Climbing the Walls - House of Pestilence - Donna Barkman

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House of Pestilence
By Donna Barkman

Artist Statement:
I live alone and like it. Meetings have been scrapped, and other socializing discouraged.  I’ve tried a few zoom gatherings and found the technology temperamental, with participants alI looking like ghouls.  I hate to shop (food, clothes, sundries – whatever they are), so altogether this lock-down, lock-out time has been a respite for me.  In what turned out to be a serendipitous joke (hard to explain), a friend sent me 20 rolls of toilet paper for my birthday. Comestibles are ordered online or brought to me by my son or considerate neighbors (“be sure to check on the elderly).  My free time has mostly concentrated on chasing and capturing crickets and other critters.  

As a writer/actor, Donna Barkman has performed her solo plays, “Hand-Me-Downs: Scenes from a Life with a Little Help from Antigone and Mother Goose,” and “Sticks and Stones and Women’s Bones,” in New York City and environs. produced in NYC and Westchester. She wrote and performed two pieces in The Ides of March at the Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art. Sticks and Stones and Women’s Bones, directed by Mara Mills was written based on Scar Tissue, an art installation by Jo-Ann Brody and performed in 2017 at HVCCA. Her poetry has appeared in The Westchester Review,, Bray Arts Journal, Chautauqua, Boston Literary Review, and others. Her poetry has appeared in Chautauqua, Boston Literary Review, String Poet, Per Contra, Pennsylvania English, Trivia: Voices of Feminism, and others, as well as in many anthologies. Ms. Barkman served as a juror for the Bronx Council on the Arts Poetry Competition and has regularly written and performed poetry and short plays for many ekphrastic events at Upstream Gallery and Hudson MOCA for in Westchester, and Ceres Gallery, New York City.

Donna Barkman


Year-round crickets cohabit in my cellar, not

           the singing kind, not the good-luck kind,

the kind that doesn’t succumb to fogging bombs.

In winter, cluster flies buzzily congregate

           on my kitchen windows; in summer

carpenter ants deconstruct a roof here, a porch

           floor there, oblivious to Orkin.

Spiders line my bedroom walls with arachnid

           décor far above a broom’s or dust rag’s reach.

Another spider species, vacationers no doubt, create web

           hammocks that swing from beam to beam.

Yesterday, a centipede in the shower.

What are the bugs that look like shields, lurk

           in clothes closets, cling to my sleeves?

Look it up: pentatomidae: eaten in Laos, commonly

           known as stinkbugs.  Little appetizers for some.

My house is damp; it sits on springs (not the pogo-stick kind) and attracts insects of many kinds, mostly crickets – spider or brown crickets in the cellar.  I lay out glue-trays that are filled quickly with stuck carcasses and still some vagrants manage to come upstairs into the sink or shower. They are jumpers and hard to pin down - once caught in a scrunch of tissue, their bodies squash, their long legs crackle – disgusting.  The stink bugs are a cinch, literally – into the toilet they go.  

Exhausted for some reason, I spend hours awake in bed, just thinking, or trying to.  And reading when I can concentrate on words.  Mostly magazine articles, as books are heavy, long and too full of complex plots and ideas. I’ve memorized my ceiling – pine planks with many decorative dark brown circles, probably old knot holes, its own work of art. Since I’m tired and distracted by the constant influx of bad pandemic and political news, I go to bed early.  A bit of irony: I hate the dark and find the Sunday in November when the time changes the worst day of the year – we lose what little light we have at dusk.  But now, in May, I’m wishing for an earlier sunset because I’m going to bed in daylight.  Each day I think of my mother reading to me from Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses:  

           In winter I get up at night

And dress by yellow candle-light.

In summer quite the other way.

           I have to go to bed by day.

All in all, compared to many, if not most, this has been an easy time for me.  Like so many, too many, I’m not suffering or sick. I’m not yearning for companionship or action (I play ping pong with my son a few times a week, easy distancing) and walk my dog daily.  There’s more email, phone calls and texting than I want.  I should be accomplishing something, being constructive – as many of my friends are, to wit: Feeling a bit blah but still making my way around the kitchen with my cleaning cloths. I have reached the last drawer: knives. I will sharpen the knives before I put them back. Whoopie! I have two more high cupboards to go before I have to face the oven.  Would that I have this determination.  Maybe tomorrow I will brush the dog, vacuum the house, buy and plant some outdoor pots.  Or not.

To conclude, I’m looking for some profound lesson I’ve learned, to pass along, but I have none: I’ve been through worse and no doubt will do again.

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“Theatre takes place all the time wherever one is, and art simply facilitates persuading us this is the case”

- John Cage