Paige Elizabeth Wajda, a science fiction writer and poet with surrealist tendencies, is in her element in the COVID-19 pandemic. “The reason I write is to escape to other worlds, and in those other worlds, find an alternative to suffering,” she says. “The desert is the perfect place to conjure other versions of reality; the stark landscape makes one look closer for signs of life.”
Her forthcoming poetry collection, Not Far Enough, follows a narrative that begins on a desert planet modeled on the landscapes of the Coachella Valley, where Wajda, a La Quinta resident, was born and raised. “It ventures to otherworldly places of Europe, dives into escapism of religion and video games, and finally explores a starry-eyed journey in the outer reaches of the cosmos,” she explains.
While sheltering in place in April — National Poetry Month — Wajda wrote 10 new poems (several appear below this story). For her efforts, the California Desert Arts Council (CDAC) has awarded Wajda a $500 grant to “Keep Art Alive” during the COVID-19 crisis. CDAC and affiliate La Quinta Arts Foundation established a $50,000 Keep Art Alive fund to award grants to Coachella Valley artists and arts organizations who create thoughtful, inspiring, and relevant works.
Wajda holds a master’s degree in creative writing with an emphasis in poetry from University of Edinburgh. She completed her bachelor’s degree in literature at University of California, Santa Barbara. She worked as head of poetry at The Selkie and taught Life Writing for Seniors, a free weekly course at the Cathedral City Library.
Read more by Paige Elizabeth Wajda at her website.
4/6/20 — Triptych
After The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch
(visited on Google Chrome)
I crawled out from a place of blue hills.
In that land, plates of steel surrounded our valleys,
so that every word was funneled upward to God.
Yes, it was beautiful, especially once we grew legs.
We adapted to a life of abundant oxygen. In every kiss
a sea was made. We were allowed every touch, then,
and dissent never crossed our minds.
But none can live in childhood forever.
I left the toy block castle, all its comforting geometry
and feathers. They chased me out, actually,
with claws and prayer. I befriended a porcupine,
learnt what it really meant to be ostracized, just for not being soft.
But I learnt, too, that if I grew hard, I could not be eaten.
As far as Earth goes, I’d never learn to fly, but I could ride
on the back of a horse, which is close enough.
We galloped toward damnation on steel hooves.
The sky in hell is more than black, it’s a thing erased.
Here, at last, we no longer need to hide our strangeness.
4/7/20 — Carte Blanche
“A mayor ordered police to crack down on social gatherings. They found his wife at a bar.” (CNN)
“I instructed the police chief to ensure that she receives no special treatment,” Walker’s statement read.
I said one more round, barkeep, one more Coors.
I said let me sit here at the barstool before you a spell,
til the cops break down this door and pour over
these punks like sugar-water on ice.
Chug-a-lug, you warned. I said, ahh, yes, this hits the spot.
I laid my unarmed hands on the table. They asked for ID.
Oh officer, it’s been quite a while since I turned twenty-one.
He mumbled to his partner of the delinquency of my last name.
Hold on, let me just tip the barkeep. He’s been good to me.
Eye-candy for the old bat. After lights out in the jail cell,
I’ll play his film upon the bars. I’ll light up my electric solitude,
long after the buzz wears off.
They’d love to ask me if it was worth it. Putting everyone at risk,
my husband’s reputation on the line. But I’ll be gone by then, hiding
beneath the carte blanche of a tombstone, indulged by myself,
scrubbed of my duties.
4/23 — April Showers Bring May Flowers
A: the awning under which we would stand
with running rainwater laughing down the roof.
P: the umbrella which covers us on merry frolicking
around the neighborhood, singsongy and puddle-splashing.
This is how it should be — reality reflected in immutable adages.
But this is La Quinta: April heat waves bring May heatwaves.
R is an essential worker sweating through a homemade mask
sliding down her face, made from a t-shirt from a team-building
work party several years ago, when her biggest fear was
accidentally eating too many donuts.
I is a yoga pose attempted to conduct serenity and peace,
strong like a tree, you think, your heart yammering, praying
that the A/C won’t quit at this essential time, because there are
no malls, no Starbucks, no libraries in which to hide.
L is the straight-backed chair from which you flood your eyes
with yet more gruesome news, death tolls, predictions, and more:
fields of snow. You shut your eyes, imagine that crisp mountain air
pumping through the vents, hoping that the blood-warming climate spike
is temporary, like this panic trilling through your vulnerable lungs.