Writing Poetry In A Time of Quarantine
May 21, 2020
There are two conflicting messages going around during quarantine. Some say we should take this time to learn something new, that it’s important to keep active and engaged with the world. And there’s the other camp encouraging rest, freedom and time to heal. I think I’m in the middle of those two. Distracting myself doesn’t sit well with me, but I know that I need something to occupy my brain. This time is best for active reflection and contemplation – something like writing poetry.
Usually, I don’t turn to poetry when times get tough. I can’t write about something while I’m going through it. For a long time, I was too much of a perfectionist, barely daring to write anything down on the page until I thought it was right. That doesn’t mean my writing was any better, and I lost a lot of ideas that way. It took a long time for me to learn that not everything on the page has to be perfect, and that there is always enough time to make it work.
I wrote the poem at the urging of a former teacher to figure out these feelings of being still, of time going by, in a catastrophic time. For those of us, like me, who are lucky enough to be at home, safe and healthy, it’s a complicated storm of emotions. I feel like I should be doing something more, that I need to take action, somehow. How can we just stay at home while there are people dying? It feels wrong, even though it’s the right thing to do.
It feels like life is on pause for some of us now, and for others, life has never been more urgent. I hope that all of us find the time to try and understand what this all means.
the first step of learning compassion
it’s Passover, and robins build nests outside my bedroom window.
i think about the land,
the path i walk to the grocery store, to the memorial park and back,
becomes an extension of my own home, expanding
across my field of vision.
i am only allowed to witness the passing of time,
the new life budding far from arm’s reach.
i read something about the holiness of the number forty:
quarantine from the Italian quarantina.
a sacred period of forty days, global dark-night-of-the-soul, hermitage in excelsis.
in other words, national lockdown.
yet i become conflicted with this rhetoric: the spirit in rapture,
the body in decline.
your body becomes an expression of the house you live in.
mind-objects, its inhabitants, milling about.
your eyes become glass, your feet, the hardwood,
arms like staircases and ribs like shelves.
the body becomes immobile, empty container
for the rest of yourself to occupy.
in isolation, you become watchful of all your mind’s inhabitants.
it’s Ramadan, and the cardinals ruffle their feathers
in a mating dance
outside my bedroom window.
Parker Niles just completed his first-year at Oberlin College and is an intended Religion major. He is an IFYC Coach.