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City Silence
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Stories from the Well

Moving through the Pandemic with Poetry

Posted on 04/08/21 by Rowe in Stories from The Well

Sarah in Joshua Tree

Sarah in Joshua Tree

Félix

Félix

by: Sarah Pinho

Two and a half weeks after Los Angeles went into lockdown, a poet passed away. Félix had welded machines in a factory, he had taught children guitar in a garden, and he had written poetry. Then he had set his poems to music, and we sang them together at the First Unitarian Church. I was in love with him and the simple beauty he stood for, the simple beauty he wielded, adamantly, against all the evils of the day (Maestros, campesinos y la juventud / Unidos en la solidaridad). He died alone in a hospital room.

The impact of his death propelled me into the pandemic clinging to poetry as my own kind of life support, and poetry has been my practice ever since.

It started the day after Félix’s death. I walked around the Stoneview Nature Center in Culver City, and I examined every flower, every caterpillar, and every egg under every leaf. I stood gazing at the top of a pole where a tiny bird sang an impossibly diverse range of songs for a full fifteen minutes. Every color in the garden reflected the blinding sunlight in psychedelic relief.

Then it was April, and The Well held a poetry gathering. Troy walked us through a meditation, and the world simply stopped so that I could breathe. Manuel Iris wrote Para Decircnos Luego del Ocaso, and a fountain of emotion exploded down my face. Suddenly, poetry was spewing from my own fingertips.

Then it was May, and my friend Arline called to talk about church finances; we found ourselves reading each other poems, instead. The next day, we called to discuss the riotous joy of the flowers on our daily walks. Spring felt especially fierce those days, and I like to think that those flower descriptions were us speaking poetry to each other.

Then my friend Steven and I escaped for a camping trip to Joshua Tree, and we spent the whole weekend memorizing the poem Romantics, by Lisel Mueller. Our drive home was meandering. We set out towels in a park in Palm Springs, hopscotching through droplets from a sprinkler to reach the shade of a tree (make the redolent air/tremble and shimmer with the heat / of possibility).

We drove further and plopped our towels beneath shade trees near a rare lake (sitting in a garden / among late-blooming roses / and dark cascades of leaves). We drove home and dropped towels beneath trees down the street from my apartment. There, we selected our next poem: Tactica y Estrategia, by Mario Benedetti (Mi táctica es mirarte / aprender como sos / quererte como sos).

Then it was June, and I memorized the poem Instructions on Not Giving Up by Ada Limon. I copied it by hand into notecards and mailed it to my brother-in-law, who’d just lost his job (patient, plodding, a green skin), and to my friend, who’d just lost her husband and couldn’t leave her house to seek the necessary human warmth (the strange idea of continuous living despite / the mess of us, the hurt, the empty).

Then it was August. A fellow Unitarian launched a writer’s workshop, and suddenly I was writing poetry every single Monday. I worked out questions about my father (I know / that I was receiving your hopes into my person), I examined emotions about my mother (sepia-filtered stories punctuated by my mother’s laugh), and I lauded my six siblings (my better six-sevenths, / my anchor / my gravity), crying through the entire last stanza.

In November, I stopped writing poems. I tried out poetic prose, and then I tried out tiny ethnographic sketches, and then I felt like anything I wrote was horrible. But they say it takes discipline, so I continue to write anyways, week after week, shit upon shit upon paper.

In January, US Americans watched a celebration of white supremacy anger play out on our national mall, but January was also the month I signed up for Poetry and Meditation: A Writing Workshop with Sheila McMullin. Long ago, I had written a bucket list with only one item: take a poetry class, question mark? It had felt so silly at the time. On January 6, it felt like the most obvious thing in the world to do.

In Sheila’s class, I was finally understanding what artists mean when they say that art is in its creation and not necessarily in its final "product." I created an abecedarian and a tritina and an erasure and an ekphrasis. The final products were despicable, but the creation thereof was truly sublime.

We are now in April again. It has been a year since my beloved Félix died, a year since I began my treks to the Stoneview Nature Center and a year since my first poetry gathering with The Well.

I cannot help but think there is a sort of poetry in Rowe asking me to reflect on mindfulness in action right now, a year later, when I reach for a single beautiful word to validate my practice, but every beautiful word remains more elusive than ever. “We love stories related to practice,” they wrote in my blog invitation, “warts and all.”

Sarah Pinho lives in Los Angeles and spends her free time building a database of “First Woman To”s. bit.ly/FirstWomanTo.

Connect with her on
Twitter: @SarahPinho or on Instagram: @silveraindr0ps