Featuring work from writers in our 2020 Online & BIPOC workshops
Looking back on 2020, we see how all of us have improvised and adapted and the ways we have worked to stay connected with our loved ones and our communities. Write Around Portland’s online writing workshops have been one of these ways, and we have done a lot of important writing together and connecting here.
To celebrate, we are closing out 2020 with a showcase of respect, writing and community!
Last month, we invited our Online and BIPOC Online workshop participants to share writing in response to the following prompts:
In this moment…
This past year…
Below, you will find poetry and prose; a eulogy of a friend; milk-throated geese and birds tiny as teacups; vermillion maples; surreal, timeless and in-between moments and even a foreboding tale of a moonlit treasure hunt. We hope you enjoy our writers’ stories and end-of-year reflections as much as we have.
Thank you to our writers and our readers! Wishing you and yours much peace this season.
At This Moment Susan Bexton
It has been a hard year, but at this moment I embrace the trees that light up my neighborhood in splendid disregard of Covid or the elections. With camera in hand, I snap photographs of vermillion maples, maples from yellow to gold, and orange to coral. I look at these displays with the hope that 2021 will bring a spring equally as splendid but in an entirely different way.
Face the Sky Dominique B.
Holding a mirror to this past year, its reflection shimmered black, with flashes of red and orange, reflections of ancient church stained glass, Mary’s coat most likely. This past year held miracles, cracks in the mirror of the endless tired tide of hope and trust. Smudges in the mirror were the friendships that barely survived the double sword of isolation: discontent and revelry.
This past year contained both what we had before, what we missed and what we learned. The mirror showed all of Toni Morrison’s words, many poets exhaling their words, history of racism and understanding whiteness at a different level, as well as a slew of 1918 pictures, scientific data and other internet rabbit holes. And then there was the reflection of a swift movement, that of pretend hugs with her sons.
At the edge of the reflection in the water mark, where the backing of the glass had peeled, was her mother and her newly drooping lip, and the fear in her eyes that leaving life was near. Was her house in order?, a placeholder for Put that mirror away, face the sky a while and breathe in the light.
November Reckoning Rox Applesmith
In this moment, the sidewalk is painted
fire by fallen leaves. What was cement
instead drains, hot water on clay,
chimera, some river.
My love will leave in three days.
I sway, purpled, to the pavement,
graceless, gawking, at a sky that is
all at once blue-kissed
and pouring grief.
Slowly, the trees will dry. Their gloppy
resin will harden to statues
the shape of a drop –
my stomach, leering.
Now, I lie paper-thin on the pebbles –
yet to be written on. Still purple.
Perhaps I’ll cut my hair, or change
what they call me. Bake a new
buttery life to be eaten, slowly,
a pastry, layer by layer.
The wind will blow me somewhere.
Exercise Ed Kline
In this moment,
I am struggling to
collect some images
from my daily walk
a tumble of puppies
wrestling in the park,
a yard mosaiced in
a scattering of birds,
tiny as teacups,
singing in bare branches.
My cheeks will
soon surrender their
my toes will warm
in their cold boots,
but I will cling fiercely
to these moments,
for I know the heart
is a muscle,
and mine might have –
must have –
this isolated year,
but pumping warm
surely as any old
Reality Is the Right Place for Living Howard Moon
There are times when I slip out of reality
Walking to breakfast I stop and look around
Have no idea of where I’m going
Maggie my faithful companion looks at me questioningly
I ask her “Where were we going girl?”
