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Local poet and life coach B. Misty Wycoff is weathering the pandemic through verse

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How are you surviving the new normal? For B. Misty Wycoff, one of this year's nominees for SLO County Poet Laureate, she's been writing poetry to sort through the complicated experiences related to navigating COVID-19.

After reading her poem "Soy Sauce," you might be reminded of the ongoing resistance to wearing masks in public.

"I think it is hard to be afraid," Wycoff said in an email interview. "It is hard to be afraid for a long time. I'm not sure why some people are defying the order, but mostly, I think we are smack dab in the middle of forgetting how interconnected we all are. John Muir, the great conservationist, said, 'When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it is hitched to everything else in the universe.' When we forget this, we can act in self-absorbed and careless ways. We're all in this together. Poetry often gives us the links that allow us to feel connected to others."

Her poem "Bandana" takes a lighter look at the mask phenomenon, imagining the fun we could have playing cowboys, but ends with the ominous reminder that what we're dealing with isn't a game.

"I don't think that culturally we're very comfortable with our own mortality," Wycoff explained. "This pandemic is killing people. Everyone is at risk. Yet we are isolated and what we talk about are the numbers, the facts, and not our internal reactions to how our lives have changed. This is where poetry can be very helpful. Writers I know are writing about how we're feeling, coping, and reacting to the stresses. As a community, we have to find ways to tune into those local voices. They amplify, clarify, express, explore, mirror, and ultimately have the ability to soothe us. Those feelings that we resist, persist. If they can find a voice and a witness to that voice, we are calmed and comforted."

John F. Kennedy said, "When power corrupts, poetry cleanses, for art establishes the basic human truths which must serve as the touchstones of our judgment." Wycoff's poem "Witness," seems a nod to this idea.

"Art in our community is the beating heart of our society," Wycoff asserted. "David Zinn has said, 'Science is how we solve problems, art is how we cope, which is good because science often takes a long time to solve them.' The arts in general and poets specifically can help us to express or give voice to our terrors and anxieties. The act of dancing, singing, painting, and writing all bring us into focus with our inner life. When we are lucky enough to witness these forms, some inner piece of us can relax and remember that we are not alone. We are not alone."

She encourages you to write your own poem about your experiences: "Read a poem like you are standing in a natural waterfall of words. Read it twice and let the words fall around you. Read it out loud. You do not need to understand every image or word for it to touch you or give you solace. You might write one line, one sentence, every day that expresses your experience. To refine this make it only 10 syllables. At the end of a month, you will have a 30-line poem about your life. Pick the most meaningful moment of the day, or the thing that touched, moved, scared, delighted, inspired, hurt, or made you curious. Share it with one other person. You are not alone." 

BANDANAS

All of us are practicing to be cowboys

just like in the old days,

neckerchiefs triangling down our shirtfronts

while we hide out in the yard,

looking around the edge the house

scaring ourselves with what might be coming down the street.

We could be using our finger pistols,

pointing little hands upwards to the sky

so we don't hurt anyone;

and getting good at bending fingers

making believe that we know how to pull the trigger.

We could even blow on the handgun after shooting

just to cool that barrel down

before we slide it into the holster-cum-pocket.

We could each dream of that posse ride

bandanas ruffling in the wind.

rifles out on almost flapping arms,

shooting through the trees

miraculously hitting the bad guys on horses

moving as fast as they can make the film go.

We could be having fun here

we could be breathing through the bandana

and imagining a world

where the outlaws wear the black hats

and we know how to deal with them.

But somehow it is harder than it should be.

April 2020

WITNESS

When I was a therapist

sitting with a person numb to

dark river inside of them,

I would sometimes feel a tear

roll down my face.

It isn't the worst thing

to be empathic.

It helped them, often breaking

into their own

water cliffs and

eddies,

releasing the stream,

draining and slowing

the raging waters.

Now, in this world

of horrors in flood,

we are locked in house.

No one is witness to the tears.

No one is healed.

It is up to us now,

the poets,

to cry out all the rivers of stone,

to bleed on the ground of ignorance

to dig and then tap the well.

Teaching the world to bathe

in the deep water

so we can heal.

May 2020

SOY SAUCE

It was a glorious kind of morning;

soft awakening, the kindest of light streaming in,

flannel sheets wrapping me in the day's hope.

I put myself in the car and navigated to the grocery store

gloved and masked. Down the aisle my cart gets bumped

and people are crowding into this space of condiments.

While scanning the shelves

my cart gets bumped for the second time,

and I cannot find what I seek.

People seem to be coming at me

Diving into me as if bulls and I were a Spanish bullfighter.

I am skooched all the way to the wall

against the right hand shelving

And then comes backwoods grandma

driving her cart down the row like a rogue set of wagon horses.

She passes and I smell her breath,

and realize she isn't wearing a mask.

I am thinking that my friend's father died

in a Texas hospital,

alone, no visitors allowed.

I am thinking about my bi-polar client

who has a stage 4 cancer diagnosis.

He will have to navigate this without support.

I am thinking that he will be getting chemo

in hospitals filled with Covid sufferers,

his psychiatric meds will probably fail him.

Double hell coming your way sir.

That is what I am thinking

while I scan bottles and bottles with foreign labels,

Nothing makes sense to me.

Sauces, spices and flavorings

for meals already ruined, lives already broken.

I cannot remember the sunrise,

and I found myself standing alone now, in the aisle

and crying over soy sauce.

May 2020 Δ

Contact Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey at gstarkey@newtimesslo.com.

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