Friday, December 18, 2020

Pandemic Meditations: It's Wednesday, November 4th by Polly Buckingham

Trouble on my mind by Dana, used under CC license

It’s Wednesday, November 4th

by Polly Buckingham

Mercury is just out of retrograde, it’s the morning after a yet-undeclared election where deaths from climate change, inequity, and Covid are all at stake, and I’m cutting up the last two chanterelles from a disturbingly dry mushroom season. 

After the mushrooms, I’ll cut up two garden potatoes, one purple, one pink, and the rest of my cubanelle peppers and fry a couple eggs. I dried and stuffed the other hundred some peppers, and all that remains is a handful of fresh banana peppers and poblanos. As my breakfast is sautéing, I’ll bake one of the sixty some winter squash on racks in the back room; the temperature there is 55 degrees so the squash will last through the winter. I’ve named this variety “That Crazy Plant”; it comes from the seeds of a mystery squash that took over my garden the summer of 2019. It looks like a cross between a pumpkin and a turban squash and has a remarkably sweet bright orange flesh. I’ve moved the potatoes and carrots from the garage to the backroom, a room otherwise delegated to the dog and the squash, after a surprise snowstorm where temperatures dropped from the 60 to 12 degrees and some six inches of snow fell. I’ve spent the last few nights talking on the phone with friends while cutting the tops off hundreds of carrots. Over the next month, I’ll juice them, dry them, grill them, sauté them, ferment them, share them with friends and the foodbank, and eat them raw.

People say they have to find things to do during Covid, but I find I cannot get through all I need to do, though I often wonder about what I’m doing and why. I wonder about the notion of work, of a job. I don’t need a winter of food stored in freezers and dried in cabinets. And yet, answering this calling to grow food, to feed people, to understand what it means to grow most of what you eat, feels necessary. I feel compelled to do it, and it helps keep me steady—planting seeds, popping dried beans from their pods, saving carrot blossoms and sunflower heads.

Still, my job has always been to write, and it has always come first. I don’t have children: I dream and I write. I struggle with the simple tasks of daily living—paying bills, making doctor appointments, cleaning my house, calling for repairs, even opening mail. I was the child who couldn’t regularly brush her hair or teeth or clean out her locker or show up anywhere on time because she was dreaming and writing and writing and dreaming. I have never been suited for much else, and it has saved me throughout my life. Made me whole. Made my soul feel steady. Writing is that great creative force, that beautiful arc across the night sky, dusty and eons deep. It is the most important thing I have to offer. I have a duty first to vision. A sort of seeing that is transmutable and necessary to me and to the world.   

Let’s be honest: I haven’t written enough since Covid sent us into isolation, despite the very clear invitation—that is, long periods of time alone at home. A dream, really, an ideal field, like a spring garden covered with the compost of fall leaves. Every day I wake up forgiving myself for not writing enough. I try to be good to myself. But it hurts not to write.

The apricot smell of the chanterelles steadies the panic that tries to rise up in me. What I know about this day as Mercury moves out of retrograde is how deep the change this country has to make, how deep the change I have to make. My job in this moment, on this day, is to transform. I don’t know how long it will take, or even what it looks like, but it must happen. And only a lifetime—fifty-three years—of dreaming and writing and writing and dreaming could have prepared me for this most necessary job. I have to trust my own role in the movement from seed to fruit to fallow earth.

Later today, I will clean with a dry cloth several of the winter squash in my backroom. The dog bed is still covered with carrot tops and unfinished carrots the dog got into a few nights ago—purple and orange and yellow and scarlet carrots, crooked and straight, enormous and tiny. The squash are weighty in my hands, and they glow as I wipe the cloth over their imperfections.

