Poem: Peace and Rubble (is this how we go?)

Humans, as a whole, have a difficult time seeing clearly beyond their own noses. I’m guilty of it, too. Some have a gift of empathy where they not only see clearly what is happening to others beyond their own experience, they feel it, too. These poor creatures are definitely the exceptions.

Look at what’s going on now. Here in southeastern North Carolina, we’re dealing with the restrictions that COVID-19 has placed on our entire nation, we’re watching the news and seeing the numbers tick steadily up—but the people around us don’t appear to be sick. Maybe some of them are, but their cases must be extremely mild. We know that there are more cases out there and we could be next. We know it, but we don’t, for the most part, actually feel it.

And so we go on about our lives. We’ve taken up new hobbies, returned to old ones. The kids go to “online” school every day. Some of us are chafing a little at the restrictions. My kids can’t see their friends. My oldest is missing the second half of his sophomore year at college. But over it all, right now (and it may be short-lived), I have a feeling of profound peace. I’m not rushing anymore. I’m not feeling guilty for devoting so much time to the theater work I love instead of making dinner for my family. I have time to fold laundry and wash dishes. I’m enjoying this unanticipated vacation.

And I know it shows a lack of empathy that I can feel peaceful right now. Maybe this is the end of everything, maybe it’s the ruination of our country, maybe it’s the apocalypse. Anyway…

Peace and Rubble (is this how we go?)

By Michelle Garren Flye

If this is the way we go, I think it’s the way I choose:

Family all around, safe in our home, with love as real

As the things I care about—the only things I have to lose;

Maybe that’s wrong to say but it’s the way I feel.

It’s an odd war we’re fighting, of that there is no doubt.

The enemy is hidden, you can’t even see the rubble.

There’s nothing to show on the nightly news, no bout

Of bombing or flattened buildings—maybe that’s the trouble.

Instead of fighting, we’re asked to sit still and quiet

Don’t go out, stay home with your loved ones, they say.

There’s a special joy in that if you’ll only find it,

A life you’ve not given yourself time to live—until today.

Poem: An Empty Bookstore

I know how lucky I am. I get to go into a bookstore every single day. In these coronavirus days, that’s something special. Admittedly, I know this time is a setback. I certainly never imagined I would end up closing down for weeks and possibly months this soon after becoming the owner of a bookstore. But life’s lemons make sweet lemonade if you know the recipe, and for me, that recipe includes a lot of books and time.

Today, I will go back to the bookstore. I will sit behind my desk and do paperwork and hope the phone will ring. I will spend some time dusting and rearranging shelves. And I will spend some time just sitting silently. But I won’t be alone.

An Empty Bookstore

By Michelle Garren Flye

An empty bookstore is still quite full.

Just sit silent and listen for a minute.

You’ll find the characters of another soul

Acting stories for your entertainment.

Look there! It’s Hazel from Watership Down!

He’d best watch out, McGregor’s not picky—

Peter Rabbit escaped and ran into town,

And farmers say all pesky rabbits are tricky.

In a quiet corner, the Little Women gather.

Meg, Jo, Amy, Beth dream dreams of future days.

I wonder what they’d think of today, whether

Marmee would approve of our wayward ways?

Curious George flies a kite with Paddington Bear,

Ignoring Jekyll’s Hyde lurking in the shadows.

Scarlett O’Hara ponders which dress to wear

While Atticus Finch seeks to deal legal blows.

Over yonder lies Dracula’s coffin in state

And don’t forget to check in on Miss Havisham.

Now that you’re ready to flee, just wait—

Anne Shirley is here with green egg’s Sam.

The longer you sit quiet in this empty place

The more peopled you’ll find it is in the end.

You know, you can do the same in your own space?

Books are all you need to make a friend.

Out of focus

Focusing on one thing at a time makes it difficult to see the big picture. Photo by Michelle Garren Flye

Today I sat in my silent bookstore hoping for the phone to ring with someone wanting to take advantage of my Covid-19 remote shopping option. The silence is of my own making. I closed to the public at the end of last week. It felt like the right thing to do.

It’s very difficult right now to know what the right thing to do is because it’s difficult to know what to focus on. Medical experts who say this epidemic will not end well if we don’t continue to isolate ourselves? Government hopefuls who expect real life to echo the movies and miracle cures to materialize out of thin air? Economic brains who anticipate the further shutdown of the economy to be more catastrophic than thousands of deaths?

And truly, it’s hard to see the true danger. It’s invisible until it hits you or someone you love. The medical community understands this. They’ve given us the tools to defend ourselves (wash hands, don’t touch face, remain socially distant), but they warn if we don’t use them, the effects will be devastating.

The truth is, though, this silent and invisible enemy will be the most devastating one we’ve ever faced if we don’t listen to facts. Scientific facts—something we’ve been trained to disbelieve in our recent alternative fact universe—are what can save us, but how likely are we as humans to listen now that so much is at stake? Our lives depend on it, but are our pocketbooks more important?

What do we focus on? We can’t focus on any one thing, really. We have to see the whole picture. All at once and from every angle. And know that what we don’t see—the invisible—can harm us.

Who says life finds a way? This flower.

What lesson can we learn from this little flower? Everything important. Photo by Michelle Garren Flye

I took this picture this morning. Dogwoods are blooming in North Carolina. I’ve been photographing them ever since they started peeking out a week or so ago. But this particular bloom intrigued me. Why?

Because it’s blooming on a broken branch.

The branch was half severed during a storm in the late summer/early fall. It never died, though. The leaves stayed green until they reddened to brown in the fall. I’ve been watching this branch since then, waiting for spring and wondering if it would bloom like the rest of the tree.

