Poem by Mackenzie Lerario, from the March 25 prompt

The Plagued Community

A transwoman’s account of surviving quarantine during the coronavirus pandemic

My branding shelters me,
cradles me
and propels me.
Forward to a time
where I am recognized,
and unstigmatized.

You join me in the shadows,
where life is withheld,
waiting to be freed.
Brought to a moment
where you can leave,
no longer bereave
or need.

Our ilk is strengthening,
as the time is lengthening
where we are in our element.
We are used to this,
a place of hiding,
a lack of confiding,
but always learning from the deriding.

Lives on hold,
as days disappear,
never known why it’s never clear.
While sturdy life
negates the fear
to lose those
we once held dear.

It can be hard
to not hasten past our past,
knowing we must remain or we might not last.
Which is why
the weeds hold fast,
untouched and growing
until they can surpass.

Image from #atthebirdfeeder © 2020 david e bell

Poem by david e bell, from the March 25 prompt

Voyaging through Time

The distance across my harbor
The equator of my world
At dawn
A chilly stroll
Up the driveway
from porch to mailbox
gray gravel
damp underfoot
a milk over cereal

From the box
collecting paper
mostly junk,
and bills for other people

I stare across
the country lane
distant houses
still dark
an empty echo
of a world beyond
slow fading into dream

Between breakfast
and lunch
UPS visits briefly
words at distance exchanged
a tiny box delivered
a replacement for a part
not failed, yet
living by water skills, now
courses plotted with deliberate care
provisions laid in for indeterminate
passages through time
The brown truck grumbles to life
a loud cough in an alien silence
and trundling off down the hill

Radio a constant companion
mostly ignored
background whispering
in the kitchen
more company
than I usually have
in these days of captive voyaging

through time
wind driven wandering
down a coast
in history soaked
that was once was
and will be again
wandering through currents
of time and space

Jumping from season
to season
slow racing
flowing north, flowering

The bushes
outside the window
bird empty
swaying yellow
evening bright
as the sun
slides down
through the trees

Image from #attthebirdfeeder © 2020 david e bell

Poem by Richard Jackson

For the world and its moment. Rick is an honorary member of our literary community: he taught me more than most of my mentors in poetry, and he joined us as a guest poet in River River’s readings series a few years ago. His poems always invite one to gaze not just with the eyes, but with the heart.


Here the invisible is what one cannot cease to see.
            -Maurice Blanchot
It was only the wind and not the voice I was promised.
And it was a distant fire that rubbed the sky and not
the sunset I hoped for. But there was the deer hardly
touching earth as the coyote chased it into the woods
where the stones marking the old battle lines march into
and out of memory. Further back a few restless ghosts
that seem to follow like the clouds of gnats, or inhabit
the sound of the unseen grouse. Further back the ancient
microbes and viruses hidden in the icepack, uncovered
in fossils and shadowy species. In the end, isn’t the invisible 
what we most want to see, just as much as we fear it? 
You might think of the displaced family living in a tent
by the polluted river, the homeless vet, the woman
at the checkout counter.
                          Or better, you might remember
Katherine Johnson, one of NASA’s hidden figures,
herself nearly invisible, whose invisible numbers created 
a visible world that arranged pathways through the stars.
Above it all, Johnson’s moon reveals an ancient world
of asteroids beneath its surface. Here the silence is all 
we see: tracks hardened in the mud, trenches become 
long depressions those soldiers took refuge in. Clouds 
seem to palm the surface of the tall grass. That deer
has long disappeared though it continues, invisible,
in these lines.
                Above, the stars are still hidden but Venus 
announces itself with the borrowed light of the sunset. 
The stars hold back their light like dreamers. Here’s what 
Johnson knew: that all our numbers only mark a relation
to other numbers without which we all amount to zero,
that we only mean to others what we mean to ourselves,
that the love we take is equal to the love we give as the song 
said, I can see you without my eyes, Rilke prayed to God, 
that it is too easy to become as invisible as the stick
figures erased on a child’s magic slate or screen.

Richard Jackson is the author of 15 books of poems, 10 of criticism, and winner of Guggenheim, Fulbright, NEA , and Slovene Order of Freedom. A new collaborative work, Take Five: Prose Poems by 5 Poets, will be published this spring.

Essay by Cynthia McDonald, from our March 20 prompt (Barat House)

An Act of Love

I just finished reading Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. Toward the end, the character Mia is thinking about parenting. “Parents, she thought, learned to survive touching their children less and less.”