Polly Buckingham’s collection of poetry, The River People, was just released by Lost Horse Press. Her story collection The Expense of a View won the Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction. Her chapbook A Year of Silence won the Jeanne Leiby Memorial Chapbook Award for Fiction (2014), and she was the recipient of a 2014 Washington State Artists Trust fellowship. Her work appears in The Gettysburg Review, The Threepenny Review, Hanging Loose, Witness, North American Review, The Moth, New Orleans Review, Poetry Daily and elsewhere. She was a finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Award in 2011, 2012, and 2013. Polly is founding editor of StringTown Press and teaches creative writing at Eastern Washington University where she is editor of Willow Springs Magazine. Learn more at


Pandemic Meditations is a weekly series in which creative people share responses to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Find more meditations at

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Pandemic Meditations: The Bleak Midwinter by Liz Rognes

The Bleak Midwinter

by Liz Rognes

In the bleak midwinter, 1.6 million people have died across the world, and counting.

In the bleak midwinter, more than 297,000 people have died from coronavirus in the U.S., and counting. 

On December 9, 2020, more people died in a single day in the U.S. due to coronavirus than the number of deaths on 9/11. 

If ever there was a bleak midwinter, this is it. 

I hope you and your families are safe, although I know as I write this that I have many friends who have been sick, who have long-term illness, and who have lost loved ones. I thought of you and your families as I made this arrangement of this song. 

Please wear your masks and get the vaccine as soon as you can. I want to give you hugs, and I am getting bored of conducting a choir of Liz x 6. I’m aching to sing with other people.

But mostly, I want you all to be alive when we come out of this! 

Please, do what you can so that you and I and our remaining loved ones make it out of this bleak midwinter, alive.

In the Bleak Midwinter
Text by Christina Rossetti
Arrangement by me, based on the Holst melody

To view Liz's performance, you can watch it below or at YouTube with this link:

Liz Rognes
photo by Rajah Bose
Liz Rognes is a singer/songwriter, composer and writer who teaches writing and literature at Eastern Washington University. She grew up in Iowa and now lives in Spokane with her children. Her music was recently featured on KSPS PBS; you can watch it here:

For more music, recordings, and information, visit visit


Pandemic Meditations is a weekly series in which creative people share responses to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Find more meditations at

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Wake to Words and Brew Some Coffee (December 13, 2020)

I read good poems by other people while we all drink coffee.



Poems read:
  • Morning by Billy Collins
  • I Am Offering This Poem by Jimmy Santiago Bac
  • Love Poem by Louise Gluck
  • Blues for the Death of the Sun by Ansel Elkins
  • The Great Fires by Jack Gilbert

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Pandemic Meditations: Since March 13 by Azaria Podplesky

Since March 13

by Azaria Podplesky






I’ve taken upwards of one hundred pictures of my cat. 

I’ve finished two tubes of Chapstick. It turns out they’re a lot harder to lose when you never leave your apartment. 

I’ve still not managed to read through my stack of The New Yorker.

Yoga studios closed and I tried to remember how I spent my time before I started teaching.

I’ve tried to stay off social media. I’ve failed at staying off social media.

I bought a set of shelves in July to display photos and trinkets which had been in my closet for far too long, but didn’t hang them until October.

I cancelled my cable. I’ve been reading more - Homegoing, The Cassandra, The Dutch House (an autographed copy found at Value Village), but I’ve also become great friends with Netflix and Hulu.

I’ve set up donations to Black Lives Matter, the NAACP, the ACLU Legal Defense Fund and two bail funds. I’ve voted. I’ve signed petitions, but it still feels like I’m sitting idly by, cat firmly planted on my lap, while the world burns.

Yoga studios reopened. Limited class sizes, everyone six feet apart, masks worn at all times except while practicing. But still, yoga.

I thought I’d hate working from home because of the silence, but it's beautiful to hear every tick-tock tick-tock from the clock in my kitchen.

Speaking of work, if I had $1 for every time I wrote “coronavirus,” “pandemic,” “quarantine,” “COVID-19” or “cancelled” in an article, I wouldn’t be working anymore.

I’ve spent 35 hours on a train, in a roomette smaller than my bathroom, to see my grandparents in California. It took months to convince myself I could travel safely, and I’m glad I finally bought the ticket. Watching the West Coast go by -- Evergreen trees, mountains, field after field after field after field and, finally, the Pacific Ocean -- filled my soul more than I anticipated. 

