Although I haven’t been posting them on his blog, I have written several new poems during the last two years, some of them directly about the pandemic.
I think most poems sort of slip their meanings into the reader’s mind without plainly stating their focus, but this one that I’m sharing is my recollections of the pandemic as they occurred.
Last year at this time I took a Zoom writing workshop with poet Tina Mozelle Braziel, which was all about recording our experiences of the pandemic. She stressed the importance of relating our experiences as a way to express our collective impressions of this upheaval in our lives.
Everyone who has lived through the pandemic has their own story to tell, and I hope to read others’ impressions as we emerge from our covid cocoons.
We Tried to Name Our Sorrows Until We Learned This Is What the Living Feel
We were all in it together, we went it alone.
We attended funerals, weddings, bar mitzvahs
concerts, conferences, basketball games,
still ignorant of the aspirated particles in our midst.
We washed our hands to the Happy Birthday song
until we didn’t know the two red crab claws
creeping from our rolled up sleeves.
We doom-scrolled Twitter for signs of relief.
@Honeycomb said, Smear cow udder ointment,
wear cotton gloves to bed to ease torn cuticles.
We scoured surfaces with lye, sprayed germ killer, isopropyl alcohol,
witch hazel, essential oils.
We tried to ignore the sick feeling when we flushed toxins into water streams.
We opened windows and turned on fans.
We wore bandanas, gaiters, balaclavas, repurposed bras
over our mouths and noses.
We dreamed of surgical masks and dining in public
rooms with barefaced others.
We dreamed of dark passages, of driving into oncoming traffic.
We became survivalists, conspiracy theorists, kooks.
We followed directions–one way for pasta aisle, another for bakery.
Flour and yeast disappeared off shelves. Frozen pizzas,
beans, toilet paper–only two per household allowed.
When meat and chicken thinned out, the tyrant ordered
factory workers back on the job, no hazard pay, crammed
together breathing the same tainted air among the carcasses.
We watched the numbers ticking up state by state.
We were told it would disappear by Easter.
We were told it’s just a little flu.
We were told to ingest bleach and hydroxychloroquin.
We were told it came from a pangolin sold in a wet market.
We were told it was someone else’s fault.
We were told to blame the liberals, the Chinese, the Antifascists,
the scientists, the doctors, the governors of states.
We were told to stay at home.
We were told to open things up.
We parked our cars in bread lines at stadiums until we ran out of gas.
We donated to food pantries, gave out twenty-dollar bills
to people holding cardboard signs.
We spotted folks cash for Uber rides, helped family pay rent.
We made mushroom soup and discovered adaptogens.
We boosted our immune systems.
We stopped hearing cars and trucks whining above the canopy of birds.
We saw satellite photos of smog clearing over Beijing, Tokyo, Mexico City.
We saw Dolphins swimming in the turquoise canals of Venice.
We crooned ballads of gratitude on balconies at sunset.
We danced to Despacito on rooftops in the fresh air, planted
tomatoes and basil in pots.
We remembered the before times, the Himalayan salt caves
with mediums and the angels they channeled,
with zero gravity chairs, meditations
moon circles with candles, the bay leaves and crystals we buried,
rituals we continued in solitude.
We protested in the streets and declared Black Lives Matter.
We lost friendships. We stayed in touch. We cut ties.
We lost our elders, our beloveds.
We drew ourselves into storyboards that chronicled our inner journeys.
We consorted with the lions, gators, and dodos of our imagination.
We read tarot, runes, oracle cards, the stars.
We cut out silhouettes of acrobats and jugglers in gold paper.
We ate popcorn for dinner in the dark on the back porch.
We drank cheap wine from Trader Joe’s.
We scrounged around for cannabis brownies in places
where it wasn’t legal to consume.
We forgot what days and months were.
We lived inside a shaft of light.
We lived inside a leaf floating to ground.
We lived inside a wilted amaryllis blossom turned the color of a bruise.
* * *
“Wild Thing” or “Reading the Newspaper” by L. Kleysteuber, used with permission of the artist.