I was really struck by the observation. I had never heard or read the exact idea articulated before.

Of course I experienced this with both my daughters. Parenting them as babies, toddlers, children, adolescents, and then young adults, I had to give them their space as the years progressed. As a teenager, one of them rejected me almost completely for a time. The other one lived with me until she was in her early thirties but seemed to want mostly material support—emotionally, she and I were cut off for a long time. Almost no touching.

Now, at seventy-five, I look back at the joy I experienced as a grandparent, helping both of my daughters with their new babies. My older daughter’s sons are now thirteen and fifteen. As infants and toddlers, they were often in my care at their home while their parents worked. I got to be at the hospital at each one of their births, and held them immediately. I worried about the older one’s “cone head” until an Asian male nurse muttered kindly to us all, “Cone head go away. No worries.” When his younger brother arrived two years later, I rocked him in his nursery at home, made up a song for him called “Rhysie Roo”: Hey Rhysie Roo, how are you? How do you do, Rhysie Roo? Rhysie Roo, I love you.

I swam in the comfort of feeling them against me, experienced the physical joy of connecting to them. Now that they are teenagers, I have to be satisfied with sitting in the bleachers and watching them perform as baseball players, football players or wrestlers. Of course, they both hug me and kiss me when we greet and say goodbye, but if I want to connect with them, I have to give them their space. The space, for instance, to make peanut butter cookies Mark Bittman’s way instead of my mom’s way!

When my younger daughter delivered twin boys in her late thirties, I got my chance again to physically bond with babies. My daughter, her husband and step-daughter were staying at my house while they were remodeling theirs, so the two little boys came to my house from the hospital.

When the babies were only two months old, my poor daughter unexpectedly had to have open heart surgery. With the help of friends, colleagues and family members, I oversaw the babies’ care in my home while she was hospitalized and then recuperating. Since the remodeling was completed, I have been helping the au pair care for the twins in their home.

The joy I experience with these year-and-a-half-old twin boys is beyond belief. When I walk into their house, they look out from their gated living room, cry “Grandma! Grandma!”, wish to be picked up, held tightly against me, grab a picture book for me to read, fight over which one I’ll read next. At nap time, I sleep with one of them across my chest; at lunch I wipe their mouths as I feed them yogurt and vegetables, listen to them shout, identify their mouths, eyes, chins, ears, sometimes in English, sometimes in Spanish learned from their Venezuelan au pair.

Recently, I have avoided my older daughter’s calls for me to protect myself from the coronavirus by staying home. I do not want to stop going to their house on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from nine a.m. to three p.m. I want to pretend that I can ignore all of the quarantining that is going on around me. But soon people my age will be asked to stay in their own houses to self-quarantine. I do not want to burden my older daughter with having to hospitalize me if I get sick. I do not want to expose her family to the virus.

I have decided not to return to my little grandsons until the crisis recedes.

Image from #atthebirdfeeder © 2020 david e bell

Prompt for March 27 – Virtual Carson McCullers House

Maybe we are all poets now — sitting at desks thinking morbid thoughts and trying to make the best of it. There’s some grace in it, I think. So why not learn from the great ones? For our prompt tonight, here is a bit of an untitled poem written by John Keats in a letter to an ill friend, “In hopes of cheering you through a Minute or two.”

... I was at home
And should have been most happy,—but I saw
Too far into the sea, where every maw
The greater on the less feeds evermore,—
But I saw too distinct into the core
Of an eternal fierce destruction,
And so from happiness I far was gone.
Still am I sick of it: and tho' to-day
I've gathered young spring-leaves, and flowers gay
Of periwinkle and wild strawberry,
Still do I that most fierce destruction see,—
The Shark at savage prey,--the hawk at pounce,—
The gentle Robin, like pard or ounce,
Ravening a worm,—Away ye horrid moods,
Moods of one's mind! ...

Here are the links to our Zoom meeting for tonight at 7pm, and the submissions portal for those who would like to send prompted writing for this blog.

Prompt for March 27 – Virtual Barat House

The problem in public life is learning to overcome terror, the problem in married life is learning to overcome boredom.

From Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Marquéz

An aside: I feel a special affinity for García Marquéz, especially the book from which this quote is taken, because a critical editor said of my first full-length manuscript, “You have to decide whether you want to write a novel, or to write Love in the Time of Cholera.” As our times suggest, some of us are always writing Love in the Time of Cholera: the narrative may not be tidy; the conflicts we identify and want to dramatize or explore as writers seem weird and baroque, even to us. What am I driven to write? (Maybe it’s not a novel.)

