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."
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.
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
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,
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.