Too Much, Frankly

School starting normally feels like drinking from the proverbial firehose, but last week and this week are something extra special. So, no earworm tonight. I’m sorry, but you’ll get one next week (I assume). Instead, please enjoy the following video, which is part 5 in one of my favorite series ever. (If you haven’t seen the first four parts, please do that. I’m sure you can find them in the links around the video I’m posting here.)

Rock on, Julie Nolke, you’re amazing.

In other news, if you’re a Sonic Chihuahua subscriber/reader/fan and haven’t received your August issue yet, hold tight. The last of them are going into the mail tomorrow morning, including all the ones going to Canada and the UK. I had to get more postage, which meant going to the post office after school today. (Fortunately I think I got enough for September’s issue, too.) Cheers!  

Poem-A-Day 2021, Day 24: Varsha Saraiya-Shah

So many other important things have pushed the Covid death tolls out of the top of the news cycle over the last several months, but we must remember that the landscape out there is still a pandemic, and we still need to take precautions against it, no matter how gloriously bright the light at the end of this wretched tunnel is. According to Johns Hopkins University Covid tracker, as of today, there have been over 571,000 deaths from Covid in the US and over 3 million worldwide. These figures are top of mind today as I read Varsha Saraiya-Shah’s poem “I Speak from Towers of Silence.”

I Speak from Towers of Silence                                                                               

It is spring, people are afraid
to sit on empty benches in parks 
self-distancing. Coffin’s length apart, 
no matter where on the street or at work
dreading a footloose and lethal microbe. 

Hugs are hats hung at the back door.
Babies like flowers can’t stop being born,
mamas in hazmat suits swollen with milk
weep for their misfortune.

Imagine a massing of crows on terrace
gathered for feast to appease the dead.
Vultures plucking at corpses
I wish not to pollute air or water,
earth or fire. Let birds of prey feed on us.

Fire, Good fire, that burns to cleanse us all
of hunger and passion, anger and emptiness.
Assure the earth, it makes us part of our dirt.
Tell the skies, merge in your stardust. 

O Invisible! Can you hear our dirge?
Italians belting out operas alone? 
Tarantellas on balconies? 
Hear the Spaniards banging pots, 
strumming guitars in night skies? 
Indians trumpeting conchs, chanting
Aum, Aum, Aum.

This poem was published at the end of 2020 in A Global Anthology of Poetry Under Lockdown: “Singing In The Dark” by Vintage – Penguin Random House India.

***

Varsha Saraiya-Shah’s collection “VOICES” was published by Finishing Line Press. Her poems appear in journals such as Borderlands, Cha, Convergence, Echoes of the Cordillera, Mutabilis Press anthologies, Penguin Random House India, Skylark-UK, Soundings East, Kallisto Press, UT Press. Her poetry has aired on Public Radio and performed in multi-language/century dance program: “Poetry in Motion.” Featured on poetry reading panels of Matwaala South Asian Diaspora, WIVLA, and also Asia Pacific Writers & Translators (APWT), she served on Mutabilis Press Board as a Director and Treasurer for several years.

Being an Indian American poet, she wrote in Gujarati during school and college years. Houston’s Inprint House is her Alma Mater and Houston Poetry Fest, a stepping stone into the English journals. Honing the art of poetics continues through studying with esteemed poets at various programs: Sarah Lawrence College, Squaw Valley Community of Writers, Tin House, Grackle & Grackle workshops and more.

 

Poem-A-Day 2021, Day 15: Pat Anthony

There have been times in my life when I have pulled my car hastily into a parking lot and yanked napkins and a pencil from the glovebox to scribble a poem down before it evaporated from my head. The ten weeks between my taita’s diagnosis and her passing come to mind: a whole series of lamentations was conceived on the well-traveled streets between my aunt’s house and my apartment.

My elder child turns sixteen this weekend. My younger is a teenager now, too. I try not to get nostalgic about the days when they were small enough to fall asleep in my lap. I was exhausted then and could just as easily fall asleep with them, weighted down by their milky warmth. I’m exhausted now, too, and only a little bit from missing the time when it was easy to solve their problems for them just by meeting their basic needs.

