Sunday, October 11, 2020

A Trek West with Indiana Jones

By 2020 Poetry contributor Jennifer Grant

I’ve spent a lifetime battling asthma, so I am familiar with hunkering down for a few weeks until my lungs decide to behave and function properly. Like many in my North Central Florida college town, I began self-quarantining the second week of March when medical advice stated that those with “pre-existing conditions” should consider removing themselves from threat of COVID-19.

I assumed I wouldn’t be housebound very long, so I decided to take this “lockdown” as an opportunity to pour myself into poetry. Instead of creativity, I found myself in a mud puddle of despair and desperate for the consoling words of other writers. I wondered how art survives in times of chaos and uncertainty.

Two months into quarantine I had barely written anything besides journaling gibberish. Then a mentor of mine started Zooming to bring her southern poet friends together. She posted weekly questions and prompts for the 12 of us and challenged us to revisit form. 

Poetic form has always brought me comfort during uncomfortable times. Maybe it’s because I have to concentrate on what I am trying to convey. Or, maybe it’s just the soothing rhythm. Although a Haibun only has pieces of Haiku sprinkled within, I used a rambling form of prose poetry to convey a surreal travel narrative in my "Off-Kilter Haibun on May 14, 2020," which I am honored to have published in Bacopa Literary Review 2020.  

As a side note, it was serendipitous that the same day I finally left my Gainesville house (donning a surgical mask) was the day Lewis and Clark began their historic wilderness trek west. I love when poetry magic happens that way.

                                       Off-Kilter Haibun On May 14, 2020

The same day Lewis and Clark departed to explore the wildness of the northwest, my canine co-pilot and I prepare for our own expedition. Our Corps of Discovery does not disembark from Camp Dubois outside St. Louis, Missouri but a cleared-out college town in North Central Florida. Lewis and Clark's goal was the Pacific Ocean. Mine is less grandiose--a mere 58 miles straight away to the Gulf of Mexico.

    Boat-less and Unmoored

With a red and white Igloo cooler in the front seat of my borrowed blue Honda and Indiana Jones (with his favorite beef bone) in the back, I am ready for the trek west. Sixty-three days of quarantine has me longing for greener scenery. The sun is already high and hot and I think I should've shoved off sooner. Clark said in his journals that it was cloudy that morning in 1804 when they were fixing for a start. They didn't leave Camp River until 4 o'clock. Lewis and Clark traveled in a  55-foot keel boat. My ride has a cracked windshield and is 196 inches from nose to backside.

    In Pursuit of Adventure 

It's nearly 20 minutes into our journey before my second in command, Dr. Jones, and the traffic settle. Then the rhythm of purple and yellow pansies prancing roadside and ditches dotted with wading snowy egrets soothes. An osprey winds its way through the slash pines, leading me deeper into nature's nest and farther from fear of a virus that could ravage my asthmatic chest. But death looms near Otter Creek and I spy a grey faced coyote, lifeless on the road's shoulder. Just beyond, on a corner, a couple in white surgical masks sells shaved ice snacks the same color as the blood pooled around the poor dead hound's head.

    Viral Pioneer

As I contemplate my own fate, my trusted navigator (my phone), announces my destination on the right. It's here that Capt. Carl of Cedar Key offers me a grin and his grouper catch for today.

    This spring pandemic
    where nothing is black and white
    except my Shih-tzu

*   *   *

Jennifer Grant is a former newspaper journalist who resides in Gainesville, FL. Her first collection of poetry, Good Form, was published by Negative Capability Press (2017), and a tiny chapbook, Bronte Sisters and Beyond by Zoetic Press (2018). Her chapbook Year of Convergence is now available through Blue Lyra Press and on Amazon. A virtual reading is scheduled for Oct.30 at City Lit Books in Chicago. Her latest non-fiction can be found in the current issue of Maine Review.

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