Posts Tagged ‘COVID’

On day 11 of the end of 2020, let’s turn to Israeli poet Natan Zach who died this November. I left his poem “Against Parting” at Michigan Central Station. The 1913 Station, once called Detroit’s “Ellis Island” and later the favorite of “ruin porn” photographers, is being renovated by Ford Motor Company. (You can link to a history of the building here.)


poem is on fence between the two center posters


Against Parting

by Natan Zach


My tailor is against parting.

That’s why, he

said, he’s not going away;

he doesn’t want to part

from his one daughter. He’s definitely

against parting.


Once, he parted from his wife, and

she he

saw no more of (Auschwitz).


from his three sisters and

these he never

saw (Buchenwald).

He once parted from his mother (his father

died of a fine and ripe age). Now

he’s against parting.


In Berlin he

was my father’s kith and kin. They passed

a good time in

that Berlin. The time’s passed. Now

he’ll never leave. He’s

most definitely

(my father’s died)

against parting.



“I would prefer not to,” Bartleby the Scrivener famously says when asked to do the work he was hired to do. By force of sheer intransigence Bartleby upends office life, to the point where his boss is forced to relocate to another building.


The speaker’s tailor in “Against Parting” is just such a one, albeit less robotic than poor Bartleby. He’s done with separation; he refuses to do it anymore. His wife, his three sisters, his mother, the good times he had in Berlin with the speaker’s now-deceased father, all gone. His daughter is all he has left, and he’s holding firm to her.


It’s a facile thing to say—I am against parting—who isn’t? And it’s oddly phrased (of course, the poem is translated, so maybe not so odd in Hebrew) and unembellished with poetic flourishes. But it has power, and repeated it becomes almost a battle cry. I am against parting! In the face of terrible suffering, the tailor asserts his commitment to attachment and his attachment to commitment. It’s stark, strong, and beautiful—I am against parting! Someone who’s lost love so brutally understands the value of it in a way others do not.


This year we’ve been overrun with parting. Not just the parting death brings (1.7 million partings and counting), but the kind of parting that circumstance forces us into. Social distancing, quarantining, work-from-home and online schooling are not friends to human connection. Well, sorry, Mr. Tailor, but it can’t be helped, you’re going to have to go along.


But there is one kind of parting we can take a stand against:  the parting political disagreement causes. Let’s aim for disagreeing without hating. Let’s be against parting (that kind anyway) and those who foment separation for the sake of power.




Nathan Zach was born in 1930 in Berlin. His father was German-Jewish, his mother Italian-Catholic. In 1936 the family re-located to what was then British controlled Palenstine.


He served in the army during Israel’s War of Independence and after studied political science and philosophy at Hebrew University. He taught at Tel Aviv University. In his late 30’s he moved to England for ten years to get his PhD. He returned home to teach at university.


He’s credited with loosening up Hebrew poetry, moving it away from rigid rhyme and meter schemes, and is considered a seminal figure in modern Israeli poetry, winning multiple national literary awards. He was known for translating Allen Ginsberg into Hebrew. Link here for a fuller discussion of his life and work.


Zach collaborated with musicians and many of his poems have been made into popular songs. Here’s a musical version of his poem, “It is Not Good for Man to Be Alone.” Just get a load of that groovy host.



He was diagnosed with Alzheimers at age 84 and died when he was 89.







Read Full Post »

Fifteen days till the end of 2020 and four days till the official start of winter. Winter, the dreaded season, the season Dr. Fauci has been warning us about since the pandemic began. If Fauci weren’t such a gentlemen, Ezra Pound’s expletive-filled “Ancient Music” could be his cri de coeur. I left the poem in a tangle of undergrowth and trees on a cold and dreary day.


poem is white speck in middle of picture


Ancient Music

by Ezra Pound


Winter is icummen in,

Lhude sing Goddamm.

Raineth drop and staineth slop,

And how the wind doth ramm!

Sing: Goddamm.


Skiddeth bus and sloppeth us,

An ague hath my ham.

Freezeth river, turneth liver,

Damn you, sing: Goddamm.


Goddamm, Goddamm, ’tis why I am, Goddamm,

So ‘gainst the winter’s balm.


Sing goddamm, damm, sing Goddamm.

Sing goddamm, sing goddamm, DAMM.



Lighting candles is all well and good but sometimes darkness just needs to be cursed. Lean into your inner Howard Beale and yell out the window, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” Or if you can manage the pronunciation, have at it with Pound’s “Ancient Music.”


This is a parody poem, of course. Maybe you were forced to study “Sumer is icumen in” in high school or college. To jog your memory, it begins—


Sumer is icumen in,

Lhude sing cuccu!

Groweþ sed and bloweþ med


And springþ þe wde nu,

Sing cuccu!