She fails to answer, and I search my brain
Standing by the side of the road we must be a sight
Looking confused talking to my dog who looks equally confused
These precious times do not happen often enough
I call them precious because they are just that
Times when I manage to slip out of reality for a minute or two
Incongruous times when I manage to reach out and touch the surreal
Where time is not measured only experienced
I spend far too long in the real world
I find myself longing for my slips into the surreal
I know that reality is the right place for living
Part of me longs to leave the real
Part of me longs for the surreal
A place …
No not really a place
Rather a state of being where time does not so much stop
But time simply ceases to be
During these timeless moments
I experience a deep often forgotten aspect of life
Possibly a more reverent aspect of life
It’s hard to describe
An aspect of life
That reality has tried its best to
Remove from my memory
Part of me wishes
To remain in the timelessness that is the surreal
Then Maggie tugs on the leash
And I am again reminded
Reality is the right place for living
At least that is what I keep telling myself
I am not quite convinced
This Moment Jenna Funkhouser
I am going to start living
like a monk.
I will build of myself a boat
and watch the stained light
flood the boundaries.
I will break myself open
into a rich perfume;
I will learn to become
I will make of my heart
and a cloister.
I will carry water;
I will carry fire.
I will become the milk-throated geese
piercing a trail of memory across the sky.
Uncertainty Linda Apperson
This past year, I’ve had to reevaluate my need to plan, my need to know what will be happening, not just every day, but sometimes weeks, months in advance. I loved to be busy, to make lists and work out details, to anticipate upcoming events.
But now? I’ve had to let go of so many plans: trips, celebrations, work, traditions. And the sense of uncertainly continues, so planning has become an exercise in futility. I wonder if it will come back, my love of planning, or if my own new normal will be to accept that plans are pointless, empty. Will anticipation always be tinged with doubt?
In a Big Picture, existential sense, I understood that the future was always uncertain. Perhaps planning helped me deal with that uncertainty, let me pretend I could be in control somehow and kept me focused on the next fun thing. But I have a feeling—no more. That security blanket is gone with all those plans, hopes and dreams. And in its place? I may have learned more about how to be in the moment, to celebrate daily joys and triumphs, or acknowledge pain, loss and sorrow, then move on. To relish the here and now.
Myths and legends...of my time inside my apartment Natalie Crosby
“All day, every day”
The large girl sleeps, watches TV.
She works some, of course
To pay the bills
Most of them.
She spends time decorating
Watching YouTube videos on decorating
Minimalism and intentional living
Washing and then dirtying the
Dishes. She wasn’t always large.
Her cooking habits are helping to
Save money to pay for her gym
Membership, due tomorrow. She
Wants to work out but her hair
Looks nice now and she can’t.
Washing her hair correctly takes
Too much time. Her hair has always
Been large, a trait from her mother’s
Side. Her large head comes from her
Dad’s side. She misses him. He
Was a Portland legend I think and
Her new lifestyle is both full and
Damn, Man. Aubrey Anne Salazar
This past year, God.
I found out you placed me at the bottom.
You made me believe, quite convincingly, that I was at the top.
For a hot minute…
A hot stove, a hot stock, a hot sauce…
That burned my mouth and I loved it, and I wanted more.
Because I was at the top, God.
Can I call you God?
Sounds so formal, like the colloquial version of Goddess. But…back to me…
You gaslit the whole world whoever you are, and whatever you’re called.
Why did you do that?
Make us dance with the stars and name them with such authority when they already had names.
You faker, you fraud, you fugazzi…
watch on the wrist of a player, a poser, a middle-managing Captain, navigating a rowboat.
On a sea of big, tall, clipper ships dumping tea…
Eating baked beans from Chinese porcelain…
And sitting in a restaurant with Covid?
Why didn’t you just tell me I was at the bottom?
Why didn’t you just tell me you were Nature?
This whole time.
Right Now A.B. Calm
Beyond this neighborhood
and the wildness we permit,
we aren’t the only ones
networking to survive
the unimagined next moment.
Bats do it–even the ones
who incubated the virus
in the creche of their bellies,
pressed tight, clinging
to the skin of the chilly cave.
We huddle with our own
soft bodies, no more aware
of what comes next, of what’s
just beyond these walls.
