Cathexis Northwest Press
By: Julie Nelson
Okay, we are sick and dying
and our jeweled earth sighs
with regret for all the lost harmonies.
Okay, we are here, this is where we are.
Remember the poster of a cartoon universe
with a cosmic arrow
pointing to planet earth
somewhere in the milky way, saying
You are here?
Here we are.
We forgot the rhythm of seasons.
We took more than we gave.
Still, see how musicians
sing to the sick
and dying, playing whole symphonies,
and here again comes a red, red cardinal
full of sunflower seeds and hymns
and in the field hear a pheasant croaking
a ballad of love
this very morning,
the meadow an orchestra
of waving grass.
The birds are singing and we
an earthly lament.
In our longing,
we find healing.
Just listen to your heart
beating its drum.
Julie Nelson is an educator and creative writer living in Iowa City, Iowa. She writes poems and stories and currently is at work on a novel.
"Lament was inspired by musicians. At the beginning of the pandemic, I was deeply moved by the way musicians offered music as a means of healing, unity, and hope. There were stories on the news about musicians playing violin music in hospitals to comfort people who were dying from covid-19, and in one such story the musicians were also physicians. Those physicians seemed like double healers, to me. I heard about students in a high school choir triumphing over coronavirus by synchronizing each individual performance on Zoom so they could offer the annual spring concert virtually on the same day the live performance had been scheduled. I wept when Andrea Bocelli sang Amazing Grace on the deserted streets of Milan on Easter Sunday, the Duomo di Milano behind him as a soaring backdrop of hope in the early days of lockdown when the world felt so much despair. And Yo-Yo Ma collaborating and encouraging musicians everywhere to share their songs with the world in this time of pandemic.
One day in May or June, working from home, I looked out my window and saw birds at the bird feeder and all of sudden I said out loud, Okay, we are sick and dying, the first line of Lament. I was thinking about sickness and death; all week I'd been having covid-inspired dreams. I was thinking of a dream I'd had the night before and I thought of how the planet is sick and dying as well. But the birds were singing. And the musicians were singing. And I played with that idea and interplay between the music in nature and the human need for connection through art and music and how our longing for life heals us and gives us hope. Even in a pandemic, people transcend the limitations of death by helping each other and making music. Musings, feelings, and daydreams gave rise to Lament. I'm not really sure the poem captures all I am describing here! But the bones of the poem grew from meditations in the early days of the pandemic when we did not yet have a vaccine. The poem was a way for me to join with musicians by offering a song of gratitude at a time when I felt uncertain and scared."