Last month, my poetry adventures included going to a friend’s house to read Emily Dickinson to her chickens, traveling to a fellow poet’s house for a long, lazy writing weekend, and making plans for upcoming spring literary conferences and meetings.
All of that, of course, has changed.
Like most of you, I’ve been home. A lot. And like many of you, I have never experienced an event so all-encompassing. Thoughts and emotions swing from “I have all the time to do all the things!” to “Can I Zoom an oil change?” to “Wow, I wouldn’t even mind being squished between two people on a 737 right now, just to be normal again.”
And I’ve been finding myself turning a little into Emily Dickinson myself.
I’ve taken to sitting in the window of my upstairs bedroom during these days of quarantine, trying to focus on work while my husband and three kids create all manner of distractions downstairs, mostly involving joy and terror in the kitchen. But I often find myself . . . just looking.
Back in September, in those pre-Corona times of long ago, our family moved into a house that sits on the edge of McDonald Woods, our local county forest preserve. At the time, our view from the north-facing windows was a lush, green wall of leaves with splotches of golden field peeking through. If I squinted, I could see a sliver of the walking trail. And if I stood in the perfect spot in the bathtub, I could even catch a glimpse of a pond.
Then the leaves fell, and I noticed that quite a long expanse of trail is visible in the winter. I saw more deer than people during the cold and snowy days. Then the snow melted. And COVID came.
One of the few out-of-the-house activities people can do these days is take walks, and from my vantage point, upstairs and about one hundred yards away, I can say the activity, along with bike riding and running, is exploding in popularity.
Emily Dickinson famously stayed in her Amherst, Massachusetts, house all day, every day—and she was not under quarantine. According to the Emily Dickinson Museum, “Whether she suffered from a medical condition that made her uncomfortable around people or whether she chose to separate herself from society is not known.” While I generally love being at home, too, I never anticipated this kind of experience. But I am finding moments of joy from my bedroom window:
• Couples of all ages and walking speeds strolling hand in hand
• Groups of friends walking in shifting triangles or parallelograms of invisible, six-foot social-distancing sides
• Dogs romping among their humans’ strollers and bikes, overwhelmed with their good fortune
• Red-winged blackbirds—oblivious to the state of the world—flitting around the cattails in anticipation of spring.
Now, will I be able to come away from this time having written poems with even a fraction of the imaginative and spiritual depth as Dickinson’s? Quite possibly not. But I am starting to understand how she was able to tap into those depths a little more each day as I sit still, watch, and venture out to the trail myself and look at my window from afar. And when the trees start to fill out with leaves—no matter where we are in the pandemic timeline—and I can no longer watch my town on the trail, I’ll look for birds and the language ambling within.
Featured photo by Johan Neven, Creative Commons license via Flickr. Post by Tweetspeak’s inaugural “Poet Laura,” Tania Runyan.
How to Read a Poem uses images like the mouse, the hive, the switch (from the Billy Collins poem)—to guide readers into new ways of understanding poems. Anthology included.
“I require all our incoming poetry students—in the MFA I direct—to buy and read this book.”
—Jeanetta Calhoun Mish
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