Sheldon M. Gibbens
SHELDON, my friend and neighbor
Sheldon was a character in the biggest sense and tenacious. He will be missed by many who, and some that didn’t always, love him. He developed an infection in his right leg, and it had to be amputated below his knee. On his last trip to his apartment, he was assessing what he needed to do in order to move back to his home. He was excited, and we talked before he boarded his bus to his long-term care facility. Sadly, he died about two weeks after that trip.
He was active in the morning exercises in the game room and outside, Monday through Friday. He was unable to reach some of the areas on his body and used a pair of slippers to slap those areas. He created a book with the help of a Chinese couple that introduced him to Hui Chun, meaning “return to spring” exercises.
Sheldon was active in the community meetings making many suggestions. One that was a continued discussion was keeping the out-of-date (1956) encyclopedias in the library. He was later assigned the position of Reference section in the library by the building manager. He removed all the cooking and gardening books and was ready to get rid of them, and they were rescued by an unnamed tenant. A friend donated a newer set of encyclopedias for our library and Sheldon was so happy. The other project he asked for was a ping pong table, but it was voted down many times. If it didn’t pass or was tabled, the tenacious Sheldon would bring it up again the next month.
He loved to sing, and he didn’t have a very good voice, but he sang and sang. He loved Oktoberfest and singing with Lynn the accordion player. When we had Meals on Wheels, he did a songbook for the Chinese couple to sing with him. He loved it, and many in the room didn’t. That never wet his enthusiasm. I was in the game room about three months before the first shutdown, watching the men that play MahJong. As I started to leave the room, one Chinese gentleman was singing Frère Jacques, a traditional French song, taught to him by Sheldon and his songbook.
The last letter I received from Sheldon, he stated that he was happy that we had become friends and pen pals and thought that this friendship would never happen.
Godspeed and Shalom, Sheldon. An outspoken personality and remembered by many.
The Sinister House Thomas Campbell
The gables and turrets of the dilapidated house looked foreboding limned against the half saucer of the sickly moon. It was said that in this house where old man McGinty had lived, there was buried under a flagstone in the basement a treasure in gold. This past year a few sturdy souls had brashly tried to find it. They were never seen again. The massive front door opened for me and caught a roaring gust of wind as it banged against the wall. That musty smell of dirty dust, bat droppings, mildewed furniture and maybe even death assailed my nostrils as I stepped forward. This was a poor idea I told myself but nevertheless I ventured ahead. The basement door sagged on its hinges as I pushed it open and began a tortuous descent down the creaking stairs, hoping the rotting old wood would bear my weight. There was a furnace on the far side that seemed to contain among its ashes some charred bones, but I had come too far to stop now. The thought of all those riches kept me going. Several of the flagstones had scratch marks on them so obviously they weren’t the right ones. I shifted an ancient dresser over and there it was, had to be. A ring was set in the stone that looked like it could be pried open. I found a piece of wood and set to my task as the wind and the house shrieked. With some effort I opened it up and in horror, I saw…
I Am Free Julie Pennington
happy I don’t color in the lines anymore. Like many, I’m intrigued by the idea I can relieve stress by coloring in a book, but isn’t the whole point to have a little fun and let loose? That’s what I thought, but some adult coloring book designs I’ve tried are so intricate they require a migraine prescription.
Setting out to find my inner child, I enrolled in a watercolor painting class. The feeling of putting paint to brush and thrashing it around mindlessly on a blank canvas looked great on TV. Enter reality. You must learn to draw before using a paint brush. Trying to keep an open mind, I decided to stay with the class even though I could sense my blood pressure slowly percolating like my old non-Keurig coffee pot.
For the sake of my classmates and the instructor, I approached my first big assignment to sketch a pear with optimism and vigor. I figured: how hard can it be when I see a pear shape staring back at me every day in the mirror? Yet, even with this unique advantage, after several attempts I failed to come up with anything that resembled one. No matter how many times I tried, I always ended up with an apple.
