Empty Shelves, Full Hearts
By Laura L. Kieley
A lone roaster chicken at the bottom of an empty meat cooler.
A woman who hovered far too closely as I drew the last fresh bread loaf off the rack.
No chicken broth.
No ice cream.
Very few tins of tuna left, askew on the shelf.
This was my last trip to the grocery store before the lockdown. It felt weirdly apocalyptic.
I was still feeling edgy that evening as I sat down at my desk to log in to the Guild’s Open Mic session being held via Zoom. The day had unsettled me. Would I actually be able to focus on listening to the readers the way I wanted to? The session started and then something magical happened. My little office, tucked away behind my kitchen, became filled with the sounds and rhythms of other women’s voices. Other women’s words.
Two featured poets read first. Accomplished poet Cynthia Manick read two poems. In Self-Portrait #5 (Phoenix and Lullabies), she says, “Sometimes I am a brown-belly songbird who knows the tongue can be a land not beaten…” Her voice was lyrical and soothing, her images arresting and provocative, and the dichotomy shook me from my edginess.
Then Myra Shapiro, a longtime Guild poetry leader who has inspired our members for many years, acknowledged what a comfort it was to be with everyone given the day she had just had, and I felt the same. She compared our online gathering with a feast, and shared a few poems about food. One had been published in the New Yorker. “These are the Pearls” is a moving piece about the loss of her husband that I had heard before, but as Myra read, it felt like I was hearing it for the first time.
A peaceful feeling washed over me. Other women began to read and I found I could listen deeply. Many of these women were familiar to me. To hear their voices, see their faces and listen to their stories was as much a gift to me as my listening was to them. Perhaps more so.
That night we had about 20 readers. One woman from the Caribbean island of Dominica shared her story of recovery following a hurricane. I was amazed at what these women could tell me in three minutes or less, and how they could make me feel such a range of emotion. I listened, I laughed, smiled and at times I found tears stinging my eyes.
To find community and connection with other women in this quarantined time, to listen, and in turn, have the chance to be heard – these are gifts. In these uncertain times, our voices matter more than ever before. Our need to be heard matters. To deeply listen and bear witness builds community, and that hasn’t been taken away from us, it’s just finding a different form. It is important that we continue to find ways to listen to each other, and be heard.
Come join us for our next Open Mic on Sunday evening, May 17th. Register here.
Laura L. Kieley is an experienced communications/marketing professional and an award-winning writer.
She grew up on the not-so-tropical island of Newfoundland, Canada and is working on her first novel.
She has been a member of the Guild since 2003 and has served on the Board since June 2016. She holds a Bachelors of Arts in Political Science as well as a Masters in International Affairs from Carleton University in Ottawa.