Corona Pt. 5

Napoleon Touched a Bubo

Esteemed among the sick and dying,
A sash around your waist, a bright feathered cap,
A dashing uniform unsmudged by the smoke you made of Jaffa.

You touch the bubo of a brave soldier with your bare hand
While behind you your inferior officer clutches a scarf to his mouth.
He must not know, as you would say, that moral courage was the surest protection against plague.

He must not know of the greatness that shields you.

You would not order the slaughter of thousands of prisoners of war.
You would not poison your own sick and dying troops upon retreat.
Surely this painting could not be of a man capable of such savage acts.

Propaganda is nothing new.
They’ve been doing it since Napoleon touched a bubo (allegedly).

Antoine-Jean_Gros_-_Bonaparte_visitant_les_pestiférés_de_JaffaAntoine-Jean Gros. Bonaparte Visiting the Victims of the Plague at Jaffa. 1804.

So this is another piece inspired by my Surrealist Writing class. It’s an ekphrastic poem–that is a poem inspired by a work of art.

This painting hangs in the Louvre in the large hall of giant French paintings–like giant size wise but also in their significance in capturing key moments in French history (e.g., Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People hangs there). This particular painting was commissioned by Napoleon and exhibited at the Salon in Paris right before his coronation as emperor. As my poem implies, accounts suggest that the painting was made to dispel rumors that Napoleon had done some not so great things at Jaffa during his Egyptian campaign.

Studying art at the Louvre this summer reminded me how history is shaped by the hands of those whose accounts survive–it’s not a direct observable fact for us living in the present. It’s a story told to us. There are first hand accounts of Napoleon visiting the plague victims at Jaffa, but later historians question whether these meetings happened–how close Napoleon came into contact with his suffering soldiers.

This painting stands out to me now as we are dealing with our own plague like moment. Some things have been mishandled, and there’s a lot of finger pointing and shifting the blame. The information we’re receiving in the present about what will surely be a major historical event is being filtered through different perspectives: politicians, journalists, opinion writers, Facebook statuses of friends, popular memes on Imgur, late night comedy shows being taped at comedian’s houses. One would hope we could more easily identify the facts and truth of the present than we can going back hundreds of years in history, but with all these competing voices, sometimes its difficult to find the sound.

What is the truth of this bleak moment? Do what you can to know it.

Corona Pt. 4

Mixed Up Headlines – April 7, 2020

I just need the Comfort, the U.S.N.S. Comfort.
Here’s why.
Life is a health crisis–a full blown pandemic.
Small businesses toll hospitalizations
Even the latest setback has the virus.
Alarming rates of infection turned out to vote in Wisconsin.
Lives resigned over response to outbreak.
A ‘Liberty Rebellion’ makes an endless winter.
Normal life is a distant dream.

Inspired by a Surrealist writing class I just completed through Emory’s continuing education program, this week’s poem is a mash up of words from headlines on the New York Times website displayed April 7th. I’ve also done poems for April 8th & 9th that I’m not displaying here. Because one is depressing enough.

Corona Pt. 3

April Tragedies

April has been a dismal month
Ever since the Titanic sank
Between two continents.

Or perhaps it was sooner.

For April ushered in the Civil War,
Which lasted five Aprils–over 620,000 soldiers dead–
When Lee surrendered at a house in Appomattox Court House.
Lincoln was shot days later–in April of course–
Assassinated like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who
Died for liberty on the Fourth (of April).

April showers have brought mass shootings (Columbine, Virginia Tech),
Mass bombings (Oklahoma City, Boston Marathon),
A massive oil spill off the Gulf Coast (Deepwater Horizon),
And a massive earthquake (1906 San Francisco).

The Notre Dame burned in April of last year
And the world watched history fall to ash
Unaware of the history we’d be making
April of this year
When tragedy found a way to shake off
Its geographic straight jacket.

I’m taking April day by day and so far I’m through almost two of them.

Corona Pt. 2

We woke to birdsong–we did our part
Staying apart.
What struck was tragedy
Disguised as inconvenience.

We gave each other calls,
Sent texts, reached out.
Believing, disbelieving
This could be the end.

In our houses, we got busy!
Fearing idleness
More than isolation.
Oh, the things we would accomplish
As long as we didn’t succumb.

We swam in information.
Digital graphs with variable inputs
Forecasting doom under various circumstances.
We compared mountains to plateaus
And wondered if we’d ever visit Utah.

Doctors, nurses, grocery store clerks became heroes.
The first two we hoped never to meet.
The third did not sign up for this.

It couldn’t be us. It might be us.

Meanwhile in Washington
Opinion writers feasted on partisan bickering
While experts stood ready to grab the mic.

Stocks soared and fell like
High divers in the postponed summer Olympics.
Jobs were lost
Like our hope that we’d conquered infectious disease.

The Earth breathed.
Crickets drank night air.
Sleep wore us out like an empty bucket.

We almost knew we’d make it through.


Tucked inside a HEPA filter.
Suspended in hand sanitizer
Thick like amniotic fluid,
A full grown woman in a fetal sack.

