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To talk of inspiration around something as serious as COVID-19 seems almost cavalier

Eric Folsom's COVID-19 Story

August 11, 2020

Eric Folsom shares his pandemic poem

In the spring of 2020 Kingston Poet Laureate Jason Heroux and the City of Kingston started a project entitled Poetry in the Time of a Pandemic. Kingston poets were commissioned to write an original poem capturing the local human spirit as people went through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Eric Folsom

Jason contributed “All People", which was posted to the KFPL Poetry Blackboard in May. He invited four more local poets — Bruce Kauffman, Eric Folsom, Sadiqa de Meijer and Alyssa Cooper — to join him, with their contributions to be released on the first of each month from June through September.

Jason’s own poem “All People” launched the project, and it was posted to the KFPL Poetry Blackboard in May. Bruce Kauffman’s “this morning” was the next poem, posted on June 1. Sadiqa de Meijer's “Chronology of the Emergency” followed on July 2 and Eric Folsom’s “Skeleton Park” went up on August 1.

Watch the Blackboard on September 1 for a poem from Alyssa Cooper.

by Eric Folsom

In the pandemic months we would cut through the park
Without lingering to talk or read on benches,
Moved past yarn-bombed trees and an empty wading pool,
Playground equipment behind Modu-Loc fences.

Swings, slides and climbers, now exotic animals
Penned in their enclosure, had formed a static herd,
Their negligent young zookeepers elsewhere detained
Left no tiny footprints in the undisturbed sand.

We checked on the health of a dawn redwood sapling
Planted near Patrick Street, enduring the north wind,
Thin leafless sentinel of promises to come,
Bare bones beneath a layer of blue grey lichen.

Beneath the grass, unseen molecules of the dead
Reclined and disassembled but did not address
The tragic history of old epidemics,
Untallied victims of cholera and typhus.

Dawn redwoods at first were known only as fossils,
Disinterred signals on prehistoric tablets,
But remnant populations were found near Wuhan
And then carried by humans across the planet.

In spring our dawn redwood sends out pale green feathers,
Bright delicate fronds in a deciduous cloud,
A transposition of light, like all growing things
A word in translation, the dawn spoken out loud.

Eric's Note about the poem:

To talk of inspiration around something as serious as COVID-19 seems almost cavalier, so let's instead say that I live near McBurney Park and I like to go for walks. I often take note of whatever seems different, and I try to capture those minor observations in words which go into a little pocket sized Moleskin. When everything is working, the notes become lines, and the lines turn into poems. Not as quickly as I would like, but eventually.

Any place can be a site of loss and grief, but McBurney Park has a particular claim. Waves of victims from Kingston's early 19th century epidemics were interred in the Upper Burial Ground, which later became abandoned and later still was turned into a tranquil public park. Vernacular memory has called it Skeleton Park ever since, in offhanded tribute to the dead. Popular imagination provides a ready made emblem, what more could we ask?