I love the adolescents they’ve become as much as I loved the babies they were. But parenting is like one long series of fleeting moments dragging you through their timeline, alternately endless and the length of a blink, a chronology of fatigue punctuated by bliss and terror.

I can’t imagine I would ever trade it.

Tonight’s poem, “For Little Hawk” by Pat Anthony, reminds me of the holiness of ephemeral moments and of how much we miss when something larger than ourselves interrupts them. I hope, fervently, that we will reach some comfortable medium of immunity and stability by later this year. My ambitions are not grand, but sometimes, honestly, when I look at the world around me, they feel immense.

For Little Hawk

I stop the car to write
            how it’s been six months now
arms aching from the weight
            your sleeping little boy body
                        this cradle of absence

my shoulder bowed yet
            from the curve of your head
my lap waiting for the spill
            of your blanketed legs

Then we breathed each other
            my quick inhales fragrant
            with your milky exhales
                        your gentle settling into sleep

Now I press my fingers against glass
                        this air between us laden
                                    green walnuts
                                    chattering squirrels

                                    the lot of us at risk
                        of losing so much

we mask
            squares of cloth
                        straining  
                        cataracts
            threatening to breach

larval we twist inside
                        colorful chrysalises
suspended
            by a single strand from
                        which we thought to anchor
            before the dizzying spinning
                        thinned the sheath
                                                translucent
                        the struggle within
you
            trying out first words today
me
            holding back my own
love
            across an unsocial distance

But here along this road
            where I’ve stopped
                        beside melons split open
                        their bloody hearts raw and dying

I just wanted you
            to know how much I miss.

***

Pat Anthony writes the backroads, often using land as lens to heal, survive, and thrive while living with bi-polar disorder as she mines characters, relationships, and herself. A recently retired educator, she holds an MA in Humanities, poems daily, edits furiously and scrabbles for honesty no matter the cost. She has work published or forthcoming in multiple journals, including The Avocet, The Awakenings, The Blue Nib, Haunted Waters, Orchard Street, and more. Her latest chapbook, Between Two Cities on a Greyhound Bus, was recently published by Cholla Needles Press, CA. She blogs at middlecreekcurrents.com.

My Vaccine Experience

Let me start off by saying how grateful I am to be vaccinated against Covid-19, because wow, I am. Working in-person the last six months has been stressful. But we’re making it happen, because reasons.

I was able to get the Pfizer vaccine and didn’t even have to travel farther than the next little town over to get it. I’ve had both doses now and wanted to report back on my side effects experience. Hopefully any of you who might still be on the fence about whether you want to get this vaccine might take some encouragement from how this went down for me. (And frankly, for the vast majority of people I know who have gotten it, as well, since my side effects are not anecdotally unusual in any way.)

Both doses I got were on Saturdays in the waning afternoon, three weeks apart. And in both cases, I totally didn’t feel the shot going into my arm. I am very pro-vax and even get my flu shot every year, but I really don’t love the way it feels when I get poked with a needle. With the Covid vaccine, though, this wasn’t a problem. I didn’t even feel the first one and could barely feel the second one. Neither of them hurt going in at all.

The first one, I had a little soreness in my arm at the injection site by the time I went to bed that evening, and I woke up with arm pain (the usual injection nuisance fare) on Sunday. That arm pain lasted the rest of the day and evening, and Sunday night I had a bit of a headache, but not enough of one that it prevented me from watching TV and having a normal evening. Monday morning I woke up right as rain.

