There are years I barely remember – what happened to all 365 days of grade four? The only thing I remember is Mrs Vanbuskirk getting so mad she yelled at me in front of the class. I remember her white coat with the red embroidered designs of polar bears. She had impossibly black hair and large red glasses held around her neck by a sparkly set of what looked like diamonds, but I’m sure were not. That’s it – that one incident from an entire year.
I can’t help but wonder what we will remember from this year. A lot is going on right now, and it feels mostly bad. But I’ve lived long enough to know when life gets complicated, that’s when we need to stop and pay attention. There is a lesson here, or a hurt to heal, and probably it’s both.
Here are five poems that will help you get through this year – whatever you’re facing.
Robert Frost is a beloved American poet I’m sure you’ve read in school. Most of his poetry centers around his struggles with both the beauty and sorrow of life. From ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ to ‘Nothing Gold Can Stay, ‘ he is painfully aware of both the beauty and transitory nature of even a small green leaf.
In ‘A Time to Talk’, Frost reminds us in our isolation, there is always time to meet that need for companionship, even for busy, grumpy writers (or farmers) who prefer working to mingling.
‘When a friend calls to me from the road
And slows his horse to a meaning walk,
I don’t stand still and look around
On all the hills I haven’t hoed,….
I thrust my hoe in the mellow ground,
Blade-end up and five feet tall,
And plod; I go to the stone wall
For a friendly visit.
Making the time for friends, even socially distanced and in masks or over zoom is a balm for the soul – even a soul who doesn’t like or need a lot of social interaction. We all need a good laugh with a friend now and again.
Which brings me to Audre Lorde, and her poem aptly titled ‘Coping’ about a young boy bailing out water from his flower patch after heavy rain. The narrator asks him why he would bother to do that, and his response is both haunting and reassuring. He tells her that young seeds that haven’t seen the sun
And drown easily.’
In a twist that is both tender and heartbreaking, Audre Lorde tells us that every small seed matters and even a child recognizes there must some hope of joy, or we will not grow. Like a seed, we have to experience the sun to know to reach for more. Sometimes we have to look hard for that hope, and some days joy seems like a memory – but if we’ve seen the sun at all, we must bail out the water from the seeds which have not.
Which then brings me to the poetry of Nikita Gill. I struggled with which poem to pick from Nikita Gill’s “Fierce Fairytales” – any poem in here is a lesson on how to survive and thrive from both abuse and the daily indignities women can face.
COVID19 is front and center of our attention but if anything it seems to be magnifying all the other faults and cracks in our society. If you’ve felt this, then the poem for you would be ‘Lessons in Surviving Long-term Abuse’. It’s a little ‘on the nose’ but stay with me. It talks about a young woman who;
‘…placed her trust in these little things’
When Nikita is talking about placing trust in little things, she’s talking about savoring the little joys, the tiny luxuries like baking bread and apt words that ‘touch her slowly fraying soul’. I’m giving the punchline away, but it might be the most accurate re-write of Cinderella I’ve ever read and a call not to underestimate the power of beauty and comfort to lift the soul. Some would say this is the very secret to a life well-lived no matter what happens to us along the way.
No poetry collection would be complete without Rumi – a master of longing and striving. In ‘Sky-Circles’ Rumi tells us;
‘Birds make great sky-circles
Of their freedom.
How do they learn that?
They fall, and falling,
they are given wings.’
No matter who you are or what you do for a living – the year 2020 has changed your life. I say, let it. There is a core strength in us that we don’t even know is there until everything else is stripped away. We get to choose how we respond to that.
There is a proverb I keep taped to my favorite journal, and that is, ‘“A bird sitting on a tree is never afraid of the branch breaking because her trust is not on the branch but on its own wings.”
Listen to Rumi – you’ve got wings.
Carrying us home is my friend Dylan Thomas and his poem ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.’ We can take this as a dark and desperate plea for a sick father to get well – I see it as a rallying cry to never give up.
‘Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.’
We can survive this year of reckonings. This year has been nothing but a big ol’ shiny searchlight on things we’d rather not see let alone talk about let alone live through. If we let the pain this year has caused to touch us, it can make us better, stronger, more aware, kinder, even.
Rumi said it better; ‘The wound is the place where the light enters you’
As for the over one hundred and seventy-five thousand families that have lost a loved one due to COVID19 so far, that is a reckoning and a call to answer our grief. It isn’t a time to sweep feelings under rugs. It’s a time to find that poem that pricks open our grieving hearts and spills out all the poison we’ve been carrying onto the floor, into the light. Then we can start to heal again. Happy reading, my friends!
What books or poems are you reading right now?
East coast Canadian native A.D Yeh received her bachelor’s degree in psychology and literature from Mount Allison University in Sackville, NB, Canada.
She helps the online writing community at DIY MFA by day and spends her nights writing fantasy novels and poetry she would like to read. She is currently in the throes of self-publishing her first fantasy novel. She also teaches the love of gardening to pre-k kids in her physical community.
She lives with her husband, two human children, and two fur babies in a quiet corner of Texas.