SPOTLIGHT: “Ghost Light” the new poetry book by Sandi Leibowitz

2 blurbs

 

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.

 

Why?
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

only silence.

 

 

 

Blight

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

Blight

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.

 

 

 

Stories

May 20, 2020

 

In catastrophic times,

we cling to stories—

our noses in books,

binge-watching Netflix.

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,

Beowulf’s courage.

 

But mostly it’s our own stories

we need.

 

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 cry.

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

isn’t applause

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 janitor,

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.

 

 

Essential

May 21, 2020

 

Grocery stores. Delivery services.

Pharmacies.

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.

Essential.

 

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,

essential workers.

 

 

 

Esplanade

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

through time,

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

like coffins.

 

 

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?

 

 

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