Behind a protective plastic barrier,
A room stocked with bleach wipes
Where everything opens automatically
And hands sit idle.

Exchanging significant glances rather
Than handshakes.
And “Go the F*** home” for “God bless you”
When a cough rips the air.

A stockpile of soup and dried beans
And hope–that a humanity threatened
By a virus crowned king
Can take on our most significant challenges.

I wrote this poem last Tuesday, March 10th.

I went shopping last Wednesday, March 11th, thinking I should probably stock up a bit just to be safe.

Thursday, March 12th, was the day I spent home spiraling down the news vortex–plunged into fear as more and more closures and emergency measures were announced. That day the stores in Atlanta were thrown into chaos with items torn from the shelves and staples depleted.

I had to go shopping again this past Tuesday, March 17th, which I did with much trepidation, trying to keep a wide distance from other customers while navigating aisles full of employees restocking and filling grocery pick up orders. People were wearing masks and gloves. I had only my little bottle of hand sanitizer that I used like vial of holy water–sending up a prayer and rubbing my hands together every time I had to touch a handle or another customer came too near.

I once won a bottle of holy water for finishing first in a 6th grade spelling bee (incidentally this was the day I discovered I was actually pretty intelligent). The bottle was from Our Lady of Lourdes shrine in France, which news reports suggest is closed now for the first time in its history.

I placed the bottle in my personal shrine to Mary, which sat atop the bookshelf in my room. The holy water was only used once–I gave it to my grandmother when she was in the hospital to help heal her. She recovered then but has passed since–a long time ago now.

My grandmother, who I called Grammy, liked to tell me when I was worried that “the world will keep spinning on its axis.”

Which is true, but life sure does feel strange and foreboding right now so I’m going to worry for a little while longer.

Geometry Lessons

Squares are trapezoids that have chosen to conform.

Just because the hypotenuse is the shortest path doesn’t mean it’s the best way.

A circle never ends unless you cut it. Break the cycle.

When you turn 360 degrees, you end up in the same place, but you’ve seen the whole room.

Rulers make straight lines until you fall off the edge.

A cute triangle may never be right but at least it won’t be obtuse.

*Like my 30 After 30 post last week, this is another bit of writing from the past I found while searching through random folders on my computer. Original file dates back to 2014.

30 After 30

Occasionally I’ll rummage through old folders and files on my computer when I’m trying to decide where to save something new. This week I ran across a document called 30 after 30 that I created a couple months after my thirtieth birthday–about seven years ago. I imagine it was supposed to contain thirty things I hoped to do, but there were only fifteen things listed. Of these, I’ve managed to check off about half:

1. Go to Germany with my Mom. DONE!
2. Visit remaining US states I have not yet been to: Alaska, Kansas, Nebraska, Maine, Delaware. Still need to visit all of these.
3. Visit Spain. DONE!
4. Visit the Grand Canyon and stay for a week. Would love to do this. Haven’t yet.

5. Tell a story in a different city than Atlanta. Possibly done–I feel like this happened at the improv festival I attended in Vancouver where I performed in an Armando style show that mixed storytelling and improv.
6. Participate in NaNoWriMo. DONE-3 times!
7. Perform music at an Open Mic night. Can’t believe I wanted to do this and don’t see it happening anytime soon. 

8. Make a full menu from the NY Times Menu Cookbook including Beef Wellington! Haven’t done this. Sounds delicious!
9. Eat at The French Laundry. Haven’t done it. Still interested but less compelled to make it happen than when we lived in California.

10. Plant and maintain a vegetable garden. Attempted this.
11. Learn to embroider. Still would like to do this someday.

12. Have a non-academic writing piece published online. Every week on this blog, right?!?!
13. Find a job that I love! DONE–twice! I loved teaching improv, and although I would have never expected embarking down this career path, I love being a trainer. 

14. Participate in a triathalon. Not sure I’ll ever do a triathlon because of the time commitment for training and the expense (bike equipment plus a pool membership). But I have done a marathon, two half marathons, and I want to run more races. 

15. Become a tour guide. Like my Open Mic goal, I can’t believe I listed this. But in this case I can’t believe I knew so long ago I wanted to do what has become a very fulfilling part of my life this past year–volunteering as a tour guide at Oakland Cemetery. 

If you asked me today to list thirty things I’d like to do after 37, I’d probably list items other than those I have yet to check off my 2012 list. In that sense, the past list acts like an archive–a reflection of my preferences and priorities at a particular point in time. Still, there were some items that seemed to foreshadow the more distant future like being a volunteer tour guide and the trip to Germany with my Mom. Here we are in Heidelberg in 2018–close to six years after I made my 30 after 30 list. DSC02201

My Inner Sister

I realize she’s inside me, my enemy within, but I see her as separate from me somehow. I picture her as an older sister, which I don’t have but which I am, and she has my worst qualities as an elder sibling: a demanding know-it-all with a need for control.

