I should be writing during these long, empty days, right? Plenty of time to think, reflect, write. But I’ve done so little. I find it hard to concentrate. No, that’s an excuse, because I can still get sucked into editing online for hours. Maybe that is more rote, not as demanding.
Anyway, to help me focus, I recently joined a writing group, the Ocean State Poets, and our first assignment was to write an ekphrastic poem, which is simply a poem that focuses on a piece of art. Our first piece was in response to The Goldfinch, a painting by Carel Fabritius from 1654, which I would have no connection to at all, except that it was the title and the center of Donna Tartt’s opus, The Goldfinch, which won the Pulitzer Prize several years ago (a book I tried to finish at least three times and finally sent it off to the local senior center). I know many of you will tell me you loved it; I was more than halfway through and just couldn’t devote any more of my time to it. I know. You loved it.
Anyway again, as I wrote the response to the painting, it took on its own shape. For instance, I never write poems that rhyme, and this one did. I usually fret and twiddle with words and shape and stanzas, and this one stepped on to the page and plunked itself down where it wanted. I shared it with the talented poets in my group, who pointed out some clinkers and typos. Thursday, I dusted it off and emailed it to an online poetry site that takes poems related to current events. They posted it today. It was nice to get such a quick response since it usually takes months to hear from literary journals.
And with that too-long introduction, the link to the site, New Verse News, which focuses on work related to current events, is below. The poem lives on the site and their Facebook page. I’ve also included the painting and the poem below if you don’t want to use the link.
To all the chained songbirds out there — keep singing!
Ode to a Chained Songbird in the Time of Coronavirus
In response to The Goldfinch, Carel Fabritius, 1654
We, too, sing behind locked doors, sweet bird.
Bound by restraints of fear, desire, the absurd.
We listen to operas, Broadway musicals, country western, jazz,
our deafening heartbeats, razzamatazz.
We open wide our patio doors to blast our fancy stereos,
to strum our guitars, to serenade our masked heroes.
We ask Alexa to drown out our loneliness, our unrest,
our entitled nonessentialness.
Tethered bird, we are appeased by sweet useless notes
that spin off to full pink moons and aligned planets.
Simple refrains of all for one – lean on me, come together,
rise up, sweet Caroline. Alleluia.
But it is the specters on empty streets and poisoned ships
we fear as much as touching our face, our lips.
It is a choked scream echoing across a backyard fence,
why we soap our hands and rinse.
Oh, feathered thing, keep vigil on your solitary throne,
feed us the seeds of a hopeful tune we can call our own.
For we are stumbling blindly into a craven new world,
with no elixir, no redeemer, no magic sword.
Give us this day, this week, this greening season of hush.
Show us how to bless it all without human touch.
For we are chastened by all we thought we knew,
by all we’ve lost, by all we cannot do.