Coronavirus Poems

In between working at home and watching streaming content, I have been playing around with some poems inspired by the coronavirus pandemic. The poems are nothing more than word nerd exercises, but they help to keep my mind active. Plus, I do believe writers must write—no matter the circumstances.

Fine Wordplay

I may be
FINE,
but I may
also be
FIN´.

Coronavirus Wordplay

Take the word
DEATH
and mix up
the letters.
Insert an R
to make the word
THREAD.
So here we are,
a THREAD
away from
DEATH.

Keep Away COVID-19

Stay clear COVID-19.
Don’t come
around here.
Don’t come
knocking at our door.
Go jump in a puddle
or dive into a dumpster,
but leave us alone,
and let us live
and die on our own.

One More Day

Alive for one more day.
Granted the gift
of one more 24-hour cycle.
One more rotation
from morning to night.
One more chance
to love those in sight.
One more chance
to do it right.

Coronavirus Fear

Look at the word
FEAR.
Now drop the F.
You get two options
for alternate words:
EAR and ARE.
With my EAR,
amid coronavirus panic,
I hear wolves howling,
markets crashing,
Gabriel’s horn echoing
throughout the land
and the hooves of the
Four Horsemen thundering
across the face of the Earth.

But I also hear my son’s laughter,
birds chirping outside my window,
tree branches swaying in the wind,
and my own heart beating.
The sounds remind me I am alive.
For now, just for today, we ARE still here.

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Morning Snowfall

I looked out my window this morning and saw snow falling, with big flakes covering the windshields of the cars in my apartment building parking lot. It reminded me that snowfall is typical in late March in Syracuse, New York. Here, the official start of spring doesn’t mean the end of winter weather.

Of course everything is different now with coronavirus, but the normalcy of seeing snow falling comforted me. It reminded me that nature goes on, that life goes on. And the silence of the falling snow made me feel safe and secure, even as I remained trapped inside.

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A Poem for the Start of Spring

Early spring has always been my favorite time of the year, as we put winter behind us here in Central New York. Of course coronavirus means nothing is normal this spring.

However, I am editing a new poetry collection that contains a spring-themed poem that lifted my spirits because it reminded me of happier times. I thought I would share it as we all hope for a return to normalcy.

Best Time of the Year

Snow finally
giving way
to grass
in Syracuse.

Cold mornings,
but temps
climbing
above forty.

March Madness,
Lenten fish fries
and the crack
of the bat.

Yippee …
it looks like
we’ve survived
another winter.

But never forget—
in Syracuse
a lake-effect blast
can still chase away
the Easter Bunny
and send the Moms
scurrying to their closets
to retrieve sweaters
on Mother’s Day.

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Untitled Reflections

The coronavirus has brought unprecedented changes that have altered human existence. Normal life has ended. We are shuttered at home and shuddering with fear.

Nothing I write can assuage those fears; I have no useful insight to offer. You already know the facts.

Schools, businesses and restaurants have closed. The stock market and economy have tanked. Grocery stores can’t keep up with the demand for hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes, food staples and toilet paper.

Social distancing and pandemic are common words in our vocabulary now.

The situation reminds me of the Depression-era run on the bank in the town of Bedford Falls in It’s a Wonderful Life. It feels like we’ve been dropped into scenes from Cormac McCarthy’s The Road or the movie A Quiet Place. Life in 2020 is dystopian—actually downright apocalyptic. We can hear the thundering hooves of the Four Horsemen. This feels like the end of civilization.

There’s a good chance my wife, son and I may get the virus. There is a testing site on Salina Street in Syracuse, but what happens if we test positive and need to be quarantined at home? What happens if we need medical care and can’t be admitted to the hospital because they are overwhelmed? Who will take care of our son if both my wife and I are incapacitated?

Having hypopituitarism with adrenal insufficiency, coupled with rheumatoid arthritis, makes me immunocompromised and puts me at higher risk of developing complications if I contract coronavirus.

My health has always been fragile. I’ve had multiple brain surgeries, and my diseases diminish my quality of life and reduce my life expectancy.

