Every April 14th, I mark the completion of another trip around the sun by sitting somewhere, quietly and alone – before the birthday celebrations begin, before social convention requires my attention – and make note of where I am. I watch and listen to that small moment of my life, and write it down.
I’ve been doing this for over a dozen years, and hope to continue the practice as long as I can hold a pen. Past birthday poems found me walking the broken sidewalks of Saginaw, Michigan, or watching elk from a bluff in Yellowstone National Park, or splitting logs in the woodshed at the Grizfork, or soaking in a tub listening to Beethoven’s 3rd, or watching swans at the lagoon, or noting the toxic passing of yet another coal train from the back patio at Glenn’s Bar.
This April is certainly one that will stand out. Our instinct in times of crisis is to come together. To gather our community and find strength in unity. This crisis that asks us to keep apart has been as counter-instinctive as it’s been fraught with the misinformation and deceit of the Covidiot-45 cult members. We are facing two crises, the pandemic and the self-imposed ignorance of those who’ve succumbed to the fear- and hate-mongering machines of myopia.
My bookstore, Elk River Books, has been closed for maybe months, though the ability to measure time has become nebulous at best. Has it been weeks or years? I’ve barely seen anyone outside of my immediate family and have gotten into the habit of donning a mask the same way I toss on a hat to head outside. I give neighbors a wide berth on the sidewalk when passing.
I’ve spent a lot of hours looking out the same window watching the bare trees shed skins of snow, darken with rain, and begin to glow with new buds. I wouldn’t have noticed the arrival of my birthday if my wife hadn’t reminded me.
All of this self-isolation and the silence of our downtown, the uncertainty and trepidation, the news trickling in of who may be sick, who has died – all of this was with me this year when I parked my cousin Doug Peacock’s battered old pickup at a boat launch on the Yellowstone River, cracked open a Tecate and found this year’s poem: