By MJ Werthman White
January’s photo was a black lab wearing a scarf, winter thus far
a good one for this old person, cold but not too cold, yes, gray,
but there’d been little snow to shovel or ice to fall on. The year
stretched ahead, a twelve lane highway filled with possibility.
February’s golden retriever in carmine collar held a torn
valentine in his mouth. We’d begun hearing rumors but
the source, China, was so distant it might well have been
Mars. We’d been through mad cow, bird flu, ebola; answered
questions about international travel before Medicare physicals;
new ball, is what we thought, same old ball game. No worries.
March, April, more pictures of dogs on the wall. People began dying.
People here. People we knew. We did what we could; we wore our
masks; we washed our hands, and we stayed home, social distancing.
We watched chaotic updates by the seriously crazy person in charge.
And now it’s May, my birth month, and the yellow lab dances,
coquette with a tulip between her teeth. The highway we
travel, fogged-in, visibility zero, is now down to eight lanes.
The journey, dark, dangerous, bumpy, has no end in sight
though the heady scent of lilac fills the car, and the redbuds
beside the road are flowering if only we could see them.
The 4th of July, 2020
All afternoon the pop, boom and crackle of home-grown pyrotechnics
mark the holiday like some exploding version of Rice Krispies,
their barrage making one think with renewed empathy of Beirut, Kosovo,
Fallujah, reminding me of childhood’s sparklers, their scars still visible
on this aging body. Setting off fireworks may be illegal in Ohio, but
nobody gets to tell the unmasked inhabitants of my cherry-bomb-red
neighborhood what to do, a place where 2016’s MAGA signs have never
been taken down, where today’s whoops and hollers indicate both surfeit
of beer and an absence of social distancing. Midsummer darkness
falls setting off a final tantrum of incendiary chrysanthemums,
comets, and roman candles, as the full moon rises out of the trees,
bright as any hundred-watt, energy-inefficient, incandescent bulb.
We’ve been cooped up here for months, just me and the dog,
the two of us sad, lonesome for the lost world we conjured
absent the actual messy, badly behaved heartbreaker
we walked away from last March. To try cheering us
both up, I think, yellow dog has begun talking to me, at first,
just the odd word or three, Hey! hey, hey! or Walk now!
As she’s gotten the hang of it, she’s moved on to interrogation,
What’s your favorite dead animal? Is that cheese you’ve got there?
Where’s my smelly squirrel toy, the one with the stuffing
falling out?! Me? I ask only one question, over and over,
Who do you love best, yellow dog?
her answer seems to cover all the bases for me.
MJ Werthman White’s poems have been read on public radio station WYSO and appeared in numerous journals. Her collection, How the Universe Says Yes to Me, was published in 2017.
Some kept journals, others wrote in diaries, some started blogs. With the start of lockdown in Ohio middle of last March, I began writing a poem a week with my writing partner, sharing our efforts on Zoom each week.