The Year We Banged Pots
May 10, 2020
Yes, pots. Don’t laugh, child.
Of course we had technology;
I’m not from the Stone Age.
We had computers and email
and phones and such
but we went to our windowsills
and banged on pots.
Because the thud of wooden spoon on aluminum
or metal lid against its mate
carried better across infected courtyards
and empty streets
than just shouting or applause.
We did it to cheer on
doctors and nurses and all those
who risked their lives to save others.
But it wasn’t just that.
We rejoiced to hear the sound
of someone out there,
and hoped that out there
someone heard us, too.
It was that any moment
anyone we loved,
even we, could be next,
that soon there might be
May 19, 2020
I dream there is a blight.
Someone brings to me a plant,
shows me a brown oozing
like a putrid human wound.
I can see the patient breathing
through the moldy-mushroom mess,
subtle ups and downs of respiration.
I wake up with the word
ringing in my mind
look out the window
at the three ancient trees
that still won’t leaf,
wonder, how soon, how soon
before they too succumb.
May 20, 2020
In catastrophic times,
we cling to stories—
our noses in books,
Imagine all the one-armed warriors,
beaten wives, hopeless servant girls
sitting in drafty halls
losing themselves to a bard singing
about the perils of Odysseus,
But mostly it’s our own stories
Zoom meetings with acquaintances
turn into revelations.
What are you doing in quarantine?
How are you doing?
We speak of our sourdough starters.
Our furloughed jobs,
waiting for unemployment checks to come.
Our workless hours spent searching for meaning,
learning to play the piano, improve our French.
Our frantic hours, working each night till eleven
as we learn the ropes
for business now done remotely
or take up the slack for dead colleagues.
We listen to the longings
of folks we barely know,
their discussions of how this will
ultimately change the course
of their lives.
“I’m going home to Houston;
I need to be with my family.
I miss my parents so much.”
Our response to these stories
but offers of bodiless hugs.
We wait our turns,
uncertain of how we’ll spin our experience,
exactly what tales will come out of our mouths:
the funny ones about dressing up like paintings
and donning eye-shadow beards
for Shakespeare’s birthday
or the tragic ones about the death
of the school secretary,
the security guard’s parents.
Each week the news showcases the lives
of a choice few coronavirus victims.
Some lives are so beautiful I can’t help
but sob at the loss,
strangers’ lives condensed
into a one-minute story.
I wonder how my life would read
on such a broadcast;
who would offer up my life as story anyway?
I post a story on Facebook of my walk
to a park I haven’t visited for years,
though it’s only five blocks away.
A childhood friend recalls
rolling down its hills towards the river.
I tell her how once when I was maybe six,
her brother and I did just that
and I tumbled into dog doo,
a yellowish brown smear on my dress
I complained to my mom was mustard.
The woman types, “I remember that story!”
My own story, silly and insignificant,
but my own,
and someone else remembers.
It lifts me, knowing that my story
belongs as part of someone else’s book of tales,
as if I am a wave in a sea
and not just some lonely puddle.
As if I matter.
May 21, 2020
Grocery stores. Delivery services.
The 24-hour Punjab Autobody shop
across the street,
still banging away at 2 a.m.
Trump politicizes the definition,
saying churches should open,
they’re more important
than liquor stores and abortion clinics,
never mind the risk of infection
among the faithful congregants.
Churches are essential.
The sopranos of my chorus
meet on Zoom, just to see each other.
Singing in groups, the news warns,
is about as dangerous an activity
as one can venture,
coronavirus riding on the currents
of exhaled breath.
Who knows when we’ll be able
to perform again?
Two women cry.
Our community and our music
—singing, the most elemental,
most human of the arts—
taken from us,
things so sorely needed
in such desperate times.
On the other side of quarantine,
what priorities may emerge?
For each of us.
For our country.
For our planet.
Will we learn what is essential,
and change the things we can?
Somewhere out there the murder hornets
prey on our bees,
May 22, 2020
Behind the Costco parking lot,
a narrow, riverside esplanade
continues the walkway from Rainey Park.
Roosevelt Island looks close enough to swim to.
My smartphone informs me that
the grand octagonal building
I guessed a courthouse
is now a luxury condo,
once a lunatic asylum.
At the island’s tip
the slim grey tower of a lighthouse stands vigil,
though surely it’s no longer active.
Further along, on the Queens side,
masked men and their young sons
cast lines into the river
to bring up wriggling fish
even as behind them
folks load up their cars
with groceries and toilet paper.
I’ve never walked this path before
and hope the esplanade connects
to the next park.
But the coastline dips inland
where the parks would intersect,
and even when the two sides meet again
a fence separates them.
I peek through the metal wire at
the back of a work shed,
a tall sculpture with metal blades
like a prairie farm’s windmill,
the no-man’s-land of weeds.
Even the parks practice social distancing.
Music in the Time of Coronavirus
May 23, 2020
My chorus, like all ensembles,
has been silenced.
Zoom’s impossible since
everyone’s out of sync,
miniscule seconds off,
something you don’t notice when you talk.
But time matters in music.
Surely that means something.
How we only think we move together
but in fact whirl through the universe
slightly apart from every other being,
each on our own trajectory.
Or am I reading too much into things?
Since I can’t sing, I take out instruments
untouched for years.
The guitar has a snapped A
and though I re-string it,
I can’t wind it taut enough.
My harp’s pegs slip their notes.
Broken strings, mute instruments,
a world out of tune.
The emptied cases are strewn
across my living-room floor
Before you open Ghost Light and begin reading, make sure you are prepared for aloneness and loneliness, for solitude and soul-searching…It is a gentle but probing examination of what living in isolation means. What longing exists in the human spirit for connection to others. Through carefully crafted observations of day to day, week to week, month to month, seemingly endless separation, Leibowitz asks us to examine our own sense of abandonment in a crowded, bustling world. She shows us her fear and her courage with a tenderness that makes them our fear, our courage. “Ghost Light” reaches past the immediate repercussions of a sentinel disease to teach us that life itself is
a journey rife with pitfalls,
no view forward beyond the bend,
the potential plunge to the abyss.
… But that is not all… She helps us realize the worth of our interconnectedness… So take a deep breath, let it out, and open Ghost Light. You will discover yourself, your family, your friends, and strangers you may have known. They are written here by an observant mind, a heart open to pain, and a soul confident that the human spirit is greater than any temporary separation. Join the instinctive hope of a child in the face of broken things… It’s not the last dance, after all. In the empty wings of the shuttered theater that is our country, there is a light still glowing against despair.
—Jim Lewis, Editor of Verse-Virtual and author of a clear day in october, every evening is december, and do you hear it?