The second one, I had no arm pain until I woke up Sunday morning. I was also slightly congested and had the whisper of a sinus headache thinking about forming. I took some Tylenol, and the arm pain and headache went away. I took some Flonase and got into a hot shower and the congestion was a memory. But I was really fatigued. The whole day, in fact, my energy level waxed and waned and never got very ambitious. By the time I went to bed my arm was a little bit sore again. Monday morning I woke up feeling just fine, but then about an hour or two into my work day I wanted a nap. I was tired all day. Then I was really tired again all Tuesday. I’m talking, barely able to stay awake during the slower parts of my classes and totally unmotivated to do any actual work during my planning periods. One of those days, I had a little nap after school, though I don’t remember which. Wednesday morning I decided to have some caffeinated tea, and I was all right throughout the school day, but still pretty fatigued in the evening. I had a little joint pain at some point during the middle of the week, briefly, in my wrist and hips. Thursday all that seemed to be generally done.

And that was it! WAY better than having an actual illness, wouldn’t you say?

If you get the chance to take the vaccine and don’t have an allergy or condition that would prevent you from having it, I hope you’ll get it. The only way to manage this pandemic requires us to take this responsibility. I don’t know about you, but I’m really looking forward to eating in restaurants and having parties again!

Have a good one.

The Year of Living Pandemically

During first period on Thursday, March 12, 2020, one of the sophomores in my English II class looked up from his phone and said, “They just closed.”

He was referring to one of our peer schools, an institution with whom our school shares a lot of cues – such as when to close down during a global pandemic.

Over the previous couple of weeks, all of my classes had begun with an anxious conversation with my students about Covid-19. They were the ones anxiously asking questions, and I was the one doing my best to answer them in a reassuring way, debunking myths and providing the best information I had about the virus and what we knew and what we still didn’t. Oddly, I was not, myself, feeling their same sense of worry. Yes, I knew things were serious, and yes, I was fairly well informed of the news (the accurate variety), but also? I have a brother who lives in Hong Kong, and so I’d already Continue reading “The Year of Living Pandemically”

12 Days of Seasonal Earworms Worthy of Your Love (Day 9)

Remember how I said before that loneliness is one of the themes of the holiday season? And how it’s true now this year more than usual? Yeah.

This year I won’t be seeing my brothers for Christmas. Or my husband’s family. Or any of my cousins. I might not even see my parents, because there’s a pandemic and it’s been heinously mismanaged, to the point of abject criminality, here in Texas and here in the US. Honestly, I’m not whining about it and know that other people have it way worse. But this will actually be the first Christmas in my life I haven’t had my big extended family around me in some way, and it has taken a while for that to sink in, with the magnitude it deserves.

Am I special in this circumstance? Absolutely not. Most of my friends are in this exact same situation. Most of the people I know with any sense at all are in this exact same situation.

But let me tell you a story about some of the folks in my neighborhood.

A few weekends ago — this was a week after Thanksgiving break had ended — my husband and I were walking through our neighborhood on a Saturday morning, like we do. (We often walk in the mornings and evenings just to get out and avoid being sedentary when the weather is nice. It’s also one of our fun times to talk and connect with each other.) So we’re going down one of the streets and hear a lot of screaming.

Like, kids screaming. In a happy way.

We look in the direction of the sound and see a bouncy castle. We’re walking down that street anyway, and we see a bouncy castle filled with unmasked children screaming their heads off with joy. In the front yard next to the bouncy castle, which was a space about 10′ x 15′, there are SIXTEEN unmasked adults. Mixing and mingling, visiting with each other from just a foot or two away, drinking hot beverages, passing babies around. There are lots of balloons in the yard, including a giant 8, so we figured it was an eight-year-old’s birthday party. Also perhaps a super-spreader event. We were appalled and stayed as far away from it as we could. (Not difficult, as the streets are wide and we could be thirty feet away right across from them with no trouble.)

Then that evening, we were out for another walk, like we do, and going down that same street, we encountered ANOTHER BOUNCY HOUSE PARTY in a front yard TWO HOUSES DOWN from the one that morning. No kidding! This one was clearly a holiday party. No masks on any of the kids or legions of adults in the front yard and in and out of the house, but plenty of foam antlers on their heads. Catering truck on the street. Seriously, people?

I can’t even tell you how many party rental trucks we’ve seen around the neighborhood and in the residential area around our school over the last several weeks.

Don’t even get me started on school.