Less than two months ago, I had Gamma Knife radiosurgery in an attempt to shrink my pituitary tumor and help restore normal vision. My sight has improved; the double vision I had prior to the surgery seems fixed (not 100 percent, but close). Yet all of sudden normal sight doesn’t seem that important.

And this coronavirus is beyond our control. There’s no managing this like other health conditions. I have to accept the reality that I could catch the virus and it could kill me.

There’s so much I hope to accomplish, but I know I may not get the chance to I finish what I started. Multiple writing and other creative projects could be left incomplete. And the realization sets in that I may not get to spend the rest of my life with my wife and watch our son grow up.

I guess I’m trying to imagine the worst-case scenario so it won’t be unexpected if it befalls me. As a Christian I’m trying to place faith above fear, but it’s not easy, and I am reconciling the fact that Christ’s judgment may come sooner than I hoped.

Until then, I get the gift of one more day on the planet. One more day to spend time with my son.

Forgive this hastily written blog. Because things are changing so rapidly, I wanted to get my thoughts down before they escaped my mind.

I wish everyone health, safety and survival.

And since my words often take the form of verse, here are some poems provoked by coronavirus fears:

Coronavirus Poem #1

Coronavirus claiming lives
across the planet.
Shuttered at home
and shuddering with panic,
I wonder:
Will my family and I
outlive the pandemic?
Or have our lives
been lived up?

Not Ready Yet

I’m not afraid to die.
The passage from
life to death
does not terrify me.
But I have a lot
to do before I go.
And what troubles me
is all the work
I’ll leave undone.

Inspired By Coronavirus Fears

You have no control
over when your time comes.
The end will be the end.
And the choice
is not yours to make.
So why be afraid
of what you cannot change?

Trite Maxim
In the Age of Coronavirus

You have to be grateful
for every day,
because tomorrow
can be taken away.

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Recovered Words

Last night, in the process of looking for the original wording of a poem I wrote more than fifteen years ago, I discovered a collection of unpublished work stored on an external hard drive. The poems, short stories, essays and short film scripts had been written on two old laptops—a Dell and a Gateway—and they remained unpublished for the simple reason they were unworthy of print. But as I fell into the Word doc rabbit hole, I came across a few items with potential.

One was a poor, unfinished essay with the opening sentence, “Sometimes I wish I could ‘green screen’ my life.” I played with the line spacing and edited the essay into a poem. It’s certainly not the poetry of Whitman, Dickinson, Mary Oliver or Billy Collins, but I am pleased to have revised the words into a finished piece—which is now saved on my current computer for future use.

Green room, green screen by Jared Tarbell via Wikimedia Commons.

Green Screen Poem

Sometimes I wish I could
“green screen” my life—
alter the circumstances,
change the background,
transport myself from
my furnished studio apartment
to a Northern California bungalow.
Employ artifice to shape existence.

But life is a reality show—
just without the scripted confrontations.
And there is no green screen
to fix the disparity between
what I am and what I hope to be.
We achieve our dreams,
continue striving toward them
or give up altogether.
Life provides no special effects
to bend reality to our liking.

©2020 Francis DiClemente

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Inspired by Vincent

I am continuing to work my way through the book The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh. I am reading it from beginning to end, but I haven’t been consistent with reading it on a daily basis.

The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh, Penguin Classics.

Yesterday I came across a passage worth sharing. To set it up: the time is July 1885, a few months after Vincent painted his master work depicting peasant life—The Potato Eaters (April 1885).

The Potato Eaters by Vincent van Gogh (1885).

However, Vincent is still having trouble selling his work and his financial situation appears bleak. He writes to his brother Theo:

“I find myself faced with the necessity of being that most disagreeable of people, in other words of having to ask for money. And since I don’t think that sales will pick up in the next few days, the situation seems rather dire. But I put it to you, isn’t it better for both of us, après tout (after all), to work hard, no matter what problems that may entail, than to sit around philosophizing at a time like this?

I can’t foretell the future, Theo—but I do know the eternal law that all things change. Think back 10 years, and things were different, the circumstances, the mood of the people, in short everything. And 10 years hence much is bound to have changed again. But what one does remains—and one does not easily regret having done it. The more active one is, the better, and I would sooner have a failure than sit idle and do nothing.”