It is. Blooming. A little stunted, a little slower, but blooming nonetheless. Partially severed from the rest of the tree, this little blossom is still struggling for survival. It has a message of beauty and purpose to spread to us. No doubt this flower would prefer to still be on a limb that is fully attached to the tree it comes from, but it’s taking what’s been given and going with it.

It occurred to me that this flower is much like us right now. Do we wish we weren’t stuck in isolation? Would we prefer to be able to go to dinner and movies and parties like normal? (Okay, the parties thing is not me, but I understand I’m less social than the normal human being.) It would definitely be nice to go out shopping without wondering if this is the time we pick up the COVID-19 virus and bring it home to our families.

Yeah, we’re all blooming on our own broken branches right now. But we’re blooming, nonetheless. We’re helping each other and spending time with family members that maybe had been a little neglected, tending to gardens and cleaning our homes. Our children are still learning from teachers who are overcoming what would once have been insurmountable obstacles to teaching.

Life is going on. To quote Jeff Goldblum (and either Michael Crichton or Steven Spielberg?), “Life finds a way.” We are alive. We are finding a way to live.

Poem: Pandemic of the Head (with commentary)

Nature is not political. Photo by Michelle Garren Flye

In truth, I feel we’ve all been denying truth and facts and science for so long in favor of what one political party or another says, I’m not certain we’re going to really get this pandemic thing until it smacks us in the face. And it’s a slow-moving thing that we’ve been misled about by the government that’s supposed to be looking out for us, so now that we’re told what’s actually happening and what needs to be done to stop it…nobody believes it. Even I—and I am far from a fact-denier—have a hard time believing it’s really so bad that restaurants need to close and kids shouldn’t have play dates. I still go into my store every day hoping it will be normal again. But it’s not. The little town I live in is spookily empty on these bright spring days.

And in spite of all that, it angers me to hear others make this political. The Democrats made it up, the media is whipping us into mass hysteria, it’s no worse than the flu. Yeah, I know it’s hard to accept, but this thing can kill you. And if not you, then someone you love. It’s the first true pandemic since the 1918 influenza epidemic which killed more people than World War I, and we’re still in the beginning stages of it. Denying it won’t stop it, any more than denying global warming will stop the seas’ rise.

That’s where we are right now. We have to make some tough decisions. Tough times are coming, and if history is any indicator, we most likely won’t learn anything from it.

Pandemic of the Head

By Michelle Garren Flye

It’s never happened before, so it can’t be happening—whoa!

Who can tell if this is the end of the world…or just for show?

Yet people sicken and die—but that happens every day.

How can we judge if it’s wrong to go this way?

Time to be responsible, that’s what you claim—

Have you no care for the pocketbooks you maim?

No parties left but political ones, and those you can’t attend.

Who will be left to pick up the pieces of what’s left in the end?

The sweep of a pen proclaims we must stay at home to work.

But what of those whose businesses can’t survive such torque?

Some will suffer more than others, of that there is no doubt.

The choice is simple—sickness and death is the only way out.

Shelter in place to protect the weak of our society.

Quarantine is a trial, but there’s nowhere left to flee.

No matter how this ends, both sides will declare tis what they said:

A pandemic like no other before…but it was all in your head.

Poem: All Right Again

Like a promise that we will truly be all right again, I found the first violet of spring today. Photo by Michelle Garren Flye

It’s so tempting to think everything’s fine. The kids are home from school, sure, but that’s happened before. They always go back. Downtown is mostly empty and the restaurants are all closed but hey, that happens whenever we get half an inch of snow or ice. And yeah, people are having to cancel dream vacations and the stock market is tanking, and nobody is going to parties or play dates or visiting grandparents…no, everything’s not fine.

Eventually it will be, though. We’ll pick up the pieces, but I think we’ll pick up a few other things at the same time. A new appreciation for a hug from a friend, for instance. Less reluctance to get up and take the kids to school in the morning. A newfound faith in life and whatever power has helped us get through it all.

Yes, eventually it will be all right again.

All Right Again

By Michelle Garren Flye

When we pick up the pieces again, what will find there?

Can we put them together the way they were,

Or will it become something wholly new?

For some will be missing, little pieces torn away.

Lost in the big picture of our new normalcy.

What will it be like, this mishmash of bits?

When we turn it shiny side up, will enough be left?

Or will the picture be distorted by what we lost?

Or maybe by what we added along the way.

Poem: What’s Fifty? (Happy birthday to me)

Happy Birthday to me.

I won’t lie, it’s difficult celebrating today. But it’s also sort of necessary, isn’t it? I mean, every year on this day, I look at the flowers blooming and think, I hope I’m here one more year to see this. So, no matter what the next year brings, I celebrate last year and say goodbye to it. It’s time to turn to what’s coming with gratitude for what came before.

What’s Fifty?

By Michelle Garren Flye

It’s not so important, this birthday of mine.

I’ll toast and forget it with a little red wine.

What’s fifty, after all, but a number of sorts?

It’s not like it comes with big lumpy warts.

I’m not really any older than I was yesterday—

I’ll still skip and holler in the midst of the fray.

If you think about it, each day leaves us a bit worn,

And it starts from the very hour we are born.

What’s fifty after all, but the next logical step?

Each year, just a memory, so carefully kept.

We build our remembrances up until the end,

And hope time’s passage brings us another friend.

What’s fifty? I yell to the rest of the world.

I’m nothing without age…let the years unfurl!

It’s not like it’s something we’d want to avoid.

If we try to, our hopes will just be destroyed.

What’s fifty? A point on a timeline, if you would.

Just you wait, this year I’ll make fifty look good.