But back to the prompt! Use the quote as a theme, title, or first sentence to inspire your work in any form (poetry or prose; fiction of any genre; creative nonfiction, essay, or memoir).

Log into our virtual meeting at 1pm here: Zoom meeting.

If you prefer to send text to add to this blog post, visit Submittable to upload your work. The form will go live at 12pm. We will do our best to publish everything we receive.

Prose by Donna Miele, from the March 20 prompt (Carson McCullers excerpt)

Inside the noisy mill the men could hear plainly every word that was spoken, but for the first hour outside they were deaf.

From The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

Inside, too distracted to work, too ashamed to nap again, I escape the contracting world in something I’ve never done. I watch Jackass. Johnny Knoxville traps himself in a tilting port-o-potty. There is a lot of poo. Elephant turds to dive into, to fling and smear. Immersion in treated sewage, enacted over silent scrolling health disclaimers. Then the aging skaters in Santa drag—another favorite trope—racing downwards: down urban stairways and water features and parking lot embankments in kayaks, in cardboard boxes, in bathtubs converted to street sleds. Newtonian games in which bodies in motion on bikes and rope swings or in midair remain in motion until acted upon by a high curb or tree or pricker-bush.

Continue reading “Prose by Donna Miele, from the March 20 prompt (Carson McCullers excerpt)”

Prompt for March 25 – Virtual Didier Dumas

“Back to basics.” Use the prompt to inspire your work in any form (poetry or prose; fiction of any genre; creative nonfiction, essay, or memoir).

Politicians and experts send mixed messages about dangers to public health; anxiety and suspicion divides communities into isolated groups seeking to protect themselves, often governed by superstition; fear silences discussion; despair renders a city almost unlivable for body and soul. This was the backdrop for The Decameron by Boccaccio in the 1350s, in which a small circle of men and women shelter in place (more or less) during an outbreak of the Plague and tell stories, sad, humorous, sexy, instructive. The Decameron does not celebrate carnal survival, but rather human survival through shared self-expression, through re-building community: the basics of being human.

So you can meditate on all of that if you want to, or you can just write!

You may also wish to use one of the prompts offered last week. Find them by scrolling back through the blog, but make sure to come back to this page for the Zoom session, link below.

We will write for an hour, from 7-8pm.

Log into our virtual meeting at 8pm here: Zoom meeting.

If you prefer to publish your work to our blog, visit Submittable after 7pm to upload your work. We will do our best to publish everything we receive.

Poem by Fredrica Wyman, a Friday salon regular

Spring pandemic

Out by the back fence
I'm digging this year's
compost pit.
Beside it, in the middle,
lies a pile of
the eponymous product:
dark, aged, fragrant, fresh
soil in a mound that grows
as I excavate, tear into
the old area, mine it
down to hardpan
then I'll start over
2 or 3 years. It will take
about that long I guess
        I negotiate with her
        but she's had it
        with us.

Meanwhile the garden
is awake in
onion tops,
witches' grass, blue squill,
starts of lungwort
and everywhere the
central new growth
under crinkled foliage mats-
T h i s  j u s t  i n !

I clear the dead growth,
chop it up
for the pile on the right
of discarded
clutter. Chaos,
my bargaining chip,
feeds it, demands
it bulks up as my efforts
toward control
make the garden beds
more raw and
exposed there I
in the afternoon,
fear infection,
and go back to digging.

I will layer my grave as 
Corylopsis showers down
her yellow benediction,
a rare gift this
murderous spring.

Essay by Matt Schwartz, from our March 18 writing prompt

Photo by David e. Bell

List of things I wish I could be doing instead of what I have been doing…

  1. Kissing a stranger
  2. Flying to Portland, Oregon
  3. Slapping the shit out of the idiots running this debacle
  4. Going to the YMCA
  5. Writing this on paper at Patisserie Didier Dumas

I woke up at 5 this morning and walked six miles. A nice distance, but not enough, and not the kind of distance I think I am supposed to be focusing on.

Sorry to bring it up, but it seems relevant (*re- “back to” or “again” + levare “to raise.” Think levitate or levity): I just scratched my nose, which normally is not worth reporting (*re- portare “to carry”) but in the context is at least of note, if not downright remarkable.

Continue reading “Essay by Matt Schwartz, from our March 18 writing prompt”