Sunlight & Cedar by Ken Hada

During quarantine, when not watching the news or reading a novel, I find my daily vision drawn to immediate surroundings: geese touching down in the parking lot where we safely walk (no need to come within six feet of anyone); a rabbit eating a carrot a few feet from me as I stare over the fence at a neighbor’s hot-pink crepe myrtle; a lone scissortail flycatcher drifting from pole to tree. Ken Hada’s eighth collection, Sunlight & Cedar (Strawberry Hedgehog Press, 2020), shares a similar focus, with poems populated by the trees and animals native to or flying over Oklahoma, our shared state.

Beyond these concrete images, though, something intangible becomes most visible: loneliness. And though intangible, its presence is palpable and mirrors much of our collective loss in the year of social distancing. When we reach “When Friends Gather,” after the midway point, we are ready to mourn what we miss when friends gather: “Even our bones / feel better, joints tighten, / we walk straighter.” We “flourish again.” 

I ordered this book after joining a Facebook live event in which Hada read his work. Watching him read, alone, as listeners commented in the chat stream was a surprisingly emotional experience, confirming the value of virtual events. Yes, connection is there. We’re lonely, but we can be lonely together. And in these poems, trees “hold darkness aloft,” a basket of peaches holds “the sweet promise of tomorrow,” and “We are made for the Morning. / Starting over is something / we should get right.”

Photo by Shevaun Williams

Michelle Johnson is WLT's managing and culture editor.