As much as I dislike winter, I dislike medieval poetry more. This poem in particular. Maybe because “Sumer is Icumen In” was always showing up in anthologies and syllabi, unwanted as dandruff. But I’ve changed my mind, as is my human prerogative. I came across a musical version and found out it was written as a song (sometimes called “The Cuckoo Song”) to be sung in a round, my favorite kind of song. Listen how pretty it is



When sumer is icumen in 2021, hopefully the good parts of our old collective life will be icumen in too. Meanwhile, feel free to curse the darkness. Old Ezra’s here to help.




I don’t have the requisite energy today for Ezra Pound’s life. Let’s just say it was complicated. Here’s the Reader’s Digest version:


Born in 1885 in Idaho, died 1972 in Venice. Singular figure in modern literature. Poet and critic. Literary mentor of Eliot, Hemingway, Joyce. Founder of the Imagist school of poetry. Ex-pat. Fascist collaborator. Anti-semite, at least for a time. Psychiatric patient. Author of one of my favorite poems, “In the Station of the Metro.”


Link here for a fuller discussion of his politics and here for one on his life and work.






Read Full Post »

Thanksgiving is a good and necessary holiday but perhaps more so in times of want than of plenty. What is wanting this Thanksgiving 2020? We want to be together. We want our families, our friends. Most Thanksgiving celebrations are pared down this year with families separated by virus or politics, some permanently so, thanks to death on the one end and crazed partisanship on the other. So many want jobs, income, financial stability. So many want justice. So many want love. So many want what they had just nine months ago, however bad that was. The “wanting” list is endless; the plenty-side may seem shorter, anemic.


Thanksgiving is here to say, no, it isn’t. Good-and-plenty surrounds us. Bulking up the plenty list is a matter of observation, one that poets and priests (I included one) can help us with.


Let’s begin this annual Thanksgiving poem-blitz with the very Queen of Observation, Mary Oliver. I left “The Real Prayers Are Not the Words, but the Attention that Comes First” on the back of a park bench by a small pond.



Oliver watches the hawk like a hawk. To make such observations, she must sit still and quiet. And in sitting still and quiet, connection becomes possible. Wonder is possible. In moments of keen attention, the separate elements that make up the poem—the hunter, the prey, the wind, the grass, her mind that “sang out oh all that loose, blue rink of sky, where does it go to, and why?”—are all as one.

For an easier-to-read version of the poem, link here. (Unlike the Poetry Foundation version in the link, Oliver does not use line breaks in her published version, the one I used.)





I left Czeslaw Milosz’s “My-Ness” on a river walk in Detroit. You can see Canada across the water, so close and yet unreachable in these COVID times.


poem is on the rail in foreground


There’s an interesting play between the “my” and the “our” in the poem. Milosz’s sense of himself as an individual and himself as part of a human family coexist, inseparable:

And feel such sweetness, being here on earth,

One more moment, together here on earth,

To celebrate our little my-ness.





Joy Harjo’s “Perhaps the Worlds Ends Here” is an ode to the lowly kitchen table. I left the poem on an outdoor dining table in a popular, but now empty, restaurant in Detroit.

poem is on top of small table


I share Harjo’s appreciation for the kitchen table. Fantastic how she elevates that humble piece of furniture, so often the realm of women,  into a history-making force, and therefore worthy of our attention.

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.

Link here for an online version.





Next up are two linked poems, one for children, one about children. I left both in an upscale grocery store.


The first is Thanksgiving Magic” by Rowena Bastin Bennett. I set it in front of some multi-colored cookies that I imagine only children would like. I hope a shopper pockets it for the little ones at home.


Let’s remember the magic-makers, our Thanksgiving cooks!

She takes leftover bread and muffin

And changes them to turkey stuffin’.




On the flip side of all that delicious gingerbread, stews, stuffings and pies is the empty table. Poet Anne Porter (a longtime favorite of mine) challenges herself to see the suffering of “A Famine Child.” I tucked the poem between two packages of fancy snack bars.



I wonder if the poem was written in the late 60’s during the Biafran famine. The images of starving children in Biafra shown on television were a first, and shocked viewers world over. Link here for famous photo of a Biafran boy.

Once in blue moon I’ll still hear people (older people) use the phrase, “like she’s from Biafra” to describe a very skinny person. It’s said comically, and it’s always jarring. Porter’s words, so simply put, pull us close to suffering such phraseology distances us from.





I taped Lucille Clifton’s “The Lesson of the Falling Leaves” to a small tree in a park in Detroit.

poem is on skinny tree in foreground


I love that last line, how it lands so sensibly after all the theology that precedes it. I love the theology too, and am still parsing out the meaning. I think I could spend a lifetime thinking about

such letting go is love





Finally, I left a prayer by Father John Morris on a stop sign at an intersection of a residential area in Detroit. This is an old favorite of mine. I keep it on view in my house, tucked into a kitchen cabinet. Maybe someone will take it into their home as well.



Even though this is a prayer, I think it opens its arms to everyone. Even non-believers can be grateful for

Every face I have seen,

Every voice I have heard


—and feel wonder and gratitude that—

In some mysterious way these

Have all fashioned my life





Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I am grateful for your readership, for your love of poetry, for your kind comments and big insights.




Read Full Post »