Thursday, April 23, 2020

Kathi Appelt - Quarantine


Maybe a dozen times 
or more each day--I’ve never counted-- 
the train rolls by, the whistle blows. 

The cat in the afternoon sun 
raises her sleepy head, 
swipes her whiskers with her paw. 

Were I to walk 
beside those tracks, 
that whistle might lift me 
right out of my shoes, 
a worn-out pair of joggers, 
leave them there for 
some wanderer to find 
and wonder 

where I went, 
into air so blue 
it might ache— 

But I’ve lived nearby 
for such a long time—years— 
(not counting) if someone said, 
“Hear that?” 
I’d say, “Hear what?” 
while underneath it all 
the whistle blew like crazy 
every hour, every day. 

It’s the same with the birds, 
how just off the edge of the porch 
a flock of cedar waxwings 
tumbled in from Mexico, 
all full of news, 
stripped the yaupon berries 
off the branch, wings a fat frenzy 
of feathers and discussion. 
The one I named Jo Nell 
seems to run the show, 
bossy I’d call her. 

Where has their chatter been 
before--before, when the world 
was old and the train ran 
on time, and the whistle split 
the sky in half? 

Where did they go when I wasn’t there? 

How could I forget the window 
was always open, 

Should you walk past-- 
waxwing in your hat, 
be sure to sing. 
I’ll know the rhythm of 
your footsteps. 
I’ll hear the beating 
of your heart. 

Kathi Appelt  April 7, 2020 
(©Kathi Appelt. All rights reserved.)

I'm gonna let Kathi Appelt herself do all the talking today here at the blog (though I'll quickly note that if you haven't read any of her books? Change that ASAP!). Here ya go:

One of the things I’ve noticed since we’ve been sheltering in place is that things that I paid little attention to in my “normal” life, have made themselves known to me. We live less than a mile from the train tracks that run straight through town, and even though the train passes through several times a day (and night), unless I’m listening for it, I never hear it. 

The other day, I was sitting on my porch, and I could hear quite a bit of birdsong. The various tunes sounded louder than usual. And then I realized that the absence of road noise from cars passing by had given the birds a space to sing. It was a hallelujah moment, made even more joyful when the cedar waxwings streamed in. 

While we are all hunkered down, have you noticed something that you normally paid little attention to? Think of the five senses. My poem is largely about sounds. But I’ve noticed that food seems to taste a little better, smell is more pungent, things feel different. What have you noticed lately that was always there, but seems a little different now? Write about that.


skanny17 said...

Pure delight. Again. This poem is stunning and I appreciate the note. I have noticed the birds lots more!

April Halprin Wayland said...

This poem is brave, Kathi,offering us your uncensored reverie. You put me Right there, in your backyard. Beautiful.

Sally Murphy said...

What a lovely poem, and so true, that lockdown is giving us time to notice things we thought we were too busy for before.

Carol Coven Grannick said...

A beautiful poem, Kathi. And in response to your question, I have prided myself on "noticing" in my daily life, but there's no question that even given the horrific context in which we're living, a certain kind of pressure has disappeared. A morning haiku challenge has embodied "noticing" at dawn each day from inside, or outside on a walk; there is time to smile together, slowly prepare new recipes together, slow-dance together. There is so much we miss, of course. But it doesn't hurt to be reminded each day how precious our lives are.

Kristine George said...

This is wonderful, Kathi!
Love “...frenzy of feathers and discussion” and I am sitting on our back patio at 6 am listening to the same thing. The birds are SO much louder!

Linda said...

Kathi, the sky is so clear and blue again. Although the pandemic has been devastating, it has also brought along some gifts. Thank you for your lovely poem. By the way, when I was eleven, my family moved to a house next to a train track. At first, the noise kept us awake. After a few months, we didn't even notice it. Funny how that works! : )

kevan atteberry said...

Oh, I love this so. I love train whistles and cedar waxwings, too. The birds I hear and see when I step out onto my porch sing lessons to me about finding joy. I suppose they always have, I'm just listening more closely now.

Heidi Mordhorst said...

I enjoyed the conversational, musing quality of this poem, Kathi, and of course we've all been noticing these changes--good to have someone put the noticing into words! Here's another version, for your interest.

Thanks again for the series, Greg! Let me know if you have any gaps in your schedule;)