Somewhere in California
photo by Azaria Podplesky

Somewhere in California
photo by Azaria Podplesky

Somewhere in Oregon
photo by Azaria Podplesky

Somewhere in Oregon
photo by Azaria Podplesky

I’ve seen the lists of things to do during quarantine -- bake, learn a new language, write that novel you’ve been meaning to get to -- and tips for how to bake, learn a new language and finally write that novel, but I’ve not crossed a single suggestion off the list. And I’m OK with that.

I have, however, almost finished writing a play, which has been an incredibly fulfilling experience.

I’ve laughed. 

I’ve cried. 

I’ve been catcalled while wearing a mask.

I’ve complained about being tired and about being tired of being tired.

Yoga studios have closed again, and I still haven’t remembered how I used to spend my time.

All in all, I’m here. How are you?

Azaria Podplesky

Azariai Podplesky
Azaria Podplesky is the entertainment writer for the Spokesman-Review. She also teaches yoga in her spare time. She really has taken more than one hundred pictures of her cat during quarantine, and she isn't ashamed to admit it. To read Azaria's work for the Spokesman-Review, visit


Pandemic Meditations is a weekly series in which creative people share responses to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Find more meditations at

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Pandemic Meditations: Tea by Mandy Chapman Orozco

A Pandemic Poem

by Mandy Chapman Orozco


The world breathed it in 
and stopped turning.
Those left to live, dirty.
Those left for death, free.
          We sat for tea 
poured in fragile cups
painted shades of soil and sky.
A place for the stuffed butterfly. 

Mandy Chapman Orozco
Mandy is passionate about the power of spoken and written word. She works full-time at The Bail Project, writing to combat racial and economic disparities in the bail system. Mandy also serves in her local community of Spokane by consulting and writing for smaller nonprofits that are fighting big inequities. Mandy holds an undergraduate degree from University of California, Los Angeles and an MBA from Whitworth University. When she’s not speaking and writing for change professionally, she’s having interesting conversations with her philosopher husband and their children, going for a run, drinking good coffee, and creative writing (she just verbed that).

Pandemic Meditations is a weekly series in which creative people share responses to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Find more meditations at

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Wake to Words and Brew Some Coffee (December 6, 2020)


Poets read:

Wendell Berry, from his book A Small Porch; Kim Addonizio from her book Tell Me; Polly Buckingham from The River People; Adrienne Rich from The Dream of a Common Language; Marge Piercy from The Moon is Always Female; James D'Agostino from Slur Oeuvre

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Pandemic Meditations: Remnants by Dahveed Bullis

You've reached Pandemic Meditations, a weekly series in which creative people share responses to life in the pandemic. This week, I'm pleased to welcome director and actor Dahveed Bullis to the series, and to share the first film meditation. Please watch, enjoy, and share his short film Remnants with your friends, neighbors, and family. Preceding the film, Dahveed provides notes about its making. (~20 minutes long).  

(If you'd rather watch the film directly on YouTube, use this link:

Thanks, Dahveed, and all of those involved in the making of Remnants. Your energy, focus, ingenuity, and effort is such a gift, and I appreciate it so much. As I know our readers do too. . 

~ E.P.


On the Making of Remnants, a Short Film

by Dahveed Bullis

The only word I have been able to find for the Pandemic before us has been "tragic." Whether in regards to how sections of leadership has handled it, or how divisive and separate things have become, I have seen tragedy all around me since March. 

I am tired. 

Through this Pandemic though, I have witnessed beauty. I have seen artists persevere as they have continued to create regardless of what the world experiences around them--somehow feeling compelled to continue to speak on the climate of their culture, just like the long history of artists before them. 

I have found myself becoming a filmmaker. A wild transition from theatre artist. After being an adjunct at Spokane Falls Community College, which had me directing a freshly adapted play into a film through Zoom, I found myself clawing to learn more about this newfound craft. 

As a lover of tragedy, I could not help but be inspired to tell a bit of tragedy when asked for my Pandemic Meditation. 

