance! I can see this gorgeous set of vintage
clay flue pots, just across the holler, atop a chimney
barely two feet square! A united front against
the virus. They’re standing so close together
though…it’s making me nervous

This poem was composed in the spirit of Allison Pitinii Davis’s “The Function of Humor in the Neighborhood,” Poem-a-Day April 1, 2020.

Beth Smith moved to Mt Adams two years ago, after having lived in the Village of Glendale for several decades.

Poems by Agnes Burdsall, Nancy Jones and Kathleen Spada for Postcards from the Pandemic: A Cincinnati Poetry Month Project

Three poems about waking up to our new reality.

How Much Melatonin is Too Much Melatonin?

When after I wake
from the first hour of restlessness,
I peer into the night
urging my eyes to adjust,
as I search for the silhouette
of my husband sleeping next to me.
I wait for the rise and fall of his chest
and when it does not come fast enough,
I press my cheek hard against his sternum
and allow for several slumbering breaths to pass
before doing the same with each dog
snuggled alongside me.
Pressing my hand to each little abdomen-
I await the reassurance
of a few gentle gusts.
And when finally I am satisfied,
I try to find sleep amongst
the lull of unlabored breaths.

But when once again it eludes me,
I wonder at the strangeness of this-
my new nighttime routine.
Where once the din of a distant highway
or the low fuzz of the TV were enough
to ease me into slumber,
sleep now is a battle
won only in pieces
with Melatonin at my side,
where with each hour
I rouse fitfully to make sure
there is still air to breathe.

Agnes Burdsall of Westwood writes, “We certainly can’t judge comma usage (misuse) at a time like this.”

Rude Awakening

Poem pushed me
out of bed at 5 a.m.

seemingly nothing
until a cardinal
began an insistent trill tune

as though today’s topics
require the high priority
of a worldwide pandemic
–March 22, 2020

Nancy Jones moved from Pleasant Ridge to a ranch in Milford to accommodate 30 years of degeneration from Multiple Sclerosis. Poetry keeps her happy and sane!

 

Postcard from a quarantined home. March 24, 2020

Think I hear her call my name.
Look up but she’s not there.
It must have been a dream.
Then again, my name . . . my name.
I’m over here, she whispers.
I get up and there she sits
On the floor, behind the couch
Not quite six feet away.
I lost my legs, she tells me.
This morning at the sink.
I tried to call, she tells me,
But my voice was tired and weak.
Crawled six feet to the bed
And pulled a pillow to the floor.
Rested for a moment,
Then six more to the door.
I’m here, I say. I’ve got you.
She smiles in her relief.
I wrap my arms around her
And raise her to her feet.
She hugs me tight. Then tighter.
No social distance here.
Everything has changed, and yet
My mother stands once more.

Kathleen Spada is a writer, scholar, teacher who lives in Florence, Kentucky with her husband, daughter, and eighty-seven year old mother for whom she provides full-time care. Follow on Twitter @Spadak2

 

 

Poems by Leslie Clark, Clarity Amrein, Rebecca Luce and Tonkia Bridges for Postcards from the Pandemic: A Cincinnati Poetry Month Project

Four poems about finding or making one’s own comfort in these times, beginning with two poems to two Clifton cats who have not, to my knowledge met!

To My Cat –
Quarantine Day 15

You taught me well,
how to wrap isolation
around myself,
spending long
stretches of time
industriously removing any
trace of another’s touch,
to revel in the escape of sleep,
yet to wake instantly
at a sound or sudden
flash of color outside
outside the window.

Like you,
I am ravenous
for the glimpses
of beauty outside
and to regain my balance
on this precipice, and
reconcile life as it was before,
to the uncertainty unfolding.

Leslie Clark writes, “I live in Clifton, not far from Spring Grove Cemetery, and among the monuments of those no longer with us, life, beauty and hope surrounds me.”

 

A Postcard to my Cat

To you
my soft friend
my little tiger
off-duty guardian
blissfully unaware
asleep in the sun

hello to you
unbothered
without pain
without time
I envy you
in sweet malaise

you do not know
what surrounds you
what days may hold
what your human fears
I don’t think you’d like it here

but perhaps I do not give you
proper credit
you curl into my arms when I cry
as if you do understand
this is also a thank you note

Clarity Amrein (www.clarityamrein.com) is technical writer, poet, public library worker, and LGBTQ+ activist who resides in Clifton. This poem is for Moon.

 

Distancing: March 2020

It’s just moments now –
I’m on my own.