I don’t see any of the redeeming qualities I might have as a sister in my inner sister. I’m not sure what these might be, but I imagine I do have them because my outside sister, who does not live in the same body as me, seems to like me. She invites me on vacation and comes to visit me sometimes.

My notion of being a sister is heavily influenced by my experiences growing up when my sister and I lived in the same household. We shared a room and my sister would borrow my stuff, both of which I resented. I guess I’ve never viewed myself as a particularly good sister because of these feelings of resentment.

My inner sister and I are at odds right now over some things. I think she’s a perfectionist who blows things out of proportion and her behavior has led to our current state, while she blames me for not being careful enough and making mistakes.

I realized this week thinking about her that we both want the same things–less clutter in our lives and a willingness to let go of the past. She wants to go about it in a way that’s just right. I, on the other hand, just want to get it done but am afraid of her wrath if we don’t do it her way (she can be a meanie). I’m hoping we can find a way to compromise.

When I was upset about sharing a room as a kid, my mom, who hadn’t always been able to live with her sisters growing up, would say one day I’d look back on the experience fondly. I’m not quite there yet, but I will say that I’m thankful that sharing a room with my outside sister offered me practice in sharing a body with my inner sister. And I’m going to give some more thought to how I’ve been a good older sister because I think my inner sister could be one too.

There comes a point

There comes a point when you have to face up to where you came from–the choices you made–the life that’s piled up around you.

There comes a point when you have to ask yourself: do you want to dig deep and dig out of the hole?

There comes a point when you hit a wall and that wall threatens to fall down on top of you. And you have to brace to hold up that damn wall.

There comes a point when the obstacles appear giant and you, a mere Gulliver, will try to run away swiftly. But they’ll surround you, and you’ll be trapped like a boot in Monopoly jail wondering if you should try to buy your way out.

There comes a point when you’ll say the pressure is too HIGH and long to release a little BUT you don’t know how valves work so you’re left boiling, steaming MAD at your situation.

There comes a point when you’ll question: was there ever any point?

There was nothing in my childhood to suggest I might someday be an endurance athlete except this: I loved biking, and my favorite place to ride was a mixed use path at Miami Whitewater Forest outside of Cincinnati. It was a long path, about 8 miles I think, and I would ride it with my mom and my sister and some of our family friends who went camping with us.

There was one day–it was the best day–when we went out early (a rare feat) and pretty much had the path to ourselves. We rounded a bend and came into this clearing. I remember it with long grasses and wildflowers and a wooden fence. (Incidentally, I pictured this spot while reading Twilight during the forest scenes when Bella gazes upon a dazzling, diamond infused Edward in the sunlight.)

In the clearing stood two deer who froze upon seeing us. It was a beautiful sight, and I remember thinking then as a child–THIS is the point. THIS is what life’s about.

I found out this week that my esthetician is moving away, and I’m sad about it because she’s the best esthetician I’ve ever had (in a twenty plus year history of brow waxing). Not only does she make my brows look good, but we also just get along really well. I’ve enjoyed talking to her and sharing our stories during our monthly twenty minute sessions over the past couple years. I’m really going to miss her and the connection we’ve had.

Which is I think another point of it all. Life’s not just about the sights (the deer in the clearing) but also the people you meet along the way (my (b)esthetician–best esthetician).

Now on to handle life.

The Space of a Woman

Don’t apologize to him.

These words run through my mind as I pant and sweat my way through a workout of my own design. I’ve set myself up at the gym in front of a couple of pull up bars in a small square of a relatively large room. There’s only one other person working out in the space, a guy, and plenty of other pull up bars, but nonetheless, I’m worried I might be in his way.

I’m not sure whether it’s Midwestern politeness or a wariness of making territorial claims I’ve internalized as a woman, but the question “sorry, am I in your way?” is desperate to escape my lips.

Instead, I repeat this to myself: you’re allowed to take up space.

It worked at the time. I avoided apologizing! But in retrospect, my use of the word allowed is suspect. Who exactly is allowing me space? Me? Society? Whose rules am I trying to follow?

I’m using a new productivity journal that has a daily affirmation section. You write one each day for yourself, and I’ve discovered this is a tough task for me. While I believe in the power of positive thinking for other people, I feel like I should already be good enough without practicing it.

I shouldn’t need to repeat to myself in the morning, “I am productive and motivated to crush my goals.” The evidence should be there. The goals should be accomplished. What’s all this magical froufrou change-your-mind, change-your-life stuff anyway? (Sidenote: it’s worked wonders for me so I shouldn’t knock it.)

There was another time recently I was afraid to take up space. Again I was working out–running on the BeltLine, Atlanta’s major mixed use path. I was using a timer to go back and forth between running and walking, and at the start of each interval, the timer would make a loud beep.

There were a lot of people out on the BeltLine, and I was tempted to turn the timer off. Who was I to occupy their aural space for my workout? Forget that the people I passed were talking and skateboarders were rolling by and dogs were barking and bikers were calling out, “on your left.” Who was I to make a beep that would contribute to the BeltLine cacophony?

A woman who requires space.

Maybe that’s the affirmation. More factual than inspirational except in its truth.