Whenever I suffer from writer’s block, the best antidote I’ve found is to give myself a new challenge. Rather than fixate on the project I want to be writing, I tell myself that what I’ll tackle next is merely an experiment. That’s how my first novel, Optics: A Novel About Women and Work and Midlife Muddles, came about. I was spinning my writing wheels, and I’d never written fiction, so I decided to explore unknown narrative territory.
Back in January 2021, when the new year felt like a rerun of the old, I was stuck. I wanted to start a second novel, but nothing was gelling. The creative silence was particularly frustrating because I usually am sorting through too many ideas rather than too few.
That’s when I decided to give myself another new goal. Instead of committing to an entire novel, I’d write a poem. Though I’ve written poems over the years, I’ve never publicly shared one before. But because many of us are doing things we never expected to, this seems a fitting time to publish a poem that may resonate with others.
Continuity Amid Disruption
One familiar constant amid our disruptive Covid-19 pandemic lives has been the cycle of the seasons—for those of us living in temperate latitudes. However, I haven’t been fully experiencing each season. Weather changes, and wildlife sightings vary, but the human interactions associated with calendar months are missing. No hiking trips with friends and family. No celebratory dinners. No people-watching in Santa Fe restaurants. No singing in choirs.
That last absence in particular provided a framing context for “Suspended Seasons in Santa Fe.” Though I’d sung in many choirs when I was younger—sometimes as many as three in a season—I’d just begun singing again a few years ago and had performed in only two concerts with a community chorus before the pandemic put an end to in-person rehearsals. I’ve been involved with a couple of virtual performances since the pandemic hit, but they’re a poor substitute for being surrounded by live voices. Writing this poem was a way to acknowledge that the seasons reliably complete their cycle, oblivious to interruptions in human social life.
Notes on the Form of “Suspended Seasons in Santa Fe”
In this pandemic poem, two cycles of four seasons, depicted in haiku, are suspended between two longer, grounding stanzas.
I chose haiku for its traditional connection with nature; typically, each haiku contains a word or phrase that indicates the season of the poem. In these haiku, we pass through two years in which the natural world’s rhythms continue as usual, while humans—though part of nature—are out of synch.
The first two lines of each haiku establish the season, usually with an image of nature or a seasonal event; the last lines evoke our individual and collective positions during the pandemic years of 2020 and 2021. The first fall haiku is a bit different, as I wanted to represent New Mexico’s complicated culture and acknowledge how the pandemic has affected native peoples more harshly. The Navajo have had a taboo about speaking of death, and they bury their dead as quickly as possible, but in Dia de los Muertos—an aspect of New Mexico’s Hispanic culture—the dead are remembered, represented, and death is seen as part of life.
Haiku is also unrhymed, which seems appropriate for a period that lacks a comforting cadence. Nothing feels complete right now—another reason that haiku’s quick images of a moment in time appealed to me.
The haiku are suspended between two longer stanzas representing Santa Fe’s constants of mountains and sunrise (we enjoy nearly 300 days of sunshine annually). The experience of suspension—of being stopped, delayed from doing something, of being held in suspense—is one I hope will soon resolve.
Suspended Seasons in Santa Fe
In morning we lie in mountain shadow;
It cannot last.
Desert sun rises, burning deep sky blue;
We rise in song!
Wind howls, twists, spreads fear;
Invisible forces tear
Bluebirds flock, then mate;
Blossoms beckon bees to dine;
We keep cold distance.
Hot days birth monsoons;
Black ravens, corvids, soar high;
We can’t breathe freely.
On Día de los Muertos
Life sits next to death.
Mountain tops wear white;
Long nights fall into blackness;
Our breath turns to frost.
Life will return to normal;
Still we stand alone.
A rainbow stretches,
Embracing snake and rabbit;
We hold hope tighter.
Pinyon jay on pine
Kaws an everlasting song;
We call in response.
Piñon smoke in air,
We remember together,
We sing together.
In mourning we lie in mountain shadow;
It cannot last.
Desert sun rises, burning deep sky blue,
We raise our song!
©2021 by Gail Reitenbach
All rights reserved. No reproduction in any form without written permission.