Every Tuesday after yoga, I go to the library. I was lucky to have gone on Tuesday, March 24, to pick up The Poet X, which I reserved through interlibrary loan, because on Wednesday, March 25, the library closed at 6 p.m. and remains closed. I am told there will be no late fees during the coronavirus crisis.
I go to the library to find things I don’t know I am looking for. Amazon’s algorithms can never replicate the serendipity of a book returns cart. I did make an online purchase from my favorite independent bookstore — located 200 miles away, so I’m already socially distant from it — but I found myself reading fewer books when I had to consider the purchase price.
And so what was I to read during April? A lot of poetry.
I begin my writing day with reading poetry and keeping a poetry journal. I write about what moves me, what I notice, and what “wonders me,” as my dad says. What wondered me during this pandemic edition of National Poetry Month was how every poem felt like it had more heft and breadth than it would on a regular April day. And whatever every poem was actually about, it was suddenly about This, about Now, about COVID-19.
• The House Was Quiet and the World Was Calm by Wallace Stevens. A friend sent me this poem, which I’d printed to save in a non-pandemic year. Soon afterward we did a Zoom chat with friends who had a baby right before Easter. Their small house is not quiet, with five children, ages 9 to newborn. And although the streets around them are calm, the emptiness is evidence of an economic storm. Normally our town is filled to bursting in March and April as tourists come to enjoy the beauty of spring. This year there are no outdoor festivals, no concerts, no 5Ks, no golf tournaments, no bike rides through the hills, no state parks full before 10 a.m., no buses crowding the National Museum of the Pacific War. I haven’t heard a single motorcycle group rev their engines on Main Street. It’s an eerie calm.
• “Tree at My Window,” by Robert Frost. This poem comes from a collection I reread this month. On Friday, April 10, I donned mask and gloves and helped the Central Texas Food Bank do a drive-through distribution. The cars started arriving at 5:45 a.m., and the first one came from another county. We unloaded twice the normal amount of food. As each car window passed, each driver was like a tree, each one “taken and tossed,” each one “taken and swept / And all but lost.” But as always, “Fate had her imagination about her” — one woman thanked me in sign language.
• Ordinary Life by Barbara Crooker. Much about my own day-to-day life remains the same. I work from home, as I have for fifteen years. My husband goes to work in a charitable medical clinic, where he has worked for fourteen. But I am appreciating every ordinary thing in new ways — a drive-by birthday parade for an 80-year-old, a drive-in church service with radios tuned to the proper frequency (honk your Amen), a brightly colored chalk blessing on a driveway. Each day, as Crooker writes, is “a day of grace” and “a day that unwrapped itself / like an unexpected gift.”
• A Ritual to Read to Each Other, by William Stafford. Did I mention it’s spring? With twice the usual amount of rain, it’s as lush as Ireland. I’ve never seen so many couples walking, so many families riding bikes. It’s as if we are all elephants lumbering out of our homes to enjoy warm sun and cool wind. We can’t hold each other’s tails, but we all wave with enthusiasm. One woman calls from across the street, “Be well!”
The Mirror & The Light, Hilary Mantel
Texts of Terror: Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives, Phyllis Trible
Early Readers and Picture Books
(Perusing my bookshelves for our June Children’s Book Club, just in case I can’t get back to the library any time soon.)
Middle Grade and YA
David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens (Purchased through Audible, with Richard Armitage making each character’s voice distinct.)
1. What are you reading during the pandemic that you might not have read otherwise?
2. What poems are speaking to you in unexpected and lovely ways?
3. Share your April pages. Sliced, started, and abandoned are all fair game.
Browse more from A Ritual to Read to Each Other
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