Poetry Porch Poetics 2020

 

My Poems for the Pandemic
By Joyce Wilson

At the beginning of the pandemic lockdown, being at home so much seemed familiar to me and reminded me of my childhood. My father was a physician in pediatric research, specializing in infectious diseases, and at our house, we were sick often, or worried about being sick. I remember spending summer afternoons in a darkened room with the shades drawn and nothing to do but listen to the radio. Now I suspect that this was during the polio pandemic of the 1950s. I learned not to panic during these confinements, however, and to amuse myself with what was close at hand: stories, music, drawings. Our yard was full of entertainments: a brook, collecting tadpoles, identifying insects and flowers and birds. I collected these memories in a series of poems that were published in a chapbook, The Springhouse, by Finishing Line Press in 2010.

        Near the house I grew up in (Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, south of Philadelphia), there was a springhouse on our property, a house built over a freshwater spring that provided water for our house. Some of these houses were called pumphouses, but ours was gravity fed, so we called it the springhouse. As children we were told, don't ever go into that springhouse!

    The Springhouse

    Set into a hill of rabbits' lairs,
    The house has walls, a gabled roof, a door.
    Ground water seeps like milk a mother bears
    And gathers in a square cut in the floor.

    Our father cautioned us to stay away
    Yet left the lock undone, a second thought.
    We looked in at the shallow water bay:
    Protected source, a freshet, neatly caught.

    The cobwebs and accumulated dust
    Would fall if loosened by a sudden shout.
    Shaken pipes would drop their scales of rust,
    Contaminating water in the spout.

    But one bright day, inside the house we stepped
    To look into the nature of our dreams,
    Wagering that what the stillness kept
    Would tolerate the echoes of our screams.

        The runoff from the springhouse formed a brook with various water heights and mud banks. Once, in a handful of mud, as I clutched the mud in my hand, something began to move.

    Walking Stick

            Diapheromera femorata

    The tiny twig I held began to shrug.
    Then two antennae twitched. It was a bug!

    I wondered, would it give itself to one
    Whose eyesight fails against the brilliant sun?

    Perhaps it could provide a real support,
    A staff or crutch, to saunter or cavort--?

    I fear, alas, it might be seized and used
    As weapons are, abuser or abused.

    It hangs most of the day, remaining still
    Until the sun diminishes the hill.

    Beneath the canopy of night, it pokes
    In search of apple leaves, or rose, or oaks.

    It loses limbs, though you might never know;
    A good replacement soon begins to grow.

    Its eggs resemble specks or bits of caulking.
    It does not even do all that much walking.


        The next poem is an imaginative reflection of what it might be like to be the bug, the one that you see when waking in the fields, that exists in a wad of spit in between blades of grass.

    Spittlebug

            Cercopidae

    While clinging to a reed beside the path,
    It takes a morning glory bubble bath

    And finds itself perfectible at home
    Spontaneously salivating foam.

    And washing off unwanted dust and dirt
    In a position seemingly inert

    Creating bubbles in the summer air,
    It gains renewal, simply sudsy there.


        Now I understand why I was never allowed to swim with my friends in the local swimming hole (shallow, with unfinished muddy bottom) and always went with my mother and sisters to the pool at the hospital where my father worked. I also appreciate the worry my parents must have felt about the danger of this debilitating disease that struck without warning. I remember my mother talking about the Salk vaccine, Dr. Salk, and his rival Dr. Sabin, and what a great thing the vaccine was when it became available in 1955.




Copyright © Joyce Wilson 2020. These poems are from The Springhouse, which appeared with Finishing Line Press in 2010.

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