Sandra Cisneros says that “poets are in the professions of transforming grief into light.”

On some level, we all feel grief. In Eastern medicine, they believe that grief settles in the lungs. I have asthma, so I find this particularly interesting. I wonder how grief has affected my lungs, and how poetry could possibly help excavate stuck grief.

Covid-19 is a respiratory disease, so perhaps we need to pay attention to the connection of grief and lungs. I wonder how poetry could help us excavate our own grief. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all clear our lungs and heart from grief, and transform it into something beautiful and tangible?

Poetry– metaphor, truth– help us do that.

Write on.

Photo by Karim Manjra on Unsplash

One out of seven jobless, Venezuela size statistics,
but the Tongass is alive, listen—
the wilderness so thick, I could lean into this.
No helicopters to spoil, and there’s a 
part of me
that likes to do hard things— like fool 
into jumping off this cliff sixty feet
into the drink, blue like a California sunset
reflected in a rear view mirror.
Hear the birds—  if they were words
they’d say gimme this, gimme that
so & so started it, and I don’t want you to die.
Word to your bird baby mama.
Oh wild wilderness, why do I love you
so fierce? Is it because I relinquish 
is it because you show up in a flooded
beaver dam pool where you can’t tell
where the tree ends and its mirror 
the spider web that clings when you 
least expect it,
nurse log kind of love.
If it ain’t a good day I’m cryin’,
laughin’ and cryin’ at the same time,
inhaler in my pocket,
mask I’m rockin’
‘cause it’s not about me
this time— no one lives forever.
A girl cries every night,
she don’t want mama to die,
but I don’t wanna let it go yet
‘cause there’s still a part of me
that likes to do hard things.

I’ve always had asthma, starting at age four when I had to live an oxygen tent for a week, and more recently when I wound up in the emergency room with trouble breathing. Yes, I own an emergency inhaler and a nebulizer and I take asthma control medicine. Still, there have been times that none of these worked for me, and I had no choice but to go to the emergency room.

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness, which means that people like me are at high risk for complications from the virus. Until you experience what it’s like to not be able to breathe, it’s hard to understand just how scary it can be. Like many others, I have self-isolated myself and my children in our house, and luckily I am able to be able to work from home.

The fear that I could contract Coronavirus and not be able to breathe continues to linger in the back of my mind. Knowing this has forced me to adjust some of my behavior in positive ways.

  1. Knowing that your life is fragile changes your outlook on life itself. After three hospitalizations in one year, you start to imagine what your obituary might sound like. You wonder what people would say about you if your lungs gave out permanently. Would you feel satisfied as you reflected on life from your hospital bed? Subconsciously you start to plan your life as if this year could be your last. Since my last E.R. visit two years ago, I have checked off more items from my bucket list.
  2. Coronavirus has forced me to decrease the stress, because stress makes me feel like an armadillo’s sitting on my chest. That means not looking at my phone for news updates. I try not to stress the whole homeschooling-while-working-from-home thing. (Easier said that done, I know.) For us, homeschooling includes getting out in nature, quieting our minds, and listening to the sounds of spring. So maybe it’s not algebra— but it’s gotta be science, right?
  3. I write more poetry. Writing poetry calms me, like filling my soul with chamomile tea. It also gives me more perspective. I imagine if I were an alien watching, and you know they are watching, because they started this whole thing.
  4. Toilet paper won’t bring me happiness, but eating well will. The way I eat shapes my mood, and I know that mood affects my health. Now more than ever I try to fill my body with nutritious, nourishing food,and no alcohol. I’ve cut way down on sugar. Sugar equals inflammation, and inflammation is bad for the lungs. Lately I’ve been filling up on tea and coconut water instead.
  5. I’ve discovered that how I speak to my children really can alter my mood and health. If I raise my voice, I get myself more worked up, and if I get worked up, my lungs hurt. So I speak in a calm manner, and I ask everyone that walks into my home to speak that way as well. If I do need to raise my voice, I employ classic a teacher technique and sing across the room.
  6. I feel better and my children feel better if I’m not such a Nazi about screen time, schedules, cleaning, and all those other boxes we’re supposed to check. If we hit the two hours screen time mark, so be it. As long as I don’t get stressed out about it, they don’t get stressed out and it becomes a self-perpetuating cycle of calm.
  7. Time is fluid. Sometimes “recess” goes from ten in the morning until noon. Sometimes bedtime doesn’t happen until 9:30. No matter. As long as we don’t stress, it’s all good.
  8. I ordered some poetry books. I don’t watch TV— it’s too bouncy. This is the slow life, and I’m loving it.
  9. Speaking of slow, I drive my car slower than Grandma, which is cool because it seems like everyone else around me is driving their car slowly, too. Except for the little Roadster that zoomed by me yesterday, which is also awesome because at least people are enjoying their lives!
  10. I like to check Facebook for hilarious coronavirus memes, because laughter is the best medicine.
  11. Finally, a world for introverts! Yes, my extrovert friends are crying, but they’ve had it made for so long that it’s about time we introverts had our moment! Of course, I still miss my friends, and we’ve started calling and videoconferencing. Go figure that it took a Coronavirus outbreak for me to finally get on FaceTime with my sister.
  12. My kids seem to have really bought into this homeschooling thing.  We have a family meeting every morning and talk about what we want to learn or do. The kids have all sorts of ideas! Write zombie stories, make a movie, create a song on Garage Band, ride bikes, make books… They’re digging it and my son is being so much more helpful around the house than when he was in normal school.
  13. I’m saving a lot of money making more meals at home. And my husband is finally on board about building raised beds for a vegetable garden this year!
  14.  I finally have an excuse for not going to the gym.
  15. I hate grocery shopping and now my husband does it all for me!

I am extraordinarily fortunate that I have the option to work from home, and I have resources to buy fresh fruits and vegetables to boost my immune system. We are all being forced into a time out to focus on what is most important, our health– physical, mental, emotional. We are discovering that we are all connected, and that we are only as strong as our weakest link. We are finding ways to help the environment by working, learning, socializing, and learning from home. Hopefully our society will learn from this and adapt to become better stewards to ourselves, each other, and the earth.