© mary vollero, 2017

Spirits Speak on the Pandemic

Harriet appears joyful
wearing her butterfly wings
says we are in the chrysalis time of isolation
though it can be despairing for some
we artists have been in the darkness before
we can lead a journey back to light.

She says it’s a good time to plant flowers
and the animals are trying to help us now,
giving us little shows
like the osprey who circled above me today.

and of course Joey, the cat
joins me at the pond 
for the peepers’ evening song.
Tells me that that nature’s messages 
may not come in words.
That a ball is still a ball,
even when it is not rolling.
And I’m a good human
even when I’m not busy
running around, doing good things.

And speaking of good things-
Dad says it’s not silly to feel heartbroken.
We all want our loved ones close to us now.
So, it’s okay if I eat some sugar.
And even though it is difficult and sad
we will build a better world,
with less stress.
We should not forget
how beautiful it is after a rain storm
when the sun comes out.

And every single person is
important now,
like pieces in the puzzle,
gears in the clock,
working together.

He says,
It is always this way,
but this time,
is more important
than ever.

Stay at Home Orders

In the beginning
I imagined
I’d be hold up here
with my lover
for weeks
maybe months
watching movies in bed
boiling pots of water
sleeping till ten.
But here I am
waking up with the sun
between cats
grateful for their taking turns
kneading my belly
taking turns on my lap
sitting in any of the chairs
where the church pews used to be full
and I am warmed
by spring sun
on tall windows
that I rush to
at the call of geese.

Stay at Home Orders, Continued

Since he needs to stay home
plant his beans and beets and trees
I guess
It’s an opportunity for me
to plant roses.
Learn to play the piano,
sort through the years of piles
and boxes stacked in the loft
and blocking the hall.
But, instead
I learn the names of the anchors
on the news networks,
the Governors of states,
yesterday 4591 died
today my counties our first fatality.
I ache
for New York City,
for families who can’t hold hands
in the end
I ache for my mother
in her Memory Care Home.
and for myself grieving
though ever grateful
for cake
and for my students
who smile at my attempts to amuse them
and linger like they know
the echo when they go
of nothing here
but time
time to paint
so far,
a dozen big paintings
all close ups of dead trees
gnarly trunks, twisted limbs
burls and empty hallows
sawed off, broken branches
still reaching for blue sky.

Finding Harriet

I can be putting on my socks
loading dishes
washing clothes
and I’m back in that dark house
finding her
in my cell phone’s flashlight
the navajo diamond pattern
of her gray robe
wedged between counters.
After I called her name
and prayed she had fallen asleep.
After shining the light on her bed,
after checking the bottom of the stairs,
after finding my way
between baskets, boxes, books, masks,
past the stack of tapes, DVDs,
her “Viva la Vida” print in a gold frame
my cat painting hanging on a door
next to the pow-wow jingle dress.
After finding the Madonna and a skeleton
dancing on a Christmas tray in her kitchen

where last she sat–

in her tall director’s chair
with her gold handled papercutting scissors,
notebooks, lists
wilted yellow lilies
in a blue glass vase
on the window sill
that looks out onto tall spruces,
sagging branches,
red winter berries spotting blotchy snow–
and poured McDonald’s coffee, two creams,
into her orange ceramic cup,
and her heart stopped
and she fell forward
neck bent
face hidden by her long gray brown hair.

“Please God, NO!”
Every time I see it.

But she would say,
“Oh, Thank God! (who is a woman)
I wanted to go quick!
After dancing at Elk Creek,
After Carmen, champaign and cake.
Quick as a whistle
and stomping my feet
in red cowboy boots.”

Planning Meeting

The Dean of Education said
We do not need offices or books anymore.
My voice cracked when I asked,
Are we really having this conversation?
I’m embarrassed
at the depth of my feelings
my lack of acceptance
my lack of understanding.
Budget limitations
restricted funds
I look up at the screen
eyes glaze over
cost savings
I pretend I’m taking notes
but really
I’m writing this poem.
My voice cracks even when I am not speaking.
My eyes glaze again.
Do not question
where we wake up
each morning
over a book of poems
with bird drawings
I bought before
you kissed my hand
and the voices
in the air say
I say
I say to you.


On my way home
I stopped for gas
ate most of a bag of
sour cream and onion chips
in the parking lot.
Till I felt sick and
mad at myself.
A boy called to talk about an orange light
in an orange sky
a full moon
a crazy dog
while I finished the chips
and hated myself
So I called my love
who isn’t actually mine
but is a thousand miles away
and doesn’t answer.

I fell asleep with a kitten on my heart
and dreamed I confessed
that my mouth was full of potato chips
and I was fat, which explained everything.

In the morning dream, thank God,
I was in Italy.
A large man in a white chef’s suit and hat
wrapped two sprinkle cookies with white icing,
in white paper,
tied with a white ribbon.
Two ricotta cookies,
Two lemon drop.
“Two of your healthiest fig filled cookies, please,
even if they don’t taste as good,
and tie a bow for my love.”


At sunset under blue herons circling
we gasp
how light they must be
on the highest tree top twigs
that do not bend
when pull their wings in
and stretch their necks up
to land
as we lean
into the fence to see…
…My God
a heron stuck in a fish net
she fights then freezes
gets more tangled
with every step we make
her wings more mangled
and I panic
that struggle
before letting go.

A Miracle

Even though he’s been gone
for near nine months now,
I dreampt my cat Joey died.
He was on his side, bloody.
His insides removed,
a failed attempt to save him.
I carried him gently to the tub.
Rinsed his paws,
his soft white belly fur
blood fading pink in warm running water.
Then his legs began to twitch.
I told myself it must be some sort of reflex.
But, he grew heavier,
squirmed, turned to me
with his gorgeous gold eyes.
Snuggled on my neck
like when first we met.
I held him tight
as I asked you
and my Dad
and my Mom
and Nancy and Sue
if it was really true.

May Day

I need a miracle today
like when the hemlock needles drizzled over me
like when the bear appeared
stuck his claw paw
in my mind’s eye

Soft from April
my boots sink in the mossy path
rhododendron trunks
curly vines trip me
to cool my fingers
in muddy spring puddles

Two eagles circle
white tails on the bluest blue
A third eagle hovers
wings flapping

I hold my breath
as the heron glides
folds in to land
curls an “S” silhouette on the sunset
above the pond’s
evening peepers’ song

The pink moon
lifts from the ridge
full behind bare branches

I close my eyes and see
We are the eagles.
You hover over paradise
in the spotlight of the sun.

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