Poetry can be very comforting in troubling times—and the COVID 19 Pandemic is surely troubling. I have noticed in the magazines on my bedside that I am not alone in turning to poetry as a way to get by. There are funny poems (Billy Collins: Forgetfulness), romantic poems ( Elizabeth Barrett Browning: How Do I Love Thee?), touching poems (James Richardson: For the Children) and many other variations on the human experience. A recent poem included in Poetry for Fraught Times in an Atlantic Magazine newsletter is From Blossoms, by Li-Young Lee. It brings back childhood memories of the fruit stands in Sunnyvale when I was a little kid, where we would stop at some of the orchards that then blanketed Silicon Valley to buy freshly picked fruit. Three of us kids were jammed together in the back seat, dripping sticky juice on each other. It was heavenly. This lovely poem turns that experience into something transcendent:
BY LI-YOUNG LEE
From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.
From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.
O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.
There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.
On a different note: for weeks now, the San Francisco Bay Area fog has been displaced by grey and sometimes orange smoke hanging in the air. It is not only depressing; it is also dangerous to breathe. That has meant that our already constricted lives are further reduced: we can’t even take walks outdoors safely. For that reason, I was happy to wake up one morning last week to thick, cool white fog outside our windows. My first thought was “Thank you, thank you, thank you, fog” from this poem by W. H. Auden:
No summer sun will ever
dismantle the global gloom
cast by the Daily Papers,
vomiting in slip-shod prose
the facts of filth and violence
that we’re too dumb to prevent:
our earth’s a sorry spot, but
for this special interim,
so restful yet so festive,
Thank You, Thank You, Thank You, Fog
HAVE A GOOD WEEK!