So yeah, this is a Christmas we’re going to be without our friends and family in person. That sucks, but also, it’s not going to be like this next year (let’s hope). I’m trying to find silver linings, like the mellow chill we can actually have in our house because we aren’t doing any entertaining. I might try out some new recipes. Catch up on some movies, play some board games. Read some books. Write one. Something.

The long and short is that this theme of being without our people hits differently this year. And I have to admit, of all the new Christmas songs I’ve encountered, of all the holiday songs about loneliness, this one might actually be my new favorite.

Happy Solstice. Get out there tonight, if your skies are clear, and look at the Grand Conjunction. Your own little holiday star, if you will. Cheers!

Apokalyptein

Some days it feels like the more I consume of the news, the more I must be living in the staff writers’ room at The Onion. But no, this nonsense really is happening. The extraordinary lack of leadership and overall ineptitude of our federal and (here in Texas) state officials have gone beyond usual politics and launched us straight into The Twilight Zone. I’ll refrain from getting too far in the weeds with that right now, but suffice it to say we had a national strategy for pandemics and an expert team in place to navigate them back in 2015, but when the White House changed hands, all that stuff got disappeared, and the experts who participated in pandemic exercises were fired for “disloyalty.” (I’m reminded of Dolores Umbrage taking over Hogwarts.) Anyway, other writers have tackled that subject very well already. I want to write here, instead, about apocalypse. (And in this post you’ll notice that I’m practicing a type of mindfulness, in general and of my topic, as I begin to veer outward toward the grand and continually reel things back in to the personal.)

So, apocalypse. Not The Apocalypse (in whatever mythology is currently in your mind when you read that word), but the idea of apocalypses, which actually happen pretty often as part of the human experience. Say or write that word enough and it will start to become bizarre, start to lose its terrifying power. Now say or write it again: apocalypse. It becomes commonplace. Deconstructed from its connotation and transformed into a simple artifact of language. Comforting in its banality. Let me explain.

The word “apocalypse” has Greek roots. “Apo-” is the prefix meaning “un-,” and “kalyptos” means “covered.” The Latinized form of Greek “kalyptein” means “to cover or conceal.” Thus it follows, when you put those word parts together, that “apokalyptein” means “to uncover or reveal.” The word “apokalypsis” migrated into Latin and Old French as “apocalypse.” An apocalypse, as my friend and colleague Christa Forster often says, is an unhiding.

Sometimes when things are revealed – when they are uncovered, when what has been hiding them is stripped away – we feel as if the ground beneath our feet has shifted so irrevocably that we will no longer feel stable again. That can be the emotional effect of apocalypse. We feel unsteady, as if we’re treading unevenly over broken ground amidst the rabble ruin of our preconceived ideas. This feeling is brought forth in – and by – the literature of profound disruption and destruction.

But apocalypse myths have another feature in common as well: they lead to rebirth.

We find this not only in the destruction myths of multiple major and minor religions, but even in popular culture. Battlestar Galactica, Titan A.E., Lord of the Rings, Good Omens – these are perhaps obvious examples. And forgive me for quoting a rock song, but even the Red Hot Chili Peppers sing in “Californication” that “destruction leads to a very rough road but it also breeds creation.” I mean, even the Mayan calendar starts (that is, it started) over.

And speculative fiction (including both literature and film) tends to lend itself to the epic scale of what we think of when we imagine destruction myths. When was the last time you picked up a science fiction or fantasy novel where the entire world (or some perhaps personal version of it) was not at stake? We live in a culture of extremes. Our discourse is extreme, our adherence to ideologies and technologies is extreme, our reaction to everything around us is extreme. Doxxing, cancel culture, and hate speech are all part of this. So are the movies which are successful at the box office. You can read my review of the absolutely excellent Winona Ryder/Keanu Reeves film Destination Wedding here. It talks about some of this stuff, too.

