Posted in Poetry, Prose, Strangers

To the Lost: A bricolage poetry series

On Sunday, May 31st, my favorite newspaper, The New York Times, published a list of nearly 100,000 names of the victims of COVID-19 in the United States. On its front cover were the names of 1,000 victims, along with their ages, locations, and a brief line from their obituaries.

I was struck by the array. Some of the lines read like poetry, some made me laugh aloud, and some made my heart ache in their brevity. I imagined each of the people behind these names, and I winced painfully at the thought of many of them dying alone, without their families surrounding them. This tribute from the Times affords them even the slightest recognition of a life lived and now concluded, with dignity.

I took a few hours to read through the whole list yesterday, via this interactive graphic on the Times’ website. As I read through, I wrote down some of the one-liners that stuck with me. When I had a list of over 5 pages, I went through and bricolaged some of them together. Some are categorized because they make me feel the same way when I read them, some are grouped for their regret, some for what was left unsaid, and a few even jumped out as lines I’d like to have in my own obituary.

The names were a mirror, reflecting back the population of a city, all without a single photograph. I hope that you resonate in some way with this series of poems that I’ve come up with, from these humble headlines from the lives of the lost.  

I. The pain underneath
Sharecropper’s son (Cornelius, 84)
One-man army (Florencio, 65)
Freed from life in prison (Myles, 69)
Fell ill in prison shortly before he was set to be released (Melford, 65)
Died after being released from ICE detention (Oscar, 42)
Saved 56 Jewish families from the Gestapo (Romi, 91)
WW2 vet whose twin died in the Spanish Flu epidemic, a century ago. (Phillip, 100)
Man of few words (Claude, 84)  

II. The things they didn’t do
Widely surmised he could’ve played Major League baseball. (Paul, 86)
Trombonist who once turned down an offer to play in Duke Ellington’s orchestra. (Stanley, 88)
Gifted pitcher who never made the big leagues. (Steve, 80)

 III. Eccentricities, Depth
Stylish archaeologist and champion Dachshund breeder (Iris, 86)
Preferred bolo ties to neckties, suspenders to belts. (Leo, 98)
…Renegade nun,… (Georgiana, 73)
Gardener who won the title of Pickle King (Ted, 89)

IV. Things that give me pause
Quoted Longfellow and Tennyson from memory (Alan, 83)
Youngest of 21 siblings (Sawarellita, 52)
Free spirit and kvetch (Daniel, 80)
Mother outlived by her newborn (Wogene, 43)
Emergency room doctor who died in husband’s arms (Frank, 60)
Coloratura Soprano, loved to sing Ave Maria (Pilar, 89)
Loved seeing the full moon rise over the ocean (Norman, 91) 

V. Seeing yourself
She had that Irish wit (Florence, 96)
Happiest when she was barefoot in her flower garden. (Jean, 91)
Her last words were ‘thank you.’ (Cornelia, 87)

VI. Funny People
He could spit a watermelon seed halfway across a double lot. (Kenneth, 94)
The presence of Paul Bunyon and the demeanor of a kitten. (William, 73)
Liked his bacon and hash browns crispy. (Fred, 75)
Known for serenading his friends with Tony Bennett songs. (Angelo, 87)
Gained notoriety for his free-form dancing at family functions. (Phillip, 91)
Vintage Mississippi macho man. (Bennie, 85)
Member, Coots on Scoots motorcycle club. (John, 79)  

VII. The human condition
Thought it was important to know a person’s life story. (William, 55)
Had a mystic’s direct sense of wonder and oneness. (Margaret, 91)
An eye for beautiful and unusual things. (Steve, 75)
Never seemed to know a stranger. (Clyde, 86)
People were her hobby. (Mari, 82)
Man who seemed to know everything. (Luther, 108!)
Backyard birds were known to eat from her hand. (Ruth, 85)
Endlessly curious, never really finished. (Morris, 90)

The poem (or series of poems) below was born of my 30/30 poetry challenge that began in April for National Poetry Month. I’m proud to say I completed the challenge yesterday (a mere 5 weeks later than my original deadline.)

