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New Video Series: Pew Fellows Share Poems from Home

In April, we introduced a new video series called Pew Fellows from Home, featuring dispatches from our Fellows. We asked these artists to share how they’re staying creative while staying in, beginning with contributions from several poets—in recognition of National Poetry Month.

Below, watch poetry readings from Trapeta B. Mayson, Thomas Devaney, Kevin Varrone, Pattie McCarthy, and Yolanda Wisher—and be sure to follow us on Instagram for more videos and interviews coming soon.


Trapeta B. Mayson, “We Will Make Something”

We are the builders, the creators, and the magicians of our lives.
We are the designers and the inventors of our lives.
And we will make something out of this too.

We are the builders, the creators, and the magicians of our lives. We are the designers, and the inventors of our lives, and we will make something out of this, too. We are the builders, the makers, the inventors, the creators, the architects of our lives, and we will make something out of this, too.

We strain to understand this new language, in our grave and weary lilt, in our haggard cadence, we mouth to one another's stark words, distancing, isolation, loss, emptiness. Someone will ask us if we're going to be all right, and we will tell them, only if we believe it. Another will ask us if we're going to get through this, and we will tell them that we will have to want it bad enough to see it.

We strain to manage this new way of learning ourselves, the day before the world tilted. I claim to be a lover of humankind. I touted my goodwill and arrogance about, bared my self-righteousness and feel-goods across my chest. And then when the world placed us in timeout, I had to prove it. Take only my ration from the market, check on neighbors and phone friends, press my palm against glass to see family, my hellos and goodbyes muted, my farewells and home going silenced.

I walk the streets I know like a stranger, like a soul outside of herself, hold my lone woman praise and worship, be OK with passing through the same four rooms, while Mahalia blankets me in song. How I got over, I've been falling and rising all of these years but you know my soul sits back in wonder, how did we make it over?

I now know that we are builders, designers, architects of our lives. We can draft an existence one day, and when it's upended, erase, maintain the foundation, and start over the next. We are all in our dojo of life, and this world has become our sensei. And we are stealth students studying this new language, this new thing, meditating and marveling, moving and mourning, marinating and musing. Each day, another chance to practice being human. Each day, another chance to learn to master ourselves.

Thomas Devaney, “A Week in the Childhood of W.C. Fields”

Monday was a milk cart.
Tuesday, an open-body dump truck and a gang of
cursing boots. Wednesday was a boxcar that everyone
said carried raw sugar, and everyone had the sugar to
prove it.

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My name is Thomas Devaney and I'm going to read you my poem, "A Week in the Childhood of WC Fields". The poem is it included in my collection Getting to Philadelphia, which has recently been published by Hanging Loose Press, and was first published in a book I did with the photographer Will Brown called The Picture That Remains.

It's a Philly story. The poem is kind of about our negotiations with the places where we're from and the difficulties there at a base level. But it's a portrait of a young person growing up in very dire straits situation in a poor ethnic white enclave. It's not only a portrait of Fields, but it's also a portrait of this place, and one that he very much longed to escape. It was a dangerous place and a tough place, but also one that was teeming with life and characters and so much churning through it. And maybe it's a place that we never fully leave.

A Week in the Childhood of WC Fields.

WC Fields played in the cinder fields of Tyoga. Back then, no one ever said Philadelphia or Darby, and buffeting was a trade, steel tongs and ice wagons. As a child, Fields had a sooty face and was always out playing or in the game, as he'd say. One was juggling, and the other they liked to call Never Give a Sucker an Even Break. Monday was a milk cart, Tuesday an open body dump truck and a gang of cursing boots. Wednesday was a box car that everyone said carried raw sugar, and everyone had the sugar to prove it.

Thursday was a visit from two dicks in sweaty suits. Friday afternoon, cigarettes and a mess of money out on the street. Saturday day was a haircut for the men, John the barber and the day numbers. The whole day was a half day and a bucket of bleach.

And Saturday night was a whole other day, thieves and mothers sharpening their knives, girls with curls and bald men, and always the singing and the fighting. The police could do nothing.

Saturday was another country, a bath, a window, the ring of the red trim washbasin and looking at a picture of the old Dutch settlement. The drawing was too small to be this neighborhood, but in a sober moment, his father told him that it was back before any of them were born.

Kevin Varrone, from “Postcards From Nowhere”

even the dog doesn’t seem thrilled about another walk around the neighborhood.
still, the sunshine feels like someone left a plate of cookies on the doorstep
to welcome us to the neighborhood.

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I'm Kevin Varrone. I'm gonna read a series of short little poems called Postcards From Nowhere.

Dear, there is no such thing as nowhere, though the idea is tempting these days. I'm in a basement. It's my spot in all of this. It feels like home, what with all that stored up Cold War paranoia still buried in my head somewhere.

I saw a squirrel fall from a high limb yesterday. I thought of 9/11, even though it hit the ground running. Everything stopped moving sort of, like flying, but the squirrel was falling.

Sometimes I have trouble finding my sea legs. Yesterday was like that. It was so long ago. The sparrows come to the feeder every day, even though I've run out of seed. Their fidelity takes my breath away.

I don't know when I'll see you again. Maybe never, maybe soon. Until then, dear.