Wild ideas brew with
Space and time to steep.
Fragrant meanings swirl, whirl.

No boundaries on daydreams.
Thoughts wander the universe,
Imaginings unencumbered.

Chartreuse clouds dapple lavender skies;
Frogs glide above the treetops.
Suessian reality prevails.

Wake me when it’s over.

By Rebecca Luce lives in Northside. She writes, “I’m using my solitary time to immerse myself in creative outlets, music and long dog walks. Getting a bit lonely, though!”

 

Pandemic Vision 2020

The entire world being consumed by the coronavirus
Got everyone desirous

Everyone’s encourage to stay home
Businesses closed there’s no need to roam

It’s really scary
They even closed the library

I’ve been searching for the beauty in all the madness
Focusing on spots of gladness
Trying to distract myself from the moments of sadness

Having the time to spend with my Dear Ms. G
Grateful for the moments when she remembers me

Enjoying the moments of quietness and peace
Catching up on some much needed sleep

Spending the days praying, planning, and preparing
For whatever the future is declaring

Attempting to stay optimistic
In a time that feels so unrealistic

Though the times seem dark
I’m holding on to the light I my heart

Hoping these time remove the blindness
Leading to more love and kindness

Tonkia Bridges resides in Avondale. An educator, coach, and youth advocate whose passionate about inspiring the inner NERD to learn for life. Tonkia enjoys writing poetry in her free time.

Poems by Amanda McKenzie, Eric R. Eble, Nancy Watrous and Nathan Granger for Postcards from the Pandemic: A Cincinnati Poetry Month Project

These four poems do poetry’s best work–raising the questions we all must try to answer for ourselves.

Questions In the Midst Of a Pandemic

How do I move though this time with grace?
How do I show up for myself, my children, my family, my neighbors, my coworkers, my patients, my dog, and strangers, with honor, care, and respect?
How do I balance the enormity of the situation with the minutia of everyday life?
Where or how do I find peace?
Where or how am I betraying myself?
What am I doing to contribute to the solution?
Do my thoughts, words, and actions align?
Did I try sitting down with a cup of tea?
Am I aware of my breath?
Am I in my body?
Have I slept enough?
Did I sit on the porch and watch the birds build their nests?
When should I start baking bread again?
Have I looked into my own eyes?
Where are my blind spots in this space?
What am I leaving undone?
Are you (am I) afraid to die?

Amanda McKenzie of Green Township (Dent) is a single mama, frontline third-shift healthcare worker, painter, dreamer, morbidly optimistic realist.

MementoMori.net

As if we need more reminders of your omnipresence,
I received word throughout these past three weeks
that you took two of my former students:

One by an aneurysm in the shower,
another by his own hand at a military academy.

You always must hold our attention,
grasping our chins in your cold bony hand
to force us to look at you
when we have looked away too long.

You would make a good CIA interrogator.

As I watched a priest prepare
one of them on a parish livestream,
swinging the censer of unsmelled incense
over his casket while unseen faces wept
a soundtrack of grief,
I wanted John Donne’s Holy Sonnet
to strike you down
and raise them up,

but a Times notification ping’d on my phone
to tell me about your quarry
in New York, epicenter of the pandemic.

And I had to marvel
at how well you have adjusted
to the era of technology,
your social media team
working nonstop
in these boom times.

Eric R. Eble resides in Madison Place with his wife and two children and teaches English at a local all-boys high school.
Today’s News

Mom, they call it a Pandemic
which is not a noun, but an adjective describing
the snaking virus of spiked spherical molecules
around the pale blue dot of our earth.
The lights of my week blink off.
Emails with subject: Covid19 and Canceled.

Enough! I want to stop tracking its travel.

Our part of the earth tilts into spring
and I ride my bike past my neighbors fluttering
Tibetan prayer flags and butter yellow magnolias,
up and down the hills of my childhood
and into the flowering groves of the cemetery.
I pause at your grave.

Mom, do you remember my gold locket?

I had placed a picture of the Andromeda galaxy inside. Listen,
the stars murmur ancient stories over light years
to our earth tucked in the Milky way.
I know you were never one for impractical images,
but you would have given me that steady silent look
held my hand, understanding
my hope and yours.

Nancy Watrous resides in the suburb of Wyoming where she is waiting (somewhat) patiently for the first hummingbird after its long travel from the south, or riding her bike along the winding streets of Cincinnati, with a little creative maneuvering to keep the 6 feet rule intact.