That movie is hilarious and worthwhile, and I highly recommend it. But it wasn’t a commercial success probably because it is “thoughtful” and “quiet.” It’s a story in which the stakes are only personal. As I note in my post about that film, our culture seems to have evolved – at least in some ways – to a moment when stakes which don’t involve something epic or grand or societally- or globally-scaled must not be important, necessary, or even entertaining. And again, as I noted, if I were wrong, social media wouldn’t be “a hellscape rage-osphere of shitty opinions and offensive shares.”

Is Destination Wedding an apocalypse story? No, because the whole world isn’t hanging in the flashy balance of violence. And also, yes, because what these two characters reveal to each other about themselves uncovers what’s at the heart of who they are as people, and there is transformation as they are unhidden from themselves. This resonates with me in part because I’m a writer who doesn’t usually tackle world-hanging-in-the-balance stakes. The personal ones, based in character, matter more to me, and those are the stories I usually write, even though my fiction is mostly in the speculative arena. (That makes it hard, sometimes, to get some of those literary fantasy stories traditionally published.)

So what about our current little apocalypse right now? How is this pandemic changing us? I think we have to broaden that question and consider how we as a society have been changing. What is revealed?

Some say the election of Trump in 2016 was an apocalypse. Sure, it’s not the end of the word (perhaps / let’s hope), but it did reveal a whole lot of what was hiding in the woodwork of our nation. His election has unhidden the most grotesque parts of human nature in so many people. That stuff was always there, but now it’s in the light. Well, if we think of those terrible ideologies as mold or fungus, remember that sunlight is like bleach.

This pandemic has exposed so much of what is fragile and broken in our country. It made us take a pause, and even that revealed our further weaknesses, intellectual and moral and financial. Shakespeare wrote, “How poor are they that have not patience.” We are in an anxious morass of all of that right now. (I’ll take boneheaded decisions and pronouncements coming out of the Texas capitol for $400, Alex.)

But within a pause, we have the opportunity to fix some things. In a positive and necessary turn of events, socially conscious businesses and justice-minded people all over the place are waking up to ways in which they have been complicit in societal ills such as racism, inequity, and oppression. Even our private school is finally, meaningfully, focused on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Tackling these issues is a much bigger blog post, so I’m going to step away from this grand-scale apocalypse for a moment and return to the personal: the lower but still important stakes.

One thing the pandemic has uncovered for me is how very unhealthy my previous lifestyle was. Working too hard for too many hours with nothing but stress to bolster me awake is no way to live – nor even any way to work effectively. Running around for most of the day every Saturday and Sunday, running errands with no downtime, is not just unhealthy, it’s for the birds. I never want to go back to that. This pandemic has unhidden from me, among other things, what I no longer want or need in my life.

I won’t lie. This hasn’t been easy the entire time. Despite my family’s extraordinarily fortunate circumstances at the moment, I have had a few meltdowns here and there. I had an unexpectedly challenging transition to working from home, which has been a slow burn of annoyance and intellectual feeling more than anything else. I miss my aunts – whom I don’t feel safe going to see lest I unwittingly expose them to any germs at all – so much. I haven’t finished some of the things I wanted to do this summer, and every day that list grows longer, compounded by the stress of the school year getting ready to start again. Even just this weekend, I’m trying to proofread a galley for Homecoming, trying to restart daily writing on the new novel, trying to clean my house, and trying to do about ten hours of school prep for classes which start next week. I might be out of my mind as well as out of options and backup plans.

But I’m trying to be patient with myself and others. No matter your level of privilege or lack of it, none of this (*gesticulates wildly at the current landscape of our lives*) is easy.

It is instead the hard – but important – work of rebuilding, rebirth, re-creation. Hwaet. Time to get back to it.

Working From Home. Still. So Far.

So about three months or so ago I wrote a post about the pandemic and the coming lockdown and what I thought about why people were losing their minds over it. I generally still stand by what I wrote then, particularly about transitions and information overload and the way we as humans tend to respond to disruptions and anxiety. Today I’m writing about pandemic-related business again.

So three months into this thing, how are we doing?

As a nation, not great. The lack of leadership has been astounding, even compared to the track record over the last three years. I can’t even go into it here. Lots of other people have, and I’ll let them, but suffice it to say this is my current social distancing bingo card.

