April Poetry from Gillian Kessler

By Gillian Kessler:



These little poems/notes/spirit signals have been moving through me this past month, chronicling shifts as we’ve moved into the Coronavirus pandemic. As our world continues to altar into anxiety producing unknowns, I’ve been shifting into a new phase of grief. My mom died in late November. One Saturday I was celebrating her 85th birthday with her, the following Saturday I was lying next to her in the hospital following a series of powerful and unrelenting strokes. The following Saturday, she died. These little poems chronicle the grief process as it moves from something singular to something universal; the reweaving of emotions as they surge and swell, the attempt to live in beauty and gratitude, even in the face of a dead mama, even in the face of the world as we know it shutting down as we hunker down and hold on. 



Shift

I.

Decided to embrace the unknown—

what else is there to do?

To settle into compassion

what else is there to do?

Lay with a hand on my heart

a hand on my belly

breathed in the room

where my children and husband sleep,

breathed in the desert air

where I've seen more jackrabbits

than humans.

I had to take a 36 hour media break,

but woke in the night

my privilege and the open road

leading south

making me feel

this shame of luxury

but then gasping

as all of the colors of earth shift and settle,

the way the clouds move,

the way Solomon exclaimed

when the sun hit his face

inhaled audibly,

truly and deeply and joyfully

for the first time in days

because we are all vibrating in fear,

in the unknown,

and that's where we should be, this

blessed, collective connection.

Is it still okay, though,

to revel?

To scramble up a mesa

breathless, to hold the way sage 

leaves an oily juice on your senses,

or the way this red earth is so soft beneath your feet,

stains your very clean hands in a 

declaration of yes and yes and yes

that reminds you

we are all so deeply rooted,

waiting, listening.

ll.

What happens to our grief when it is held in the collective confines of a pandemic? Where does the prior sadness go?  I see a tumbleweed trapped in barbed wire. I can't shake it loose.

I also see: a family in sun, red earth and rich mesas, the way we can remove ourselves from fear even if just for a few hours, until the service returns, mounting numbers, anxiety, contagion, unleashed.

III.

When my mom was in the hospital dying, 

I wrote this in my journal:

I am not a mother. I am not a wife

I am a daughter. I am a sister.

It took me some time to step out of that space. 

My life continued to unfold and I 

did all of the things that I was 

supposed to do: care, cook, tidy, teach. 

There was something new happening, though, 

like I was hovering over my body and 

watching this busy woman tend to 

endless details without really 

settling back into her skin.

Now, almost four months later, 

I walk behind my children and my husband on a 

muddy red trail 

cliffs and sagebrush hold us. 

I am one hundred percent in my body, in my home. 

I know this is where she wants me to be, 

breathing in desert rain, 

wondering the name of the tiny daisies that bud from yucca, 

watching as the children talk on and on, 

imagine outfits for all of the dogs in the neighborhood, 

matching fashion with breed and personality, 

lost and safe on this Wednesday afternoon 

somewhere in Utah.

Beyond these red walls, our collective 

understood is shifting. 

Tomorrow we will drive all day, 

re-enter our community and jobs in a 

whole new way. But I’ll remember first:

I am a mother. 

A mother. 

She would say, "Listen to their dreams." 

She would say, "They are all you need."

IV.

I passed a man on the trail early this morning -

he was an older fellow, a "chap" my mama might say, a chap we might assume is currently at high risk. He was walking briskly—red puffy coat, beanie and sporty shades, strong and vibrant like so many of the older folks in my community. 

He beamed at my pup and then exclaimed, 

"It's a gorgeous morning isn't it?" 

And thrilled, surprised, and with equal exuberance 

I repeated his words right back at him, like a mantra, 

"It is a gorgeous morning!"

It seems we all feel the need to be 

extra skittish right now, 

avert eyes awkwardly, 

wrap our arms across our chests and

move quickly. I get it.

But I will always beam back if you deem it okay, 

open my eyes wide to the freshly snowy trail, 

the ducks in the make-shift pond, 

geese in all the directions while 

baby dog tries to keep up, 

his breathless anticipation, 

his sheer delight.


V.

The snow looks like blossoms

soft on the branches

this morning and I thought

maybe it turned spring

overnight as everything is upside down anyway.

I remember,

at the center of my grief,

how I wanted to build a cocoon

for myself and go in.

And, again, just like that,

all is quiet and the sunlight does its Christian-greeting-card-

magic thing

and slices her way through the wood,

the children continue to remember

the strangest details and we mosey

on memories for awhile,

the tiny birds suddenly back,

breathing in all we know,

nothing but now.


VI.

No one knows exactly how,

yet, to do this right.  

I just passed two women walking on 

opposite sides of the trail,

makeshift face scarves like vigilantes

like Zapatistas,

like billboards shouting:

Safety! 

Crisis!

Hope.

They waved and, I imagine,

smiled (though with who really knows).

They embraced this

new look with kindness,

with zest yet

I felt my mood shift,

sucked back into the rocky caverns of grief.


VII.

Today is full of dead folk singers,

the poets and spirit guides heading into

ether like the monarch breathing 

on my deck staring me down,

(I’m sure the butterfly 

was you,

Mama,

delicate,

classy,

confident -- 

sometimes I think you’re getting

further away until you 

return like a surreal rise at the

edge of a dam, 

the deluge,

the rush of it all).

And Sunday is Easter

and rebirth is a whole new

jam in my mind, makes me

spontaneously sing lines from

“Jesus Christ Superstar” --

Try not to get worried,

Try not to turn on to 

Problems that upset you, oh. . .


Sometimes I walk with one 

hand on my heart,

another hand on my belly,

shout show tunes to the 

yellow grasses,

to the muddy patches of snow,

to the spring sky and 

moviestar clouds,

bask in the all now,

even when the sad songs play,

even as the unknown plods along.

Gillian Kessleris a poet, teacher, and a regular writer for Flapper Press. Her first published book of poems, Lemons and Cement, is available for purchase.

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