But hey! It’s the first National Poetry month challenge I’ve actually made it to the end of. I’m chalking it up to a victory and capitalizing on the momentum I’ve gained by starting a few new writing projects, and reviving a few existing ones, like this beloved space.

I’ll be sharing a few selections from my poetry challenge here in the coming weeks.
If you’d like to visit the full archive of my 30/30 challenge, you can do so here:

Posted in Prose, Travel Writing

Unconventional Types of Loneliness: A List

You know that adage about how Inuits have 47 different words for ‘snow?’ I think about that sometimes when I come across a feeling that can’t be explained, or one that doesn’t seem to fit into an appropriate category. Maybe we just don’t have a word for it in my mother tongue. Or maybe the closest word just falls short? Such is the case with loneliness. Wouldn’t you agree?

It’s such an intricate feeling, it can encompass so many different experiences. Loneliness isn’t always a sad feeling, and it isn’t even always experienced in solitude. It’s possible to be lonely in the middle of a room full of people, or on the happiest day of your life. It transcends.

A few months ago I came across a post from Mari Andrew, one of my favorite writers on Instagram, where she outlines different types of loneliness (I’ve included her greatness at the bottom of this post). I loved it, like I do with most of her stuff. But one type of loneliness that she included just hit me right in the gut: “Loneliness of needing to verbally process with someone who is trapped in another time zone.” This! This.

Continue reading “Unconventional Types of Loneliness: A List”
Posted in Personal Update, Prose

Radical Acts of Gratitude

It is a Wednesday in November. And I feel heavy.

I’m halfway through one of those weeks that started off bad and quickly got worse. My mind is spinning with tasks of privilege. I mentally recount all that is wrong: My puppy has her period (for 22 days and counting) and she is bleeding all over everything. Our washing machine is broken. Our cleaning lady bailed on us three weeks ago and we haven’t heard from her since then.

I cross Borcherd Street from my apartment to the vacant lot with the Bluegum tree, adjacent to the public parking lot on the corner of Banhoek and Andringa. Moira is perched under the tree like always; Dino isn’t far away. They both approach me with gusto and I can tell that even though it’s 11 am, they’re both three sheets to the wind. Dino asks where my dog is while Moira hugs me and asks me to buy them a loaf of bread. Sometimes she is very belligerent and sneers at me when I walk by, muttering under her breath in Afrikaans. Today she tells me I look beautiful and tells me, “I’ll be waiting for you, sweetie.” She will forget about me by the time I walk back home.

Continue reading “Radical Acts of Gratitude”
Posted in Prose, social justice, Strangers

Pint-Sized Vigilante

This is an old favorite–written in Washington D.C. in the fall of 2011. I was new to the city and was working as an intern for CNN. My first assignment was to go out “to the field” with a photojournalist and capture B-roll of a city-wide protest of convicted murderer Troy Davis’s impending execution. This poem turned out far better than the B roll. But unfortunately, the protests, which spanned the nation and garnered endorsements of Presidents and the Pope, failed in their mass attempt to reverse the sentence of Mr. Davis. He was executed on September 21, 2011.

They saunter around Tivoli Square, between a cinema and a supermarket; at the cross section of American life. Fifty Samaritans with the face of a convicted murderer who found God in a prison cell. Meek and bespectacled, in three days he will be dead. Carter, Clinton, The Pope, and the rest of the world bate their breath and pray for justice as he palms his rosary beads and orders his last meal.

“Hey Hey, Ho Ho, The death penalty’s got to go! Hey Hey, Ho Ho, the death penalty’s got to go!”

But one of these things is not like the other. In a sea of royal blue solidarity, there is an aqua jumping bean darting between people like she’s at a carnival of pious-intention. Continue reading “Pint-Sized Vigilante”

Posted in Nature Writing, Prose

For A Fallen Tree

I sensed your tragedy before I even realized what had befallen you. You, an acacia tree older than my country. Me? A humble witness to your inevitable downfall. You, baring your branches high on a bluff next to the Emmarentia Dam, innocent and ignorant to the dangers of natural electricity. When I found you it looked as if a giant had pulled you apart like a head of broccoli, splitting your trunk and throwing your remains, with the slightest clues of charred wood now permanently burned upon you. Continue reading “For A Fallen Tree”