That said, my daily logistical life has been overall pretty reasonably good. Stable, for the most part. I have found that there are some things about working from home which I rather like. (I was teaching synchronously on Zoom to mostly engaged students, so my experience was maybe anomalous.) I missed seeing my colleagues and my students in person, but working from home in our house is not miserable. We are steeped in good fortune in that sense, since all four of us can work or school from home without being on top of each other, and the kids didn’t have to do school in their bedrooms. I never for a moment forget our privilege in that regard.

But I will also say that working from home had a steep learning curve, for a variety of reasons. (And those reasons weren’t necessarily the same for each member of my family.) I found, as a teacher, that grading on my computer took about three times as long as grading on paper. And for all my apparent wisdom about transitions, I did not allow myself enough of a transition time to move from one modality (teaching in person in a classroom) to the other (teaching on Zoom). So things took a lot longer than I expected, and that caused me some real stress. It took me a while to come to an awareness that my mindset had been struggling to shift and adjust. After a couple of weeks, I accepted that I was still in a kind of transition myself and needed to cut myself some slack over it. Only after the awareness and acceptance could I take meaningful action, which was to get my work actually done. (For what it’s worth, I was not alone in this, even as a teacher; most of my colleagues were going through much the same process.)

In my post a few months ago I noted that I wasn’t panicking or having anxiety attacks, and to my general surprise and delight, that has mostly held true over the last few months. (Knock on wood.) As someone who suffers from anxiety generally and who has felt the existential dread of living under the current regime since it was just a gleam in a crazy person’s eye, I am pleased to report that I’ve had only a very few meltdowns over the last three months, and they were fairly brief.

As I have noted before, action dispels anxiety. For me, that means that I do things rather than stare at the walls in despair — or at least for 85% of the time, I do. That’s just how I cope. I had the necessity of cleaning out my home office (my study, my studio, whatever) so it could become my classroom. It took me three days over Spring Break, but I’ve been generally pleased with the results, and once I finish getting art on the walls, I’ll post about my workspace. (If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll note that my cats like to hang out in here. About a month into distance learning I told my principal I didn’t think I could teach without a cat in the room anymore, so we should think about getting me one for my classroom. He laughed, assuming I was joking. Dear reader, I was not. But that will be a conversation for another day, I suspect — probably in August.)

I’ve been on a major decluttering kick for quite a few years now, and being in lockdown gave my family the opportunity to get some of that done. Well, I saw it as an opportunity. My family (especially the kids) saw it as a chance to prevent Mom from going nuts and throwing out all their stuff. Tomato, tomahto. We’re not completely finished yet. However, stuff got cleaned up and cleaned out, and I’m calling that a win.

One significant revelation I have had is that for the first time since I had kids (and y’all, they’re both teenagers now), I had downtime on the weekends. Yes, it was enforced because where was I going to go? But also, it’s kind of wonderful. I do not miss the hectic-pace lifestyle we had before in which I spent most of every Saturday and Sunday running errands, and wow. Dear reader, we do not want to go back to that.

I have not abandoned my social life, although it has significantly changed. I am grateful to have Zoom so this can be possible. I’ve hosted dance parties, art and jewelry making parties, and had many conversations with faraway friends. My writing critique groups meet online now, and participation is substantially more robust and improved now that we can video conference from home. I’ve even attended the occasional happy hour or game night. All to the good.

On the other hand, out here in the state of Texas, which is badly governed during the best of times, things are becoming stressful. The state did not meet its benchmarks for opening up — I’m not sure any of the fifty states did, by the way, though correct me if I’m wrong on that — and now our cases of COVID-19 are rising significantly. We had been in really good shape, nowhere near capacity in our medical facilities here in Houston at the largest medical center in the world, and now? Can’t really say that anymore. We opened up the state too soon, and while some people are handling this in a mature way, knowing that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do something, enough people out there have decided the pandemic must be over because they can hang out in restaurants and bars again.

