{pf poetry peeps: hindsight is a golden shovel}

Last week, poet Carol V. so loved the Bach invention poem I found that she used a stanza of it for a golden shovel. That seemed as good a reason as any to revisit the golden shovel form from 2017 for this month’s hindsight challenge, and remember the particular challenges of that form. Our task this month is to either revise a poem, or write a poem in concert with a poem we’ve written before, and after these last couple of weeks, I think a golden shovel will serve nicely as a complimentary complex and chaotic form (for me – YMMV). Through a crippling heatwave, massive thunderstorms, multiple lightning-sparked wildfires, days of gray skies and breath-stealing smoke, rolling power blackouts, more humidity than I am generally prepared to deal with, AND A COMPLICATED NOVEL REVISION, August has been A Month, and I certainly need more words than mine to describe it.

And yet it’s somewhat startling to discover that it’s nearly September. I’m definitely over August, but September seems… a guest come too soon. Schools are open, faculty are stumbling into the new normal, and somewhere, some eejit is muttering already about Ugg boots pumpkin spice. And yet, it feels like this wild summer cannot possibly be finished with us yet. Too much has happened. Too many continued conflagrations spark from all corners of the world. What next? Who knows. There’s no way to engage our much valued foresight – and in 2020, our hindsight is wholly broken.

I saved this image from the graphic design journal, Print (which folded in 2017) years ago. Like the 17th century English proverb, “Enough is as good as a feast,” this particular quote has inspired me for a long time. Regardless of the David Pearson’s flowing graphic design, and his quirky title – “Fortune Cookie,” the words themselves are simple and a bit stark. The most we can do is our best. There’s literally nothing else – at all – that we can do. And while so many struggle against the changes this virus has wrought in the world, reeling from continued disappointments and discomfort, giving in to depression, the truth remains: the most we can do is our best, and not a single thing more. If you’re doing your best? Take a breath. You’ve done what you can. You’re doing all right.

The science writer for The Atlantic, Ed Yong was on NPR’s Code Switch this week, and said something else which resonated and informed my golden shovel thoughts. He said, “Throughout much of the year, people have asked themselves, how can we get back to normal? And I think radial introspection begins with understanding that ‘normal’ wasn’t so great for everyone.” Beneath the strictures of a suddenly shifted society, where the change is impersonal – and permanent – there is room only for acquiescence and acceptance. It is what it is – and the most we can do is our best to take what was and sift from it what should never have been and make what we have better than what went before. Tall order, that. But can we do anything else? Do we have any other choice?


the fortune

it dins and rattles on. the
year a scything saw blade, felling most
of normalcy. the things we
held, befouled, bereft, bereaved. how can
we amend ‘grieve’ to do?
adjust acceptance to what is?
the past imperfect, gone – our
present, tense. come, future, be our best.


Roll call for the poetry peeps! Many of our student and educator friends are treading pretty deep waters this month with the reprise of digital/distance learning, and haven’t quite made it back to poetry yet – we salute them and we’ll see them next month. Meanwhile, writing to our challenge this month is Laura’s, whose poem is here, and Michelle, whose leap into foresight is here. Carol is revisiting a firefly poem here. A very busy Sara alighted briefly here, while Tricia is here. Stay tuned for other poets checking in.

Graciously hosting Poetry Friday at My Juicy Little Universe, Heidi is remembering the other September when so much changed we thought we would never find “normal” again.

If you could have anything in the World that you wanted to put there, what would you add? I know what I’d want – you. We need you in this strange new reality in which we find ourselves. Rest up this weekend – we’ve all got a lot to do to remake a more just society. Just don’t forget – only try to carry what fits into your arms. Take a breath – and you may find the first step is easier.


TECH SUPPORT NOTES: Several of you have contacted me about various weirdnesses involved in you commenting on these blog posts – you should in theory be able to comment now, even if you log in from a WordPress.com site instead of .org; as always, updates and fixes are ongoing. Thank you for your patience!

18 Replies to “{pf poetry peeps: hindsight is a golden shovel}”

  1. “…the most we can do is our best to take what was and sift from it what should never have been and make what we have better than what went before.”