Last night, I burned my finger on a pie dish. I kept touching it all night, as if it was someone else's body, abundance in caution. One time, my grandmother gave me a patch from a place she visited, and then took it away so I didn't ruin it. I don't know what's made me think of that.

Are there more crows now, or am I just taking more notice of them? For years, PETA's been saying that crows are taking over the world. If that's true, I really respect that they didn't just wait around for the streets to empty out, like those Welsh mountain goats I keep seeing on Twitter.

Dear, I'm beginning to worry we might spend the rest of our lives with this new normal, just because it was there for us after we got our hearts broken. Last night, I dreamt I was washing dishes after dinner. Last night, I dreamed I totally spaced out on a Zoom meeting.

Dear, even the dog doesn't seem thrilled about another walk around the neighborhood. Still, the sunshine feels like someone left a plate of cookies on the doorstep to welcome us to the neighborhood. At first, I felt isolation and distancing might be like training to become hermits, but it mostly feels like inching into the chewy center of our own Venn diagram.

Dear, at first, I thought isolation and distancing might absolve us of all of our responsibilities, like stars no longer obligated to cluster in the constellations. Sometimes when I'm awake in the middle of the night, ideas come back into my head.

One night, I got my computer and typed one out without my glasses. In the morning, it was gibberish, just random letters and some kind of code I seemed to be mocking myself with. It was damn near dark out before it dawned on me that every letter was one key off. Is that all it takes to render something meaningless? I'm not sure I can survive margins as thin as that.

Pattie McCarthy, “A Lecture on Tides”

knuckles of sea-wrack
the tide being out — we walk it

this is what I was afraid of —
I say five times a day

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Hi, I'm Pattie McCarthy. I hope you all are well. I'm going to read from my poem today, called "A Lecture on Tides". And this poem is dedicated with thanks to the students in my senior capstone spring semester 2020. So this is from "A Lecture on Tides".

Winter intermission, the hedge flutter at eye level. And though I'm wrong to call January the bleak midwinter, it is. A mild winter makes for a long slippery rail season. A train under Philadelphia, the hedge and squally snow quiet. The house opposite a Revolutionary War dollhouse, each window an orange pulse, calm smoke rises vertically.

Winter-bitten, the specific gravity of the sea, I imagine that from above, the wrath must look like an inoculation. I mistook witches' broom for birds nests. I mistook the music and her roar for the music in her room. The specific solemnity and weight of the sea in North Philadelphia, thinking of it swifting.

As good reason to start as any swift or swallow, I'd knock the spots off the birds. Snow won't stick to the intertidal today. Winter boots with hawk jingle, where our votes might go by boat. Knuckles of sea rack, the tide being out, we walk it. This is what I was afraid of, I say five times a day.

I hate to say I hate anything these days. I feel a real obligation to be relentlessly positive. But I do hate rooms that look as though they were decorated all at once instead of allowing objects and colors and textures and mud salt and fat to accumulate over tides, sea rack and rejectamenta thrash back and forth across the intertidal. A week of cheese and ashes, the horse muscle sows itself into the ground. We are an uncountable noun. We live in an endless Lent.

Back in December, I read the line "the deep sea forgeteth not," only to find in January that, in fact, it reads "the deep sea freezeth not." One of us opened a drawer and found it full of dead birds. It was already a heavy metaphor, already too much for a poem. And yet, here it is in the poem. I think they were starlings, an invasive species. But my son says he loves their iridescent spotty bodies and everyone crowded around to open the drawer again.

Thank you very much. Take care. Stay safe.

Yolanda Wisher, “The Potters Field”

one day we will all be ancestors
fluffs of cosmos that float in & out of our loved ones bodies
in dust they kick up with their feet

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Find me in oyster, hog's head. Cut nail in bone. Find me in chard, radish, brick bat and bean. Find me in sandstone, porcelain, pearl and redware. Find me in broad spear, Snook Kill, grooved axe and glass.

Find me sleeping in the earth itself, volcanic, ashen, vessel uninvaded. Clay pot, tea bag for the gods. Find me, membered and unmembered. Hot hands. Don't let them handle me.

A body could be made with love, and you could lose it with dirty hands and rough waters, horse dung, or pig spittle. To white mobs or paddy rollers. Through various nooses of the 19th century, churchyards platted in sections, indignities heaped upon terrors. You could die, and die again.

So we became undertakers out of necessity. Took care of our dead so we wouldn't be strangers. Guarded our graveyards like gargoyles, against the body snatchers and gross clinics. In the clay no one else wanted, we made our own family.

These children of freed slaves, of those never been slaves, of the poorest and the illest, of the decent made destitute. Vessels that did not survive the voyage of childhood, but came from fire breathing love, longing, concentrated survival, came from people who fashion great sorrows into cemeteries.

One day, we will all be ancestors. Fluffs of cosmos that float in and out of our loved one's bodies, and dust they kick up with their feet. Something in the wind knows me. I want to hang on a thread. I want to be on the edge. I want to be the kind of spook that makes a cat leap up on the banister.

There is a woman on the moon sitting with rounded stones. There is a woman on Mars weaving in red dust. There is a woman on earth moving words like calories. The words become futures to be exhumed. All these women, these worlds, these words, are me.

Live without doom in your tea. Open, ground up, and dance over dust.