So let me say this again for anyone who hasn’t gotten the message:

Wash your hands. Wear a mask in public. Stay home if you’re sick or if you don’t have to be out. PLEASE.

Here are a few other reminders of things you’ve probably seen in memes and which are also, in fact, true:

Opening up doesn’t mean the pandemic is gone. It just means they have room for you in the ICU.

We stay home now so that when we can safely get together again, everyone will still be there.

Economies recover. Dead people don’t.

Look, I recognize that this may seem very glib for me to say because I haven’t lost my job and can get pretty much all my absolute necessities met, and because I live in a house that’s enough. It doesn’t mean that everything is easy, though: my kids miss their friends terribly, I miss my friends and family a lot, too, and it would be really great not to have to worry about everything so much. But those of us who have the ability and freedom and privilege to take extra precautions for the safety of ourselves and others should do so.

And in this regard, I recognize that this isn’t all about me. Or my situation. Or even my immediate family’s. It’s about the wider community, and our obligation to be responsible for the wider community, recognizing that our actions are not in isolation, especially when we ourselves are not isolated.

Isolation is not fun. Even the introverts in my house are a little tired of it. And I get that.

But still.

I suspect I will be writing more about this, and I promise it won’t always be in my Stern Teacher Voice. Just wait till you find out about the movies and TV we’ve been catching up on!

Peace out.

Poem-A-Day: Mike Alexander

I first met Mike Alexander — with regard to being a poet, he went by M. Alexander in those days — back in the late 90s at a regular reading series in Houston that was held at a dive bar called The Mausoleum. I think I learned about that series from Bucky Rea, who had been in a poetry class with me in college, and I read at The Maus in that series every now and then. That bar’s owner took the place through several incarnations, including Helios and Avant Garden. In the mid-2000s, I ran a monthly bellydance show there called Eclectic Bellydance; it was a fun and easy gig; the bar’s owner had actually been a member of the first dance troupe I was in, too. I can’t tell you how many concerts and festivals I’ve been to at that place. It’s a Houston institution and has for decades been a haven for artists of all types.

But I digress. As a poet, I’ve always trended toward the reclusive, not attending or even giving readings very often. But eventually I did come back into the scene more regularly and found Mike again at a Mutabilis Press anthology launch party. We were both published in it. Mike also runs a reading series in Houston now called Poetry FIX at Fix Coffee Bar — incidentally, next door to Avant Garden (or whatever it might be called now). That’s a fantastic series.

I’m so pleased to be back in touch with Mike again, and equally pleased that he shares a poem with us on the blog more Aprils than not. He’s extremely adept with form, capable of “hiding” even true rhyme in the clever rhythm of his work. Enjoy this wry and deft critique.

 

OUT OF EGYPT

In time of plague we all subscribe
to Exodus. Hysterical,
the paranoia of our tribe
eclipses the merely clerical
dispensaries of diagnosis.
We anodyne the tell-tale sores.
Obedient to a coxcomb Moses,
we butcher lambs, then tag our doors.
Ankh-eyed, mummified & Coptic
at the threshold, one hand reaching
for our dollop of antiseptic,
we echo back the viral preaching.
An angel of quarantine shall slaughter
the firstborn sons of swollen glands.
Believers, see the parting water.
Inoculate. Wash your hands.

***

Go to this month’s first Poem-A-Day to learn how to participate in a game as part of this year’s series. You can have just a little involvement or go all the way and write a cento. I hope you’ll join in!

***

Mike Alexander came to Houston in 1996.
Everything here is so extraordinary, it’s hard to define the ordinary. Nevertheless, he contemplates the quotidian every day.

Monday Earworm: Michael Bruening

So this week I will begin teaching online. I’m looking forward to some aspects of it, although I suspect that the longer it goes on, the more I will sincerely miss being with my students and colleagues all together in one place. Here’s hoping the new dynamic is worthwhile.

In the meantime, I’m hoping to keep other routines in place as much as possible for the sake of easing stress. Still, I suspect my first day online with my students is going to be show-and-tell of our pets…