Two Restoratives

How to Fly
(In Ten Thousand Easy Lessons)
Barbara Kingsolver
Harper, 2020
Margaret Atwood
Ecco, 2020

It’s been a rough few years. The roughest bit may be that it’s not likely to be un-roughed. Maybe ever, but certainly not within my lifetime. We’ve lost loved ones to COVID, to violence, to depression. We’ve lost homes to fire, to flood, to dispossession and economic breakdown. We’ve lost our communities and bonds to social media, to increasing disconnection from each other and reality, and to screens that serve as family and friends in the time of social distancing.

While COVID was ripping through the world, cancer decided to show that it was still top demon among my family and friends. One survived. We still haven’t had funerals for the others. Then my mother had a stroke, a mild one, but apparently harbinger for what is to come both for her and her four daughters. This all during a time when we couldn’t even be in the same room, never mind feel the comfort of a hug.

The murder of George Floyd had a galvanizing effect on many communities. But in my part of the morbidly white world, confederate flags started flying from the beds of every over-sized compensation mobile. Trump’s name grew out of the lawn next door like some horrifying eight foot tall fungus. Wearing a mask was almost as dangerous in certain company as going without. In any case, my status as dangerous outsider was cast in concrete when I dared put up the ‘Hate Has No Home Here’ flag. Isolated does not begin to describe my late summer of 2020…

Into this mayhem, my now-ex decided that we needed to introduce divorce after thirty years. Mind you, I had no job, no savings of my own, and would have no home, on top of losing those three decades. And the way this was approached, it was definitely a loss of time, not merely a time for change like a normal divorce. It was ‘I never loved you; we should not have been married’ betrayal and erasure. Moreover, with the loss of my home and marriage, I also lost the work I’d done toward creating a space that would support us into old age in a crumbling world. Work I will never recuperate. There is no rebuilding a food forest and a low-energy home at my age, even if I could afford the property.

There are similar tales all around the globe, I’m sure. At least I didn’t get COVID until well after the ink dried on the divorce settlement… Nonetheless when this began, I entered free fall, completely unmoored from past, present and future. I’m not sure how I kept going for the first few months. But then two books found their way to me and my will to fight was returned in spades.

Dearly by Margaret Atwood and How to Fly by Barbara Kingsolver both spoke directly to my flailing soul. Atwood brushed away my tears with a sharp flick of her wrist, uncorking the anger that I had suppressed for years. Kingsolver showed that I could be hurt, that I could be small and vindictive, that I could scream, but that I would survive. No. I would thrive. (I will not say that I took her advice regarding the midnight ritual burial of certain objects, but I also won’t deny it…)

So I owe thanks to these wonderful writers, these wonderful women! Both have influenced my thought and my writing throughout my life, but if these two small collections of poems hadn’t come to me when they did, I would not be writing these words today. Cheers to them both for showing how to rage at all this mess, how to cackle in derision at the offenders, how to plot and plod along until we can finally escape the swamp, and how to be human through all of it.

If any of you are feeling the despair — the logical reaction to all of this, mind you, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise! — I hope salve comes in whatever shape you need. But if you are reading this, then I suspect poetry works on you as it does on me. Perhaps something in Kingsolver or Atwood or someone else dealing with pain more specific to your own will find its way to your broken heart.

This is my wish for you. 

Here are several poems I wrote around that time all inspired by these two books.

the unwinding year


the stockings were hung
in the crepuscular light of hope
such lavish capacity
to be filled with all earthly delight
the stockings were hung
o’er the bright flaming hearth
luminous dreams in deep darkness
eggs awaiting the light
the stockings were hung
in our innocent dawning
with no thought of twilight to see
the stockings
were hung
and now they hang listless
mementos of what ne’er will be

vernal equinox

we planted apples and rhubarb
in defiance of greying bodies
we sowed clover and vetch
in anticipation of milky pleasures
we built mounds and soil
in hopes of potatoes for winter
we culled wild rose and nightshade
in expectation of sunbeams for berries
we dreamed, we designed, we made
and now
we abandon all ambition
with nary a harvest for the cellars
summer solstice

the light is too broad
too keen for old eyes
revealing the chips, the sags, the rot
hour upon hour upon hour
i am too much i’ the sun
pine needles rust in desiccating salt soil
berries wither, drupes dropping, all hopes denuded
and birds fall silent after the revelries of spring
we hold our selves apart
to stave off the burning
suffer this heat in isolation
the light…
it hurts
because no truth can lie hidden
no dreams survive the fathomless summer days

harvest home

it begins with a sharp scented breeze
a faint wash of gold gilding the maples
it begins with one minute less, then another
then another
until hours are drawn out
loosed from sunlight’s grasp
it begins with a stillness at dawn
foggy murk billowing from the bog-lands
birdsong hushed but for the cries of jays
it begins with longing for release
whirlwind, ecstasy, frenzied harvest
and the leering pumpkin face of death
in autumnal twilight
it begins…
and then
it ends unmade
and it will never be the same again

comes a day

comes a day of unlearning
	the yearning and burning
	the churning of raw want into love
comes a day of un-being
	the you-ing and me-ing
	the living that we are made of
comes a day of unwinding
	the bonds and the binding
	and finding th' un-stitch of our soul
comes a day of unmaking
	of breaking and taking
	back all of the parts of this whole
comes a day of un-wording
	of un-hearding shrill silence
	the hurting and blurting out fire
comes a day of un-airing
	the sharing and pairing
	of burying this twain in the mire
comes a day of un-sight
	of cold heartless night
	of quenching all light
	and no more will this fire ever burn bright
	and nothing whatever will ever be right
comes that day

enter three witches

cold virgin, stern mother, wise crone
	fused in ancient ageless flesh
she is become unyielding
	indifferent to puling insecurity
		unforgiving granite of fierce wardship
		inscrutable owl eyes of judgement
she lives in the dark wood of woman’s soul
	in her sugared house
        luring rash youth into transformation
	and then cackling away
        on chicken legs and mortars and brooms
she finds you amusing
	one insouciant eyebrow of disregard
		she needs you not

enter the witch
	trailing wisps of mugwort mist in her wake
	trampling your dreams
                of duality and duplicity
	trouncing the unwary and witless
		with one feathered and flint-tipped glance
you would do well to tread lightly in her garden
	take nothing, leave nothing
		but reverence and love
her snakes watch you always
	and she is familiar
                with fang and claw and poison

enter the witches
	dancing into the heart
	arrayed in midnight and starlight
               and sharp silver
	enraged and righteous and pulsing raw passion
join if you dare
	but know they will never submit
enter witch
	and ne’er come out again unchanged

And now, Day 21 of National Poetry Month.


all nostrums applied cannot cure
no cataplasm for perennially raw trauma
lacerations on yesterday
tomorrows swallowed
armored skin in rents and tatters
and howling welter at empty spaces
but spine unbent
we are 
thrash against injustice
throw barbs in the face of complacency
detonate deception with incendiary truth
but we are 
we are 
and we are
          coming for you

©Elizabeth Anker 2022