    Oh, my goodness, yes.

    Your poem is brilliant. I love so many things about it. The form, the spine of it, those final lines and the way you’ve played with tense and tension.

    My best hasn’t always felt good enough in 2020. I’ll keep trying, though.

    1. @Karen Edmisten: I think all of us have had moments of our best not feeling good enough, but fortunately, we know that feelings are fleeting (also charm and beauty, same). If there was ever a time for faith in knowing what we know, it is now… ♥

  2. Time and time again this year I have been so thankful for our rural Qld lifestyle. For sure we have been affected (loss of movement/income – and times of stress!) by 2020/COVID-19, but we have not been broken; we still have wide open spaces and a beautiful bounteous backyard. I feel so much for friends who are doing it tough. Your post is raw honesty and encouraging. And your past/present/future golden reflections are spot-on. (present, tense=masterful) Continue to be your best! (And yay for comments working!)

    1. @katswhiskers: Hello to Queensland! I don’t know what I would have done without our birds and flowers and wee garden plot during this time. I very much miss a larger wilderness in which to wander, but without a bit of yard, this would have been …unspeakable. Happy writing.

  3. Tanita, I LOVE those last two lines. So clever! And the metaphor of the year as a scything saw blade. Yes. Yes. This is one of several reminders over past months that getting “back to normalcy” is probably not gonna happen–and it’s maybe not even what we should wish for. Thank you for the encouragement to work toward something better. Something bigger. Something that makes “normal” a safe place for all the humans on our planet.

    1. @laurasalas: I share your concern that my poetry has become cranky, so I was trying to look at the bigger picture — thank you for the reminder to do that. And I love the idea – of making “normal” safe. A good thing to strive toward.

  4. Thank you, Tanita, for mentioning my poem. It was quit a surprise to see your opening.
    The Most We Can Do Is Our Best is a message that should be in every classroom and in every office so thank you for showcasing it and then using the line as a strike line in a golden shovel poem.
    The following lines bring reality into razor focus: “the/
    year a scything saw blade, felling most/of normalcy.”
    I love how you crafted the closing under the title fortune: “our
    present, tense. come, future, be our best.”
    With hope, we can move forward as change agents.

  5. I’ve saved your entire post for a return when 2020 continues on in its erratic journey, Tanita, have often wondered about that “return to normal” when “‘normal’ wasn’t so great for everyone.” Choosing this form to underline the thoughts of just what we can do will carry me on to September and yes, I too am rather startled that it is that autumn month when in other years we anticipated its beauty but without trepidation. Thank you for all your words, “best” today!

    1. @lindabaie: I, too, must return to this post, if only to look at that poster again and remember that despite what this year slings at us, we can only do what we can do – and to remember to keep doing it!

      Here’s to my favorite season, and striving to make it something to anticipate with joy for everyone, and not just me.

  6. Thank you for the image (if I were to get a tattoo, this might be it), for your poem (oh. my. goodness.), and for YOU. You are who I want in my world, and someday maybe close enough to visit for a cup of tea and the sound of your voice and your laughter.

    1. @Cousin MaryLee: Oh, wouldn’t that be lovely? Close enough to be proper neighbors! And (not) get our tattoos together! In spite of everything, it was the best fortune from our crumbling world cookie to have found you, friend.

  7. “Scything saw blade” that keeps on chopping. We are emerging from Hurricane Laura wondering what does 2020 want with us. Your golden shovel and the thoughts leading to it are universal and leave me with some sense that maybe I am doing my best. We start back to school next week, if waters recede and power returns. I’ve never been so unsure of what lies ahead.

  8. I think we need some deep breaths, our task ahead will overflow what we can carry but must be addressed. But we can, as in your poem you invite us,
    “come, future, be our best.”
    Thanks for your deep and poignant thoughts Tanita, especially on how we can proceed and tackle what lies ahead; and for the Ed Young link. I’m not quite ready for September either, but will take a breath and dive in.

  9. This poem made me cry, in large part because there is no sense of normalcy and doing my best is so damn hard. Your questions have given me much to think about, but for now, I’m just bereaved.
    Thank you for sharing this amazing golden shovel.

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