Gogh, Vincent van, and Ronald. Leeuw. The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh. London: Allen Lane, Penguin Press, 1996. Print.

What inspires me about this passage is Vincent’s willingness to press on with his art, undeterred by his lack of success. The fire in him to create burns too intensely for him to abandon his avocation.

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Four Years Old

Our son, Colin Joseph, celebrates his fourth birthday today. And being a late bloomer in all aspects of life, I never expected to carry the title of husband and father. Yet here I am, nearly 51, a family man who has shed his bachelor status. And being the father of an autistic child has taught me the importance of striving and attempting—because that’s all you can do is try—to practice patience, humility, gratitude and acceptance. Acceptance is the key.

Colin Joseph sleeping.

I know this evening when we celebrate Colin’s birthday, he will likely not blow out the candles or eat a slice of his birthday cake. He may not pick up or play with his new Woody and Buzz Lightyear toys. He may preoccupy himself with the string of the balloon my wife bought him. And that could go on for hours.

We work hard to help Colin improve his communication and social interaction skills. But progress is slow, and we don’t know if he will get better with time. So I have to remind myself to love the child we have, exactly as he is right now, knowing he may never become a “normal” boy. It’s a crude reference, but the situation calls to mind the Stephen Stills’ song, “Love The One You’re With.”

“Well there’s a rose in a fisted glove
And the eagle flies with the dove
And if you can’t be with the one you love, honey
Love the one you’re with …”

For now, I am grateful for the blessing of the little angel/mischievous rascal who turns four years old today.

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Single Vision

One is the loveliest number. It’s only a temporary fix, but thanks to the stellar diagnostic work of Dr. Leonard Savedoff, my double vision is now gone. Dr. Savedoff has written a new prescription for prism lenses. It will take a few weeks for the lenses to come in, but in the meantime, he applied a cling veneer with a grid pattern to the right lens of my progressive glasses and POOF—my double vision became single.

While walking back to the office, I tested my eyes and the results were conclusive. Looking at a streetlight, I saw ONE instead of TWO. Looking at a sign—ONE. Looking up at an American flag flying atop a downtown building—ONE.

But as I strode along the sidewalk, I thought about the bookworm played by Burgess Meredith in the Twilight Zone episode “Time Enough at Last.” He’s a bank teller who loves to read but never has the time. Then a nuclear explosion hits Earth, and it appears he is the only survivor. The teller finds the library and realizes he can now read all the books he wants and no one will bother him.

Photo of Burgess Meredith from The Twilight Zone episode “Time Enough at Last”

But a tragedy befalls him when he drops his glasses and the lenses shatter—leaving him incapable of reading. So I must exercise caution, especially when walking on the icy sidewalk, to avoid the same fate, since my double vision returns the second I lift the modified glasses off my nose.

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Alphabet Expression: Verbal Juxtapositions

I have completed a new project—a mixed genre book that is a medley of poetry, vocabulary and conceptual art.

I possess an obsession for vocabulary, and I spend time each morning looking up the “Word of the Day” on the following sites: thefreedictionary.com, merriam-webster.com and dictionary.com.

I created Alphabet Expression: Verbal Juxtapositions as word play—an attempt to use unusual word combinations to create new associations and imagery in the mind of the reader/viewer. The word pairings were formed according to alliteration, appearance, randomness, rhyme, sound and similar or opposite meaning.

I hope to publish the work in book form (most likely in a self-published format), and I am also interested in collaborating with a designer or visual artist to develop a selection of large-scale, text-based artwork, using some of the pairings from the book.

Here are some sample combinations. You could call the hybrids “voetry” or “poecabulary.”

Autistic

Artistic

Collision

Collusion

Diffident

Different

Lonely

Lovely

Perfection

Perception

 

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Frankenstein for a Day

I am now recuperating from Gamma Knife radiosurgery, which was performed on Tuesday, Jan. 28 at Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse.

I experienced a complication and a greater degree of pain compared to the Gamma Knife procedure I had in 2012 (the goal then being to prevent my pituitary tumor from growing back).

