Four Poems

By Marianne Forman

Suspended Singing

I no longer sit in the soprano section
trying to match pitch and vibrato,
trying to listen between the notes, around the notes.
I no longer squeeze the knee of the soprano next to me
celebrating our both nailing that high A
or that obligato or that doubling of the tenor part
a full octave higher
when we become tenoratti.
I no longer navigate myself through Handel’s malismas,
accenting the first of the four sixteenth notes,
full press of inhale and exhale.
Imposter syndrome of a lyric soprano.

And in this pandemic, even my humming has become constricted,
as if my throat is being constrained by the ashes of the dead.
As if there is no breath for my breath.
Even my humming cloisters at the back of my throat,
hiding behind a hauntingly dark screen in a cathedral confessional.

Forgive me.
It has been fifty-four years since
my last confession.
I think I am losing my voice.

The Offering

I want to approach the man on the bench.
Offer him pralines from my purse.
He has been devouring his fingernails.
He pays no mind to my daughter
pumping her legs, trying to touch the leaves
of the Linden tree with her toes still wet
from early morning grasses.

I want to approach the man on the bench.
Offer him a sip of chamomile tea from my thermos.
He is gnawing on his cuticles. He has tangled
his beard into dreadlocks with lips and saliva.
My daughter is on the seesaw now trying to coerce
this machine to move as a soloist. She urges
the invisible child on the other end to press harder,
to do her part in this playground teeter-totter.

I want to approach the man on the bench.
Instead I leave the bag of pralines on the tree stump.
Leave the thermos, steaming brewed tea, next
to the corn-syruped pecans. I lay a gathering of dandelions
between the pralines and the tea. My daughter grabs
my hand, drags me to the merry-go-round, and I spin
her until we are both breathless and dizzy.

Pelican Seeking Refuge

This morning I wondered if you would fly into the window
confused, seeking safe shelter.

The wind was so close,
the water moving thunderstruck under your wings.

Heaviest of flying birds, air sacs breathing in your bones,
lightening your heft, your load.

But today there is no sea fowl
in the bellows of your beak.

You take refuge on the marble sill,
webs dangling over the edge.

Your breast is wounded,
opened to the salt breezes

You have been feeding your young
on your own blood offering during this scarcity of food.

Beak piercing your chest, again and again,
a self-inflicted opening of feather and flesh.

You are a banquet of ceremonial wine,
a feast of red river freshwater droplets

You gather them up,
urge them to suckle long and deep.

The lightning startles you,
shakes you from your landlocked perch.

I watch you take flight.
You are magical and exhausted
in your buoyancy.

Small Gestures

It’s the little things
Making sure there is a jar of Lysol wipes in every car
at every door entrance
even using one jar as a door stop

Offering to fetch vanilla creamer for me at the Piggly Wiggly
sugared clouds for my coffee
after waking at 3am

Wiping down the door handles
until your palms are raw
and you smell of sterilized sanitation

Washing your hands before you hold mine
asking Are you ok? And when I nod
unable to make eye contact, you ask Are you sure?

You remind me
I haven’t been sick in almost seven years,
even though meds designed to blunt
my entire immune system are pulsing
in my blood doing their work.

You remind me
that even at Kara Tepe Refugee Camp,
a village filled with coughs and rashes
and people seeking asylum, even there
where I welcomed refugees to the camp clothing store
holding their feet in my hands
hoping for an acceptable fit of shoes,
even there my lungs did not succumb.

You remind me
Love over fear.

But at night when I try to close my eyes,
I see us on a bed floating
in the dark, adrift. We are the sweet old couple
from the Titanic, suspended in a determined embrace
floating unmoored
to the sounds of the tenacious string quartet on deck
making music without hesitation
long after we have fallen asleep
in each other’s arms.

After having taught middle and high school English for 32 years, Marianne is now nurturing her own creative spirit.  She has spent three summers in Guizhou Province, teaching best practices to teachers in China. She received Fulbright-Hays Awards to Nepal (2003) and Turkey (2009). Marianne participated in Marge Piercy’s Juried Intensive Poetry Workshop (2016).  Marianne’s poetry appears in Muddy River Poetry Review, Belle Reve Literary Journal, Jelly Bucket Journal, Gyroscope Review, among others.  She has a collection of poetry forthcoming in 2021 from Shadelandhouse Modern Press.

Suspended Singing: I wrote this poem after a realization that I am losing my voice.  Singing and playing my flute have been a part of my life since I was nine years old in 4th grade.  Singing, especially, has linked me with others who have a passion for music.  I’ve also loved the concept that without singers in the room, creating harmonies, there would be no sound.  I have sung overseas, I have sung in the baths in Istanbul, all alone, with my voice echoing in the watery chamber.  I am missing the singing, the community of voices, the way we create something out of absolutely nothing through our blended voices.

The Offering: I wrote this poem out of an attempt to feel less isolated.  With our masks, and our inability to see one another smile, we have resorted to avoiding communicating.  I used to love meeting and talking with people at the park, especially when I was with my young children.  I desperately wanted to reach out to this seemingly lonely man, but the pandemic has breathed fear into my bones.  I don’t follow my gut like I used to, especially in relation to establishing rapport with strangers.  My leaving the pralines and the thermos on the tree stump was my small attempt to not let the fear paralyze me, to not let a kindness go undone.  I hope he enjoyed the pralines and tea.  I hope he smiled beneath his mask. 

Pelican Seeking Refuge: I wrote “Pelican Seeking Refuge” in response to the many reports that wild animals were simply showing up in places where they have not been, during this pandemic.  I experience this with a pelican who came to so very close to my window.  I noticed how this pelican’s chest was bruised and bleeding – her attempt to feed her young in a time when many of us are “food insecure.”  She reminded me of the many mothers out there trying to feed their young in a pandemic where everything is upside down and out of whack with the normal, whatever that may be.  My heart went out to this pelican in a time of uncertainty and doubt. 

Small Gestures: I wrote “Small Gestures” out of gratitude and out of fear, but mostly out of love.  I’ve found that I must look carefully and with compassionate eyes during this pandemic.  On the verge of despair back in March and April, I feared getting Covid.  I’ve been on immunosuppressant drugs for almost a decade, and I feared being alone and having a ventilator down my throat.  I pictured my partner and me alone, clinging to one another, like the old couple in the Titanic movie.  I have since moved on from such fear, but at the time, my fear was palpable and very real. 

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Veronica Carolan
Veronica Carolan
3 years ago

Your first two poems really touched my own experience and articulated feelings so well. Thank yo7.

Amy Celentino
Amy Celentino
3 years ago

I love Suspended singing, it also touches my soul so much. I miss singing also.. Yes and my voice has changed also..

Poetry and Covid-19 ARCHIVE (This website archives the over 1000 poems submitted by over 600 poets, and viewed by over 100,000 from over 125 countries during the Covid-19 pandemic, June 2020-June 2021). Thank you to all who took part in the Poetry and Covid project.

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