How was your week? It may sound a bit ridiculous when I say we have simmered and sweltered in the sun; the temperature has had a high of 24C (that’s 75 degrees ‘in old money’, as they used to say in England after they changed to a decimilised currency back in the 1970s.) But it is a very humid 75 degrees. I don’t like sweating. With the windows left open at night to welcome Morpheus, the biting insects also fly in overnight. Afternoon naps have become a regular feature of most days.
And, be clear, many of us very pale persons are just not used to hours of continuous sunshine. My husband spirited his wilting wife off to the seaside mid-week; regular readers will know the Atlantic Ocean is Bee’s Happy Place. We went early and left by lunchtime as sun broke through the cloud cover. It was low tide at Mullaghmore and I waded out to thigh high, kicked the water and anointed myself in salt water. Is there anything more delicious than licking your upper lip after washing your face in seawater?
The other important bit of news I need to impart is that there are just a few more places left available on my Zoom Creative Writing Workshops starting on 1st September.
As to the Sunday weekly poem, I am cutting myself some slack this week. Suddenly, my writing practice has taken a prose turn. It has been a long time since I dipped into writing creative non-fiction and the first draft is a hot mess. But you just have to push through the the merde first draft and see what can be cleaned later. I am 4000 words deep into hot mess first draft and have barely scratched the surface.
So as I looked out my window at an eerily still landscape I decided that a haiku was appropriate.
The restless sleeper
Twists out from sweaty bedclothes
Heat haze shrouds the hills.
May you have a peaceful week. I hope you find your Happy Place, too. And if you cannot physically visit, may the memory of it be vivid and quenching to your parched soul.
Some people count the weeks that they have been cocooned, quarantined or locked down. Until this morning I had not. I knew the date that was the last time we had driven outside of our village. We went to the nearest town twelve miles away to carry our some essential life laundry tasks and skittered back home fast. I was gloved up for that outing and have masked and gloved up since, even though Leitrim has the lowest infection rate in the Republic of Ireland. That was 52 days ago. Since then we have stayed within 2 kilometres of our home. Tony, celebrated his 70th birthday in March as cocooning was announced; he has been happily cocooned and busy in the garden. We realise how blessed we are to have it and our rural setting during this pandemic Chastening Time. I shop in the local grocery and post office/hardware for essentials. Anything we cannot get locally we buy online or is shopped for by a young neighbour, who also gloves up and masks, when he goes to the county seat each week. I sanitise like OCD is a fashion and not a mental disorder.
This week the realisation sank in that even as other parts of the world are loosening quarantine, this is now our new normal and will be for a long time to come. Technically, we could invite two non-related friends round for tea outdoors with our chairs spaced six feet from each other. In practice, I don’t think many of us are quite ready for that just yet. A kind of pandemic agoraphobia has set in. So while others may be planning a trip to the garden centre tomorrow, I have been contemplating the logistics of winter in the Chastening Time, which is now my name for this collective pandemic experience. Generally speaking, I am an optimist. But I respect science and historical experience.
I did some Googling around what people were reading during the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1919. According to a YouTube documentary I watched this week it was misnamed. The origins of that virus was in the American rural heartland when it jumped from pigs to humans. Spain got the name because it announced to the world that this killer virus was sweeping the nation. Elsewhere there had been cases but due to media censorship during World War I, the infection was more rumour than public health bulletin. The troop movements exacerbated the virus finding more and more human hosts globally. The last landfall of that particular virus was Australia in 1919.
Of course, the horror of mechanised war was what dominated the poetry publisher lists. Siegfried Sassoon and Rudyard Kipling must have been an interesting juxtopositioning on the Publishers Weekly lists. W. B. Yeats published his Wild Swans at Coole that included his poem “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death.” Sara Teasdale’s Love Songs was awarded a Pulitzer in 1918. In 1919 Margaret Widdemer’s The Old Road to Paradise shared the poetry Pulitzer with Carl Sandburg’s The Cornhuskers. Ezra Pound and T.S. Elliot were just beginning their poetry careers in the UK. They were also mourning poets killed by the war like Wilfred Owen and Edward Thomas, who was a close friend of Robert Frost.
Even though the Spanish Flu could strike you stone dead within twelve hours there is not a great deal to hint that this pandemic was killing more than the considerable casualties of the Great War. But, as a friend who studied Public Health Administration told me in a phone conversation, that generation was used to people falling ill and dying. They did it all the time. They did not have antibiotics. Recovery was a miracle; invalid relatives appear in novel’s marginalia all the time in the 19th century. Beth March is probably the most famous example. They all visit the seaside, but linger as shadows and then die. Yellow Fever and cholera epidemics were within living memory. Tuberculosis was rife. So numbed by the sheer scale of military casualties, the Spanish flu barely ripples across the pages of poetry. That people should fall ill and die was in the normal purview of the Grim Reaper. That a generation of men should be gassed, maimed and suffocated in muddy trenches was something new and horrifying.
But here we are a century on, innured to the medical magic bullets of antibiotics and vaccines. Except this particular virus has all the wiliness of a fox and the whole pack of hounds on its heels can simply not run it to earth. Or, at least, in no time in the near future. And for those who object to blood sports, I apologise to the fox in the metaphor above.
All this rumination comes from contemplating how you can be preparing a manuscript to send off to publishers (many of whom may go to the wall in the economic crash) without somehow referencing this collective experience. Or, as same friend in a phone call relates, the only thing that remains the same in one’s life are the seasons.
So for this Sunday’s Weekly poem I concentrated on one of the eternals in life.
By the by, the two of best selling authors whose names still had some recognition a century later were Zane Grey and Mary Roberts Rinehart. Agatha Christie broke out in Publishers Weekly in 1920. So if you can only read light fiction at the moment, you may have something in common with our ancestor’s pandemic reading tastes.
Today’s prompt on #30DaysOfSummerWritingChallenge is all about summer loving, or a summer of love, holiday romance. Summer does seem to make us turn to thoughts of … And it’s not all sun and sand in the mix. It’s true I did fall in love with the one I (still) love in summertime. So memory lane is coming to my rescue in the Poetry Daily again. But then, the Celts thought that poetry was all memory.
First Summer of Love
He set out on a Magic Bus bound for his best mate's first wedding in Nice. In London, I got sick. Feverish. Lost my voice. Languished. Thought he might be lost forever.
He came back on a Magic Bus brandishing a bunch of sunflowers (artificial) bought in the Med where all the bodies beautiful lay out, topless, on their sun beds.
But he thought of me and I had missed him equally. We both got on a Magic Bus we drove together for all seasons, and every weather.