The following poems were written during our year in quarantine, from 2020-2021, by older adults in virtual creating aging programs through Teachers & Writers Collaborative and our partners. The first set is from participants in the oral history and storytelling program with Visions Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired, a workshop led by Dave Johnson with the assistance of Omar Ovalle and Napoleon Felipe. Rebecca Rikleen is a participant and gifted poet in the memoir-writing program at Morningside Retirement and Health Services, led by Susan Willerman.
Rebecca Rikleen is 97 1/2. She lived alone until March of last year in her apartment up a steep hill in Morningside Heights. We have appreciated hearing about her life during Covid with her daughter and family at Lake Cayuga for many months. She is now with her son and family in Maryland. She writes prose and poetry in our group, writes of the past and of the present and is also a visual artist.
MLK in Tenth Grade
by Mary Conner
I was in tenth grade.
We had heard on the news.
My mother was laying on the bed. And mama said he passed. I didn’t want to go to school. This girl named Cheryl said you better stay home. When we got on the subway to go home it was packed. Students knocked out windows. And the cops were hitting people with Billy Clubs. I had to get on a train to Brooklyn to my aunts. I couldn’t get home to St. Albans, Queens from Richmond Hill HS. We were on elevated trains and they pulled the emergency break. And we were going around a curve. And I was sure it was going to fall off the tracks. They rioted all weekend and I stayed in my aunties house all weekend. I called my mother to tell her where I was and I was ok. That’s what I remember. They didn’t teach us about MLK at my school. But I learned much about him. As Stevie Wonder says, “Love’s in Need of Love.”
The Invisible Enemy
By Debra Zanca
We have an invisible enemy that
is neither Republican nor Democrat.
It wears no crown of gold or Jules,
But a crown of lives it takes with its tools.
So those in power should change their tune,
Because men, women, children, none are immune.
Note: this is a warning from mother nature to the powers that be.
Note from Dave Johnson: This one is from one of our seniors who wrote this for her sister who works at the hospital in Corona, Queens.
By Helen Wong
In the corridors of the hospital, where my sister works.
There are patients of all ages lined up in beds in rooms and hallways. You can hear patients making all kinds of human sounds from crying out loud,
to whimpering of pain in both body, mind and soul.
One can stop and turn and see patients sneezing aachoo or a deep hacking cough that shakes a person’s entire body.
Next as you turn to enter another room, you can encounter a patient fighting to breathe but can’t and has his hands circling around his neck.
The nurse rushes over to him with a ventilator.
To help him open up his lungs to breathe easier.
The next patient across the hall is feverish for the past few days.
His body is as hot as a furnace to my sister’s hands.
He’s so hot and is starting to hallucinate.
He’s mumbling words of help me please.
The nurse with gentle hands sponges him down with a cool washcloth. Checks his temperature and administers a Tylenol and charts it. These are some of the fallen ones with COVID-19, echoes of pain and discomfort sounds are heard throughout the corridors of this hospital.
Medical staffs hurriedly rushing about to check nonstop on each patients’ progress.
The doctors and nurses are all working 12-hour shift or even more. Pushing to the limit with barely enough protective gears.
To keep them safe in caring and saving lives of the ones fallen to COVID-19.
My sister cries with frustration on the lack of basic medical supplies such as surgical masks, gowns, and gloves.
She been a nurse for almost 2 decades. Never seen anything like this. Other nurses less seasoned crying, “I didn’t sign up for this.”
Barely enough time for lunch or a quick bathroom break. Finally, the end of a 12-hour shift at the hospital.
She heads to her car parked outside.
Feeling totally drained both mentally and physically. She rests her head on the seat of her car.
The strong need to just catch her breath and take a quick nap before driving home.
By Lyda Schoenfeld
On this International Women’s Day,
in our centennial year celebrating our hard-fought-for right to vote so valiantly won, I raise my voice in song and poem to every woman everywhere.
Struggling long, progress exhaustingly slow:
in patience, all too tempting, by no means allowed to distract us or thwart our efforts to push onward.
I sing my praises to sisters
reaching some extremely high mountain tops.
Such peak experiences bring opportunities for taking full charge of our lives to make our best personal choices: for equal justice, quality of life and safety, dignity and respect in all our endeavors, whatever our life circumstances.
Yet so many mountains left to scale and explore
for claiming with our victory! We savor well-deserved affirmation for our work well-done and lives well-lived.
Now, our next frontier to conquer? lecting a woman president! She’s right at the top of my bucket-list of desires I wish fulfilled before I must leave this life.
We begin our new century in this democracy possibly electing a woman president! Let’s all raise our voices acknowledging our history as we express our hopes for an even better future for all women everywhere!
90th Birthday Reflections
By Carmen Becker
It’s overwhelming. I just didn’t realize it’s my birthday. I looked in the mirror and said girl you are 90 years old today.
I said while still looking in the mirror, good Lord when are you are going to take me, and if you are not going to take me then give me the strength to deal with these Son of a Bitches the people out in the street, strangers. So as usual they did not send me the right access-a-ride. So the driver at least helped me in the car, but he couldn’t speak English or Spanish. So there went my back because I need the lift you know. So while I was coming I called the access-a-ride and complained.
