Annie Stenzel was born in Illinois, but has lived on both coasts of the U.S. and on other continents at various times in her life. Her book-length collection is The First Home Air After Absence (Big Table Publishing, 2017). Her poems appear in print and online journals in the U.S. and the U.K., from Ambit to Willawaw Journal with stops at Chestnut Review, Gargoyle, Negative Capability Press, On the Seawall, Psaltery & Lyre, SWWIM, Stirring, The Ekphrastic Review, and The Lake, among others. A poetry editor for the online journals Right Hand Pointing and West Trestle Review, she currently lives within sight of the San Francisco Bay. For more, see anniestenzel[dot]com.
EXCERPTS FROM MY DIARY OF PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS
Scrubbed and unusually kempt, clad in my Girl Scout uniform, proud
to canvass the neighborhood with my Protestant-raised mother, who
with my German-born, half-Jewish father, wanted to see the first Catholic
elected President of this strange country. And it happened.
Still not old enough to vote, but savvy enough to be aghast
at the prospect of Richard Nixon being elected. It happened.
It was my wander-year, the one I spent blithely and safely traveling
Southeast Asia and the antipodes, lucky me, but I exerted myself,
paid a bunch of money at the post office in New Zealand to mail
my absentee ballot, vote against the re-election of that tricky creep.
It still happened.
Oooh! A woman on the ticket, albeit as V-P. I hardly knew
who she was, but what joy to be able to vote for someone
other than the usual two white men. It did not happen.
Long years, more white men, a schism growing
I was so naïve, I had no idea an election could be stolen.
And I wept when it happened.
Only the second woman ever on the ballot for the V-P spot. She’s
the wrong party for me. But look! A person of color is my option
for the first time ever. Impossible? Possible! I fell to my knees
in relief when it happened.
In text-speak I would say OMG … I can vote for a woman
at last? So happy! Surely every woman will leap
at this chance: Almost 100 years after gaining the right
to vote, we can vote for a woman to lead us. A miracle.
To live in this country with a woman at the helm, to witness
the difference, to be like other places in the civilized world
that have had woman as leaders for years and years?
It did not happen.
Four years of a shit-show, a nightmare, a steady series
of crimes against a country and its people. I could never
have pictured this. Four years, and now this country,
a place at times the envy of the world,
has become a laughing-stock.
Four long years.
For months I wrote postcards to voters, fretted, feared.
Worldwide, a pandemic rages. Elsewhere, leaders
leap into appropriate action, fend off disaster.
Not here, where numbers surge into the stratosphere.
My hair turned shaggy and grey. I voted early, as did many.
For days I held my breath, fearful for my country.
I crossed my fingers, fearful of my country. Our people’s feet
sliced to ribbons from standing on a razor’s edge, teetering.
Which way would the numbers topple?
(But how could this not be an open-and-shut case?
Unfathomable, the distance
between the choices.
Impossible, the gulf that divides us.
even now, after what has happened, happened.)
A new president, one who invoked a poet when he won.
A woman of color as vice-president.
I will hold my breath until Inauguration Day.
THE LAST FOUR YEARS, EXPLAINED AS CHANGES IN THE BAROMETER
It was hard on everything, that sudden drop
in atmospheric pressure brought about by our burgeoning
dismay. Speechless creatures had no way to express
their confusion; many wanted to desert the planet.
I tried to tell the redwood, the hollyhock, and the house
finch, Listen, maybe it won’t be that bad, and we’ll get used
to it, all of us. Trouble is, the air around us always has weight
and presses greedily on everything it touches.
And no, it never did get better. It was like suffering through Wilma,
promptly followed by Gilbert, Rita, Camille, Katrina—the great
Atlantic hurricanes that top the list for power and destruction.
Some places, some people, have never bounced back; many never will.
I had to hide. The place I chose took care of me in some respects—
say what you will about my barricades, but isn’t protection
from scary monsters something we all need? Every time I peeked
out, the thing was still scaling skyscrapers, flinging innocents
into the street, sending flames and terror over the defenseless
landscape. The wreckage shoulder-high and climbing. No one foresaw
cyclogenesis of such duration. Historically, sweet airs
restore the glow to Nature’s face after a storm has passed…
cue the fifth movement of Beethoven’s Sixth. But not here.
A shocking truth: some members of my species genuinely relish
this weather. Either they’ve evolved to prefer the dark
and airless days, or their spirits yearn for chaos. These beings
don’t want to trade the cataclysm for anything temperate.
The rest of us strain our bleary eyes toward the horizon.
Perhaps the force of this swath of horror we’ve witnessed is spent
now, and its author has weakened. Please, oh please, oh please.
DURING THE PANDEMIC, I ONLY FRET ON DAYS WITH A “Y” IN THEIR NAME
“Nobody” saw this coming. Yet everyone knew
another flu-like phenomenon could play havoc
with the species. Inching beyond 7.8 billion bodies
on one small planet? How could a single cough
not reach us all? We live in one another’s pockets.
If we stood in a line with our arms extended, we could almost
encircle the globe.
One cage is made out of fear.
Another is made by wisdom.
A cage to protect you from me
and one to save me from all of you
even though your eyes scorch me.
How hard you stare if I dare to turn the key
and leave the cage.
Tables turned, and then my eyes
burn the clothes from your body and leave visible
the scars and marks you’ve earned
from living at large for all these years.
From the window I can see we’re naked
behind our precarious walls, reduced
to the necessities that prod existence along.
I finally mended several socks,
after I found the darning egg and slipped it
into a holey toe. The sewing basket’s always
around here somewhere. It can’t have gone far.
I have taken to crafting my own cards, using
old calendar photos, watercolor from decades ago,
double-sided tape. The one I sent to my Belgian
brother took forever to get there.
At odd hours of the interrupted
night, I shift from lying on the right
side to the left, listen to my heart insist:
more life! more life! more life!
Copyright © 2022 by Annie Stenzel. These poems originally appeared in MiGoZine Winter 2020. Used with permission of the author.