Spring arrived officially last night, March 19th, at 11:50 pm EST, the earliest vernal equinox in 124 years. Don’t ask me why. I tried looking it up in the Farmer’s Almanac, but the explanation was utterly inscrutable—I’ve never been strong on science. But today, the first full day of Spring, feels happily auspicious. Walking my dog Sirius by the lake, I saw a white swan gliding along with a duck in its wake. Mourning doves are cooing, crows are flying, and the buds on the maples and willows are starting to swell.
How can I be so cheerful when the human race is under worldwide siege from the corona virus, and the death toll rises alarmingly every day? Maybe because I’ve done everything I can to shield myself from the pandemic, sheltering in place with my husband, my dog and my cat. What happens next is beyond my control, and Mother Earth is enjoying her annual spring awakening. I’ve resolved to ration my news consumption, because this global catastrophe is unfolding with agonizing slowness, and tracking it obsessively via TV and the Internet yields nothing but anxiety. I’d rather take long walks with my dog or putter around in my garden, uncovering the yellow-green shoots of crocuses and daffodils that wintered over beneath last year’s fallen maple leaves.
Another cause for celebration: I’m finally writing again, after a long dismal winter of discontent. I’ve frittered away far too many hours glued to the TV screen, watching the impeachment hearings and trial, then the Democratic debates. I owe my reawakened inspiration to the poet, writer and editor Marj Hahne, who started a free three-week Zoom meeting this past Monday. We convene every day at 11:30 am, and she posts a poem onscreen. After we read it together, we have 15 minutes or so to write something inspired by or modeled after the poem, and especially the first line. Here’s what I wrote a couple of days ago, inspired by Elizabeth Hoover’s Listening, and its first line “When I am in a restaurant or bar, I watch”
Drinking in restaurants and bars
When I am in a restaurant or bar, I drink
red or white, whatever wine is cheapest. My tastes
are down to earth and simple. When there’s no
alcohol, I get annoyed. When my husband’s
there, he looks at me askance and lectures me
on the virtues of abstinence. We met in a bar
forty-seven years ago—Max’s Kansas City
in Manhattan. “I see you have a Pentax,”
he said. “I’m writing a book on Pentax.”
We’ve been together ever since. We’re
weightier by far. “You were beautiful back then,”
he says. So was he, so lithe and lean. Now
he wears his extra fifty pounds in a paunch
around his middle. Mine are more evenly spread out,
especially below what used to be my waistline. I’ve got
the kind of body much beloved by Titian,
Rubens, Renoir, Bonnard, who never tired
of painting his overweight wife lounging
in the bath. Out of style these days but I’m okay
as long as I shun fashion magazines and
full-length mirrors. I’ll never see size six again.
No, sixteen’s more my style. Back when we met,
I slugged down Almaden Mountain Chablis
from gallon jugs and never gained a pound.
Now it comes in cardboard boxes I store
atop the refrigerator. Now it never goes bad,
no matter how old it gets.
I wrote my first draft in longhand, then typed out a lightly edited and expanded version in Word and posted it to the group’s private Facebook site, where we can comment on each other’s work.
That afternoon, Marj sent out an email synopsis and references for the morning’s meeting. Here’s how she described the prompt:
Since many of our local restaurants and bars have closed temporarily, let’s imaginatively locate ourselves in one of our go-to places. From your seat, how do you engage with that environment? What are you seeing and hearing, smelling and tasting? What’s going on in your mind and heart? Launch off Elizabeth Hoover’s first line—“When I am in [name of restaurant or bar], I [verb]”—and see where that takes you, ideally unfolding toward a closing line or sentence that resonates literally and metaphorically, as Hoover does (“reaching greedy mouths to the sky.”).
After reading the prompt, I realized I’d misunderstood the instructions and ventured in a totally different direction, but that’s
okay—the point of the exercises is to get us writing. I’m including the prompt in this post in the hopes that it may inspire you to write something as well. Picking my favorite “go-to place,” I’d definitely choose McGeary’s Tavern in Albany. Tess Collins, the owner, has posted that they’ll be doing take-out service, but right now I’m enjoying sheltering in place in my comfy little home.
As I finish this post, it’s exactly five o’clock, so I’m going downstairs to make myself a drink. Let’s see, what shall it be? Gin & tonic, screwdriver, marghuerita, black Russian? Or the box of Almaden on top of the frig? I’ve got all the fixings, but I’m leading toward Jose Cuervo. They make great tequila as well as a delicious low-calorie marghuerita mix.
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