Naturally, and as most anticipated by now, I quit the painting class and then ate the pear. For me, it isn’t fun or relaxing to be confined, whether in a class or coloring book. Now I am free.
In this moment...In Reverse Mindy Black
I couldn’t believe it. She frazzled me every time. Why did she have to be so demeaning? So aggravating? I had to get home. I didn’t even kiss him goodbye. I stomped down the path; it was so weird and unnerving to leave when they were both still there talking.
In the car, I just sat for a moment and breathed. I was not going to cry. He didn’t love her. I knew that. But they had kids—a bond forever. I put the car in reverse. The tears were fogging my glasses a bit. I hated that she made me feel this way. I pressed on the gas. In a dream, I hear, Crunch! Then, a sickening THUD. What was that? My throat hurt. I swallowed hard. I knew what it was. I’ve heard the sound of metal on metal before.
What an idiot I am! Everyone will think I did it on purpose! Panic set in. I just froze for a moment. If only I hadn’t been crying when I set it in reverse! That’s right. It’s her fault. Regaining a little bit of confidence, wiping off my face, I walked backed up the path and knocked on the door.
Surviving Another Year "2020" Pandemic-Epidemic Joyce Holland
I would’ve loved to have you as my mother or grandmother. Instead, you are the one person, one woman, one friend that inspires me every day to push myself to get out of bed and to keep living, to never give up. ‘Cause my life or situation could be way worse. I feel like you have been with me my whole life. I feel like in some way that I’m following in your granulated footprints in the sands, on the cloudy wet beach. You keep showing up for me, my kind and beautiful and soulful woman I have ever met. I have much love and gratitude for you. Have a blessed day!
This Past Year... Ron Kirsch
In the Midst Traci Dominick
In this moment, I’m in a vacuum, the twilight zone sort, caught between time and space. In this moment, there is movement on the outside while I’m standing still. It’s as if I’m suspended in animation, waiting, holding my breath, a pregnant pause long past its usefulness, afraid to inhale invisible aerosol particles of 19. Three seasons passing by my picture window, once framed white, its paint chipped and cracking like the fragile mind of humankind in the midst of pandemic.
In this moment, there are those inhaling a final breath still believing it’s all a hoax. Others angry there were no goodbyes while still insisting it’s all a lie. Yet there are those struggling to learn the pattern of Covid, as if it were a mere dance or Rubik’s cube, instead of a game of chance. Others remain apart, at home, hunkering down, only in this winter’s night Covid marches steadily, stealthily, its breath caught on the wind, its particles much like the dandelion, only insidious and unseen, adrift in the aisles of all the places I yearn to be.
In this moment, I am in a land divided, awaiting the peace ahead that only you and I, brothers and sisters, neighbors and strangers, dark skin, medium skin, light skin, olive skin, a myriad of hues shading into the colors of US can bring. If only to acknowledge: nothing great can ever come from hate.
I could only carry Jess Andra
I could only carry about 15% more than I usually do,
when the world got heavier
& we needed everyone to carry it together.
I wanted to contribute more, but at some point
my muscles gave out.
My stability as a person gave out.
I had to lie down & rest.
I watched from my place on the ground
while everyone in the community carried my weight
in addition to theirs.
Then the world caught on fire.
and then, in addition to carrying the world,
some people tried to put out the fires.
Some people want to carry the world someplace new.
Some dump water on it.
Some try to pull water from the oceans,
and dump that water on the fires
instead of using Nestle bottles to cover the Earth.
While I sit on the ground, unable to move,
I watch the people who carry the world become stronger,
day by day.
They build muscle by sustaining the weight.
They become efficient.
They develop better strategies, through daily practice.
Surely they must be more exhausted than I am.
Surely they have mental health problems too.
I don’t know how they continue to do this,
day after day.
But as soon as I can get back up,
I hope to rejoin them.