Resplendent Vincent

In taking out the garbage this afternoon, I snapped a picture of a tree in bloom set against the blue sky, and the beauty of nature reminded me of an entry from The Letters of Vincent van Gogh.

Tree in bloom. Not the greatest picture, but it does capture the glory of spring.

I started reading this 500-page-plus book about a year ago, and I still have about 100 pages left to go before I finish it. I skim a few passages at a time, and for me the book is similar to the Bible—in that I can close my eyes, open it up at random, point my finger to a page and start reading. There’s no plot you need to follow, and you don’t have to read Vincent’s letters in sequential order. In the Bible, I discover Christ at random in the action scenes of the New Testament. Vincent’s collection reveals the artist’s creative progress and his struggle to connect with other people.

In this entry to his brother Theo, dated September 17, 1888, Vincent is working in Arles in southern France, where he has set up his Yellow House. He describes being inspired by the scenery.

The Yellow House (The Street), Vincent van Gogh, September 1888 Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)

“You see, I have never had such luck before, nature here is extraordinarily beautiful. Everything and everywhere. The dome of the sky is a wonderful blue, the sun has rays of a pale sulphur, and it is as soft and delightful as the combination of heavenly blues and yellows in Vermeer of Delft. I cannot paint as beautifully, but it absorbs me so much that I let myself go without giving thought to a single rule.”

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

Passage from The Letters of Vincent van Gogh.

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Inspired by Signs of Spring

While taking a walk this morning, I saw a field of flowers in a small plot of land adjacent to the Syracuse Center of Excellence. Their appearance inspired a poem. And it’s yet another example of why I always carry a pocket notebook with me and a few ballpoint pens buried in my coat pockets. Fortunately, today there was enough ink in the old pen to write these words.

Yellow flowers.

Seasons

 
Hearing the sound
of my footsteps
on the sidewalk
of a deserted street
in Syracuse.

No one else around
except two teenagers
kicking a yellow
soccer ball
in a parking lot.
But I won’t report them
for not wearing masks
and failing to maintain
a six-foot distance.

Sunshine, cool air,
puffy white clouds,
budding trees and
bulbous flowers blooming
in canary yellow color.

There’s no denying
spring has arrived—
even here in
upstate New York.
But this year,
with coronavirus,
the chill of winter remains,
and April hasn’t
chased away
the shut-in feeling
of mid-February.

And I wonder,
will we be able
to celebrate spring
when summer gets here?
Or will coronavirus
postpone our fun
until autumn?

Yellow flowers, close-up.

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Laughing While Peeing

Laughing While Peeing

While taking the last leak
before going to sleep,
I can’t help but laugh
when my four-year-old son Colin
switches off the bedroom light
and slams the bedroom door behind me.

Here in this small, one-bedroom apartment,
with our three-person family
locked in coronavirus quarantine,
laughter cannot be kept away.
It bubbles to the surface despite
the seriousness of the moment.

My toddler son doesn’t know
the world faces an existential crisis,
doesn’t understand that a pandemic
grips humanity in peril, upheaving our lives.
He’s just a boy who sees the door and thinks,
“Hey, let me slam this and see what Daddy says.”

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More Coronavirus Poems

It seems like nothing but coronavirus occupies my mind these days. And so here are a few poems I’ve fiddled with in recent days.

Coronavirus Plan

If I fall victim
to COVID-19,
if it appears
I will not
survive the
coronavirus
pandemic,
I will:
Submit.
Resign.
Accept.
Relent.
And try to die
without infecting
anyone else.

Getting On

You get one more day.
One more day is all you get.
So take a deep breath,
Count your blessings
And get on it with.
Make an attempt to
Live today like
There is no tomorrow.
Because with coronavirus
On the prowl, there may not be.

Coronavirus Kid

The child may not
see tomorrow.
Yet he lives today.
So let him be a child,
full of laughter and play.

Harrison Street, Syracuse, New York.

A Coronavirus Poem With No Ending

The reality of a pandemic
heightens our fear of death.
Today it’s you.
Tomorrow it could be me.

But I can’t grasp the figures,
can’t imagine 100,000 people dying.
I wonder how far the victims’ bodies
would stretch across America.
Would the line of corpses reach both coasts?

And with the world in crisis,
everything nonessential drifts away.
Nothing matters now but survival
because we can no longer picture
life untouched by coronavirus.

We’re in the midst of this crisis
and my reflections prove
frivolous and inconsequential.
I offer no gleaming insights,
and my words flounder on the page
as I try to wrap up this poem.

I’m unable to extract the perfect line
to deliver a tidy ending.
The fact is, I don’t know
what coronavirus will bring tomorrow,
and so I won’t pretend that I do.

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Coronavirus Musings

Life is altered now as we follow the instructions intended to stop the spread of COVID-19. But the fear of the end—once far removed from daily conversation—now bristles to the surface. We are aware of our potential demise, and being immunocompromised, I resign myself to the likelihood of death if I contract the virus. It seems odd to think coronavirus would take me out, instead of a car accident, heart disease, cancer or a fall at home.

And the seriousness of the situation instigates other thoughts. We are fighting so hard to survive now that coronavirus is rampant. I wonder, why didn’t we live this way before? Why did we need a pandemic for us to treat life as sacred? Why did we allow frivolous things to preoccupy our time and attention? It’s because we thought we had plenty of time. Coronavirus has forced us to acknowledge that we don’t.

But there is something else, an offbeat thought that brings me a little comfort. I think: maybe death is not so different from life; maybe when we die, we don’t know we’re dead, and death is not an end, but rather, a continuation. Maybe we exist in some other form.

My son comes into my bedroom as I write these words on a scrap of legal pad paper; he switches off the light and begins jumping on the bed. And so my writing is done. I hope to put more words down tomorrow.

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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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