In chapter 6 of Aristotle's Poetics he states:

"So tragedy is an imitation not of people, but of action, life, and happiness or unhappiness, while happiness and unhappiness have their being in activity, and come to completion not in a quality but in some sort of action …Therefore it is deeds and the story that are the end at which tragedy aims, and in all things the end is what matters most …So the source that governs tragedy in the way that the soul governs life is the story."

Remnants was born on the heels of these contemplations. 

I invite you into Holden's world. 

This film encompassed collaboration from so many incredible artists, and we worked for months to put this together. I am forever grateful for the chance to create and a platform to do so with. I hope you enjoy the piece, as it is my first independent film. 

Ask yourself, after months of isolation, how do you manage to meet outside expectations if your inner life is turmoil?


And now, for this week's featured presentation, Remnants, directed and acted by Dahveed Bullis:

Dahveed Bullis
Dahveed Bullis lives and works in Spokane as an actor, director, instructor, and musician. He graduated from EWU, and helped found Spokane Theatre Arts Council. He recently joined the Company Ballet School to direct their Theatre Arts Program. And, pre-pandemic, you could find him acting alongside Marjorie Powell in the improv duo The Seagull Sloths. He's father to a son made of the moon and stars.

😷 Check back every week for new Pandemic Meditations. Catch up on what you've missed here:

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Pandemic Meditations Preview: Remnants, A Short

Pandemic Meditations continues this week with Remnants, a short film by Dahveed Bullis. Launching here this Thursday, December 3. 

See you then.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Wake to Words and Brew Some Coffee (November 26, 2020)

The first session of Wake to Words and Brew Some Coffee, which is now a series in which I read good poems by other people every Sunday morning.


Poems come from these books:

  • The Body's Alphabet by Ann Tweedy
  • Citizen by Claudia Rankine
  • Space, in Chains by Laura Kasischke
  • The River People by Polly Buckingham
  • Plainwater by Anne Carson
  • An American Sunrise by Joy Harjo

Pandemic Meditations: A Pandemic Playlist by Neil Elwell

A creepy sort of greeting on this pandemic thanksgiving
Due to rising Covid cases and the predicted second wave of the pandemic, we here in Washington state, like several other states, have have returned to a modified shelter-in-place. This means that today's typical stomach-stuffing and family gatherings are postponed, cancelled, or turned into a round of Zoom and Facetime meetups. 

As a child, I didn't have a family that was big on traditional meals or large gatherings. Once married, my sister tried a few times to create a semblance of the Norman Rockwell's painting with our family and her in-laws, and it was a damn good showing (she cooked it all, and Dad would fall asleep on the floor for the rest of the afternoon, hat tipped over his eyes). Those remain a few of my childhood memories of so many family members in the same place and time. But we were never a family that could sustain a tradition that seemed so asynchronous to who we were as anxiety-riddled humans who prefer small groups, or better, our own company.

As a teenager, I spent Thanksgiving morning working at the town's fine-dining restaurant, which hosted a bountiful Thanksgiving buffet. The tips were good due to the guilt-generosity of diners who relied on us to serve their meals instead of themselves. That morning always passed fairly quickly, and since it was a buffet, it required more preparation than the deep effort and juggling that comes with menu service. And the meal afterward, my goodness (a whole table dedicated to dessert!), and shared among fellow servers and cooks . . . well, it was pretty pleasant to eat good food with equally tired friends. 

Once married, I'd attend a traditional Thanksgiving at my husband's grandparents' house. This experience was a little startling because of its ease--everyone knew the order of events, what to say, and where to sit. Afterward, the elders gathered around the TV, and the cousins met on the carport to share memories of when they were kids at this same house on this same day. I hadn't known such families existed.    

Now, my former husband, my partner, and our son gather sometime after noon to share a simple meal of soup and bread and a warm pie. Afterward, we might go on a hike or walk around the neighborhood. It is finally what makes the most sense to who I am and who we are. That we all live between 400 and 2,000 miles from our first families helps to keep the day easy and delightful. Though, when asked what my plans are for Thanksgiving, I think my plans sound off-key to the questioner--or I imagine they do, lacking as they are the crowd and commotion the day seems advertised to require. 

