Covid Bicycle Blessing
for Sandra Santiago-Vizcaino, first NYC teacher lost to COVID & my friend
I avoided writing as long as I could,
so the glide of images would be free
of uphill straining; but pedaling
on today’s slick roads, over thin
fallen limbs and wet leaves, scatterings of yesterday’s storm, reminds me how in an instant lines shake violently loose,
oak trees topple, yellow tornado skies
turn brilliantly back to blue,
how every few seconds, some gentle soul
arms outstretched to heaven becomes a corpse. (Oh, Sandra, teenage daughters left behind,
sparkling vitality, smiling eyes!)
But this poem is supposed to be about folks I have not met:
the tall mother at the Green Market, who bought orange sunflowers for her little girl; how we shoppers smiled behind our masks to see the child holding them high,
a bright torch to light us through these whirlwind times.
(She could have been our student, Sandra:
like the Third-Grader who sat cross-legged on the classroom rug,
cradling the Halloween pumpkin, tilting her head, as she plucked the stem,
To remove the top, and dip one slim dark questioning hand
into golden flesh, and marvel
at the details inside!
Those slippery yellow seeds
like secret gems, stretchy pungent strings resisting the tip of the knife;
I taught her to describe a pumpkin that day, but you, Sandra, lesson incomplete, toted
it home after three so your daughters would make pie.)
But I was supposed to make space in this poem for folks I don’t know well: the lifeguard neighbor who filled my bike tires, the delivery guy
who singsongs my name
outside the door, (lady, talk to me, slice a few minutes
of tedium off my long day!)
But thoughts written down
chose different streets,
poetic intentions loosened, and I got lost riding over this windswept
I Ching toss, my bike spokes are no longer aligned to radiate
from a calm center, powered by gears and my strong thighs.
The citizens I’ve ridden past, I want to wish them all well. Please
ignore my scattered words; resist sentimentality, craft demands.
Return to title/theme; so, bless-my-city’s my refrain:
the laborers trying to bring home enough for food and rent,
the nanny arriving at another mother’s doorstep, the cashier
fearful of the cash,
the bus driver dreading her riders’ breath;
how an ordinary day teeters on the precipice of chance.
What poem can even try to design
the vivid parenthesis?
help keep alive, in this dark time,
the loving spin of two-hundred-and-sixty-two thousand missing souls?
Goddess at the River
She tells me she’ll call after she goes to the river;
not to fetch water, like the veiled nymphs of old, but to muse
on January winds, watch the current slide between two cities,
how skyscrapers face skyscrapers across the shimmer.
Winter walks in plague-time; dressed for cold; snap photos
of the gulls: raucous gray/white repeat, voracious bills,
cartoon feet, squawking above piers at any hint of crumbs;
while sunlit ferries crawl across the harbor.
In spring, she’ll pay her fare, sail east to the tip of land where surfers
emerge from subway cars, paddle boards through
wild surf, ride the crests of greenglass waves that sweep all the way to shore and wet her goddess toes with frothy-white perfection.
Covid Stoop Stories
Mid-summer early morning stoop sitting: next-door the childless woman
who lost a daughter decades ago, sweeps and sweeps;
does she know old One-Way, across the street, was carried out of the basement on a red stretcher to an ambulance in the middle of the night?
Here's the cold developer who tore down the little homes next to mine to build
the ugly rich people monstrosity exiting his new garage in his fancy car,
while the stooped Viet Nam War vet limps to the avenue for coffee;
both son and young grandson lost to drugs;
and remember, that summer morning, years ago?
After the all-night party in the pink house across the street?
when the eighteen-year-old woke at dawn
then fell off the roof? Our friend’s four-year-old saw that.
Above us the tenant couples come and go, falling in love,
marrying (two so far), known by their different ceiling-thumping habits.
Now here’s N. our block’s crone, who never says hello,
but stops today: ours, she says, is one of two trees
where hundreds of birds (are they starlings?) congregate
at sundown and from which they crap, mercilessly,
on any cars parked beneath—all this one COVID morning
while I, new mandolin player, batting mosquitos,
twang away in all the easy keys.
Phyllis Capello is author of the poetry collection Packs Small Plays Big. She is a New York Foundation for the Arts fellow in fiction and winner of an Allen Ginsberg poetry award and her work appears in many anthologies. Phyllis performs in pediatric hospitals with Healthy Humor Inc., and teaches poetry for Community-Word Project.