I need a lift. Please give me a lift by the time I have to go home. They said they will write me up another ticket but call us up at 11oclock – which I did and I do have a ride to get home with the Lift. But the thing is now that I have the flowers, the balloons, (laughs) I am going to show him. Anyway, but I was overwhelmed with the Playwriting Workshop from Visions and Teachers & Writers.
I had no idea. I just thought I would Get a Happy Birthday and a song or two, but I got so many well wishes from everybody and nobody believes I am 90. I am 90. (laughs) I was born in 1930. So and to tell you the truth there is longevity in my family. My great grandmother lived to 106 – my godmother lived to 102 and she just died last year. And other members of my family were all in their 90s when they died.
Well someone asked me, do you have any thoughts about getting older? Well the only thing I know is drink a lot of water and stay away from toxic people. If I would have known this when I was in my 30s – I would have been a raving beauty by now. (Laughs) But um now that I am older, I really do that. I don’t hang around with people that want to take me to a negative place. You know I just politely move away and keep on going about my business. And that includes family.
I put them in the same category. I do not discriminate male or female or what have you. I do not discriminate. I am a happy person.
COVID19, Up Yours!
By Liz Hernandez
Covid19, stop right where you are!
You are a menace to society.
Halt your evil ways.
You put a big dent in our economy.
You put the brakes on all social events!
You have blood on your hands.
For you have killed so many innocent
men, women, and children.
Covid19, we are a strong nation
and we will fight you with every piece
of equipment in our arsenal.
Covid19, I am locked up in my apartment,
but I am surrounded with many things to keep occupied.
I have a washing machine, a computer, telephone, tv, and radio.
I have plenty of food that is delivered to me from
Meals on Wheels.
Best of all, I have Mr. Coffee to keep me company.
Covid19, I give you my middle finger!
So there! Take that! Up yours!
By Rebecca Rikleen
Space is the distance
Between you and me
We need to see
To know you are still
in my ken, in my life
so many miles away
I cannot touch your hand,
Meet you in the museum
We cannot walk together
Stop to breathe
I cannot show you what I’m working on
Comment on the passing scene
Wait for the proper bus to come
This new magic of Zoom
Let’s me see you
Part of you
Lets me hear you
We have not yet conquered space enough
I can see only a small part of you
And only when the camera permits
But I can hear your voice
When you remember to unmute
But it IS YOUR voice
I cannot touch your hand
share your bread
taste your dessert
but even though we’re in different states
I see, I hear,
I know you’re there
Space may only SEEM empty,
FOR ME It is a reminder to know
I have a friend.
SEASON of VIRUS
By Rebecca Rikleen
Here I am on the shore of Lake Cayuga
This is where I am in the season
of deadly virus
In the season of fear, isolation, avoidance, face masks,
Keeping six feet apart
Here I am
Alongside the long deep gouge
of the ancient glacier
That filled with water
to form a finger of lake that ripples
Kisses the sky,
laps the shore.
Hugs the wind
Welcomes home the birds
after hostile winter
From sheltering south,
To feed on rattling seeds
And stirring worms
Welcome tufted titmouse, robin
Chickadee, red winged blackbird
Welcome delicate red blossoms
of red maple trees
riding the wind to find a mate
You are my new neighbors
Full of hope and expectations
Free to share the feeder
Staying a respectful six feet apart
waiting your turn
I drink in the long ribbons of cloud
grey and rosy layers
I shiver in the unyielding winds
Stirring the land.
Here it is the time
In languages with no human vocabulary
Rulers of the world
With our words
And postures of control
The lowly virus
Shiver with loneliness
And look to one another
And cry “Help me”
Here I am, privileged
to have the sky, the lake, the birds, the winds, the seeds of the future
the renascence of spring
Free to taste humbleness and gratitude
and hope. And hope.
By Rebecca Rikleen
While I still can see and remember
I’m leaving my refuge of 8 months
my hiding from the virus
I am saying goodbye
I will miss you
Glorious red maple stretching up more than
five stories, still clutching the orange, red
and yellow leaves turning crisp and brown
defying gravity and winter chill
I watched you in March sharp winds
Revive from winter sleep, burst alive with tiny red flowers
Inviting birds and squirrels, Opossums, racoons
Calling “Come. make your home; start your family
Enjoy with me glorious lake Cayuga”.
Ancient horse chestnut full of holes from abandoned nests
and sugar maple already reduced to naked bare branches
I remember your glory rich with luxuriant greenery
Dear Cayuga so ancient and storied,
How I already miss your restless ever changing
currents responding to the shifting winds
Telling stories calm; sometimes
heaving up in angry froth
Lofty sky glowing with infinite distance, iridescent colors
Shifting clouds silky white or menacing dark
I long already for your ever intricate variety
You are heaven and earth, my solid support,
my infinite pleasure, my changing story
in whispers or thunder,
telling tales of the past, the present and hints
of stories to come
You three have sustained me in my displacement
Far from my earthly habits and belongings
Parting is a stab of pain
Thank you for your comfort
Thank you for sharing your beauty and variety
While I, like the exiles of ancient Greece, will wander,
My family who took me in, gave me shelter,
Chose this spot, planted these trees, welcome the moon visits
abide the wandering sun, the capricious rain, fickle winds
and with great generosity shared them with me.