 

Crowd Control (or a Syllabic for Betty)

Dear Grandma,

Even during a pandemic,
it’s impossible to escape crowds.
I forgot,
of course, the riot of tiny, unseen creatures–
clamor of flagellum and pseudopod–
rolling over every surface like wind
combing tall grass
in a field. The official order: to stay

at home. The idea: disperse one
crowd to make room for another, crowds
of people
dispersed to allow for crowds of microbes. Six feet;
give them that much space and their numbers won’t
sweep you up. One crowd for another.
The unseen made
themselves known. Stay inside, and stay unseen.

My mother calls me and tell me
you have turned purple, your meds replaced
with morphine–
comfort drugs. The nursing home doors’ sign enjoins me
in limpid capitals: NO VISITORS.
Yet, they open when I say your name.
Thermometers
and questionnaires sift the clean from the unclean,

tourniquet the rooms from the crowds,
seen or unseen. The sieve accepts me,
clean enough,
it seems, clean of any furtive influx that might
start smashing windows or lighting fires.
My mother sits near your bed, stroking
your hair, breaking
the rules, I think before biting my tongue.

The doctors say you’ll die tonight
or tomorrow morning, so I sit
next to you
and try to unpack, construct some sense from the creak
and groan of your voice, my ears fixating
on any familiar words that slip
like rain water
through the cracked foundation of your thoughts. Maybe

this is your final night alive.
Your face pleads for answers that I can’t
give because
I don’t understand. You fall asleep, irritated
by my silence. I sit and wait for you
to stir again, and I say those words
that never
fail to free a smile from your face, one last

foundation, untrampled by the crowding of time,
inside but not unseen.

Nathan Granger lives in Dayton and works in Middletown. His grandmother, to whom this poem is addressed, lives in a nursing home in Waynesville. They currently only allow visitors for residents whom they believe are in the process of dying. In spite of the initial warnings of the doctors, his grandmother is still alive at the time of writing this poem.

Poems by Annette Januzzi Wick, Teri Foltz and Ella Cather-Davis for Postcards from the Pandemic: A Cincinnati Poetry Month Project

Three poems of life in–and beyond–a “box.”

Six Feet Across the Alley

I step out to the terrazza
to cut the lone euonymus
nearing a certain demise.

The early air is crisp
and wind creeps up
my running shirt sleeves.
Breasts rise to attention
while my focus twists and turns
to the shuttered outlines
of a village at rest.

My eyes drift to the neighbor’s.
He’s awake.

I squint and read,
Nine on your side,
on his flashing TV.

I am intrigued
by the forecaster hands
that gracefully flow
across the map
showing movement of air,
painted nails point
to a surge in heat and rain
for this entry into spring.

I’m consumed by that life
in a box
in a box,
predictions yet to come,

and ignore the plant
in the pot at my feet
that needs me to survive.

Annette Januzzi Wick lives in a quieter version of Over-the-Rhine, which she walks faithfully everyday as witness to the change this pandemic has brought to her little corner of the city. She looks forward to when the neighborhood is full to bursting once more.

 

The Box

There has always been suffering in the world
I used to put it in a box in a high shelf.
Occasionally, I took down.
Mostly on Sundays.
That box is in middle of the floor of my living room now.
It has grown larger every day,
harder to ignore,
harder to step around,
harder to clean around,
harder to keep securely closed.
My morbid curiosity wants to know
what hides inside.
I yearn to upend it,
to dump the contents
just to see the last of it fall to the floor.
I tell myself the contents must be finite.
But I’m not convinced, so
I try not to be the Pandora.

Teri Foltz lives in Fort Thomas, Ky and is a poet and playwright. She began writing after retiring from teaching high school.

 

Just Like Always

the Sun blushed through the east window this morning.
Three deer ran with abandon across the west field,
followed by five wild turkeys strutting their stuff.
A Robin sat outside lazily picking in the dewy grass
The flower beds are begging attention.

What to do with all this Spring routine,
the violets peeping purple through new grass
shyly saying hello to the promise of new life.
The pond sports circles, evidence of the fish’s return,
just like always.

But this year I find all the pageantry joyless and ironic,
the Earth Clock is ticking minute by dreadful minute
the lives being lost to a world-wide pandemic.
Safe within my social distancing, I feel the
weight of the suffering, a low moan from humanity.
Nothing will be just like always for a very long time

Ella Cather-Davis resides in New Richmond, Ohio and is a member of Greater Cincinnati Writers League and Ohio Poetry Association. Her poem is about the farm where she and her husband have lived for 45 years, and the stubborn insistent way nature has of persisting.