When neurosurgeon Dr. W. and radiation oncologist Dr. M. inserted the four aluminum pins in my head—used to fasten the titanium head frame—they had difficulty at one of the sites, near where I had a portion of bone removed during my initial brain surgery in 1984.

Gamma Knife head frame. Photo by Pamela DiClemente.

The pin placement caused cerebral spinal fluid to leak, and I heard the sound of liquid dripping against the metallic structure, followed by rose-colored fluid splashing on my hands and on the blanket covering me. Nurse B. applied gauze to stanch the flow, but as the droplets fell from my right temple area, I conjured the image of Christ wearing the crown of thorns.

Christ Crowned with Thorns, 1550, by Maarten van Heemskerck (Frans Hals Museum).

After a mapping MRI was performed, Dr. W. and Dr. M. met in a treatment planning room to devise the course of action. The MRI report, which was sent to me electronically the next day, showed the tumor had from grown from my last MRI in December; it now measured 18.6 millimeters by 10.4 mm by 10.6 mm, compared to 13.3 by 8.6 by 9.9.

The terminology in the report amused me, and I imagined a spotlighted Beat poet or a rapper riffing on stage using the following phrases:

Expanded sella
Transaxial
Craniocaudal
Necrotic degeneration
Residual peripheral enhancement
Hypoenhancing mass
Inferior displacement of the optic chiasm
Deviation of infundibulum

After the planning meeting, Nurse B. came back and announced my treatment would last one hour. An older doctor or tech, stocky with salt and pepper hair and a beard, positioned me on the Gamma Knife machine. Then he fastened another head gear to the frame, and I heard cracking sounds and felt pressure in my skull. It made me think a mobster was sticking my head in a vice and turning the lever—to a much lesser degree—or using his meaty hands to squeeze my head like a grapefruit.

My body moved in and out of the tube for about an hour, and then Nurse B. and the tech came back into the room. I felt woozy transferring from the table to the wheelchair, and I feared the CSF leak may cause me to pass out. When I returned to the patient area, Dr. W. removed the frame and placed two small staples near the pin hole that leaked CSF.

A short time later they wrapped me in a head bandage, fed me some toast and discharged me.

My wife Pam took some photos of the ordeal, capturing the gory details. I don’t think I could look more gruesome if a Hollywood makeup artist made me up like Freddy Krueger. However, the more accurate cultural reference is Frankenstein. That’s how I looked and felt.

Take a look at the comparison of these two profile photos: one from the post-op period in 1985 and the other from the recent Gamma Knife day. I retained the shape of my boyhood head in adulthood, but now gray hair is sprinkled throughout.

Florida, 1985.

Gamma Knife, side angle. Photo by Pamela DiClemente.

At home, the cranial pressure seemed elevated and my head ached, especially when moving from one position to another—most notably when leaning my head against the pillow to go to sleep.

I was given instructions to take Tylenol when needed and Dr. W. also prescribed an antibiotic.

I have a series of follow-up appointments scheduled in the next few weeks, and it’s too soon to tell whether the Gamma Knife procedure was successful in restoring normal eyesight (going from double vision back to single).

But while off a couple of days from work, while recovering and lying in bed, I thought about being sick and how when you’re in the moment—whether suffering from the flu or healing from a broken bone—you have the sense you will never be well again. You can’t remember a time when you didn’t feel bad.

Head bandage selfie.

It’s similar to living in a cold climate—like here in upstate New York—enduring harsh winter temperatures and heavy snow and never believing spring will come—until one day it does. And the next thing you know it’s a balmy summer day and the sun is shining, the air warm, ice cubes rattling in glasses of lemonade and lawn mowers buzzing in the neighborhood. And you think, I can’t remember what winter felt like.

Selfie of two small staples puncturing my forehead.

That’s the way I see this health situation. I consider it a short interlude of hardship to endure before I reclaim normalcy. At the same time, judging from my more than 35-year experience with a pernicious craniopharyngioma, I sense this is not the end. More trials will likely come, but my fear is diminished because I already know what to expect, as I can anticipate the movement of a tumor that is stubborn but not swift.

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