Thankfully, I won't have any of that.

There is much to be discovered and enjoyed when we unravel traditions, rituals, and routines. 

And so today's pandemic meditation comes from no Thanksgiving tradition. 

Today's meditation is made of music. Many of us have relied on, returned to, and replayed songs and albums that bring us the most needed emotions, memories, and mind-states as we experience these sorrowful and surreal times. There is something to be thankful for, or just simply said, about what helps us cope with, or better think about, our lives and each other. 

Thank you very much to my friend and Spokane musician Neil Elwell for taking the time to create a playlist from the music he's been listening to, as he says, in "the ugly months of 2020." 

Perhaps you'll find yourself among songs this Thanksgiving Day. 

That would be good.




Neil's Pandemic Playlist

by Neil Elwell

It would be cumbersome to write about all of the artists and music I've been listening to since the pandemic began, so I've broken it down to a few artists, albums, and tracks . . . Here ya go, Neil's Pandemic Playlist, in no particular order, a tip of the iceberg, but gems, nonetheless. (As always, your mileage may vary.)

Miles Davis' album In a Silent Way is the master's 1969 musical expression featuring keyboardists Herbie Hancock, Joe Zawinul, and Chick Corea, with Wayne Shorter on tenor sax, John McLaughlin on guitar, and Tony Williams on skins . . . The entire side one of the original recording is 18 minutes of bliss, called "Shhhh/Peaceful"-- and it is.

Dire Straits, with Mark Knopfler at the helm released Love Over Gold in 1982. One of several amazing cuts is "Telegraph Road," a 14 minute tour-de-force featuring Knopfler's incredible guitar work and songwriting. DS had a great feel for dynamics, and in this cut, it shows.

Richard and Linda Thompsons' release Shoot Out the Lights (also from 1982) is a soul-baring musical chronicle of the Thompsons' impending divorce, at least in part. The track I find myself singing in my head is "Walking On a Wire," which shows Richard's songwriting talents and blistering guitar.

Musical maverick Paul Simon's 1986 recording Graceland dares you to not engage in foot-tapping and maybe a little dancing around the room. The title track and most of the album features mainly South African musicians. The Everly brothers, of all people, show up to provide background vocals. Wow!!

Ry Cooder's 2013 album Corridors Famosos, recorded live at SF's Great American Music Hall is a tour of the many lands that Mr. Cooder has visited (literally and musically) throughout his career. In this record, and onstage that night, were no less than 17 musicians--with Cooder and the band at the top of their game. My favorite track: "Crazy 'bout An Automobile"

Joni Mitchell's Hits is a mainly user-friendly compilation of her radio hits up until 1990. Another recording full of great tunes, with "Big Yellow Taxi" as one of the standout tracks.

Guitarist John Williams (and others) put together a fine tribute to guitar music Spanish Guitar Music. It offers the six-string masters performing Spain's folk music at a very high level. "Fandango" here is this record's amazing piece.

Tom Waits spends a lot of time blasting out of the speakers, inside and out, here at the hovel. No wonder the neighbors think I'm "weird." Nevertheless, all of Mr. Waits's records are magnificent, especially Small Change\ from 1976. "Tom Traubert's Blues" with the "waltzing Matilda" refrain is a long piece that's just about guaranteed to stick in your mind. All hail Tom Waits, is my motto.

This is just a small sampling of what I've listened to during the ugly months of 2020. Other artists include Muddy Waters, Emmylou Harris, Rolling Stones, Maria Muldaur, Howlin' Wolf, John Coltrane, James McMurtry, Peter Rowan, JGB, Robert Johnson, Weather Report, Earl King, Willie and Lukas Nelson, Neil Young, Django Reinhardt, Johnny Cash. Many more made it onto the turntable and into the cd player. 

It's tough and not a lot of fun, being locked down. 

Music helps. 

A lot.


Neil Elwell
Neil Elwell is a Spokane musician, guitarist, singer, and gardener. When there isn't a pandemic, he plays in the two bands Doghouse Boyz and Laffin' Bones Blues Band