Cases Climbing US cases climbing--we're on the rise-- And banned from traveling to Europe. I don't blame them. This time last summer I was finding Comfort among strangers at the Louvre, Riding the metro, dining indoors. And now--none of that. This wouldn't be over if our president Had addressed the crisis competently, But it wouldn't be like this. Mask-less masses flooding to malls and bars In the name of individual liberty, Tasked with restarting the economy Our leaders failed to protect. How long must we traverse the Yellow Brick Road to the capitalist's Oz Before we look down and see its path littered with lives lost. When will we recognize the haze around Emerald City As our planet's global warming problem. When will we comprehend our pursuit of normal As a threat to our collective existence. Not today apparently, America.
Barbershop Existentialism I gave my first haircut on a Sunday afternoon. My training--a six minute YouTube tutorial-- That taught me how to fade Hair cut with size 2 clippers Into hair cut with size 4. (The secret is size 3.) Afterward I swept my husband's hair Into a plastic sandwich bag Unwilling to part with his locks. Last week on a cemetery walk A friend and I discussed what we would do with ashes, Ours and others. I'm afraid to possess ashes Or linger about myself on a shelf. I fear violating a local ordinance with My last bodily act if I'm scattered to the winds. Internment seems like my best option, perhaps in an unmarked grave, Because all memorials fade and chip and erode, Giving in to the entropy of the universe. I hang on to things like hair and souvenirs and diaries In hopes that they will gain significance, But in my most anxious moments, I sometimes wish all traces of me would vanish. We are from dust and To dust we shall return. But where did dust come from? And who needs a haircut?
Grocery Jokes My first trip inside a grocery store Since March. A woman stood too close to me in the salt aisle. A mask-less man laughed too near me by the potato bins. I used to love the sound of laughter, Eliciting it from the crowd, But now it makes me think of projectile molecules-- A force behind the spread of germs. And I'm not so funny anymore, Only David here to hear my jokes. He's been telling better one's lately.
Glute Bridge to God I returned to work last week, Leading workouts in a parking lot. I was lying on the ground in a glute bridge hold When the sun escaped a cloud And struck my eyes, Blinding me like Paul on the road to Damascus. I wanted to call out to God, But my mask was suffocating, And anyways it was time to give instructions For the next move.
This is to tell you what side I'm fighting on When we look back at our Instagram timelines, We'll see a black square That marks the week Black Lives Matter Jumped ahead of coronavirus in the headlines. And rightfully so. Systematic racism has been around for centuries Doing untold harm. When we look back at our Facebook timelines, We'll see our public statements Vowing to be anti-racists. We'll see the book recommendations we shared, The links to petitions we signed, The bail out organizations we supported Because nine minutes is too long to kneel on A man's neck. Archivists will catalogue pictures of A looted Target, A police car on fire, Cops kneeling alongside protestors, Peaceful protestors attacked with tear gas, The president holding up a Bible, And they'll wonder about the goodness Of those involved Like we've debated heavily amongst ourselves. The hindsight of history has taught us That people--good, evil, human--can easily Be swept up in bad systems-- Systems that enslave, incarcerate, or kill unjustly. Systems that sick neighbors at each other's throats. I believe we're better served by being critical of our system Than we are by defending the goodness of ourselves or our ancestors. There's a toll to silence. There's a toll to inaction. There's a toll to looking the other way. Too many have paid the fines for our indifference. It's time to make a change.
Studying In college, I took a class in public policy. It was one of my harder classes. I wrote a report on the HUD. We studied a famous plane crash (unrelated). I think it happened in the state of New York Sometime in the 80s. I could be wrong. It wasn't Sully's landing. That was later. The problem in the crash we studied Happened during the landing. My government professor, A lean older man with a bald head and wire rimmed glasses, Commented that most problems occur during takeoff or landing, Which has made me feel better in flight ever since. I was a nervous flier in college. Today, I am a nervous pandemic participant (unwillingly drafted). I wonder what future public policy students Will learn about the coronavirus response And how it might make them feel better--compress their fears Like studying that plane crash did mine.
Talking through a cloth mask is like
Making out with a bed sheet.
And it’s hard to trust eyes alone
Without a smile to go with them,
Or a frown,
Or a smooth line of indifference.
Still, I wear one
Because I want to keep others safe from me.
The only deadlines we have now are pickup times:
The CSA on Tuesday,
The Farmers Market on Wednesday,
Kroger this Thursday.
I ordered five cases of LaCroix
Because I’ve been out for over a month.
We pick up the meat next week–
I can’t remember exactly when.
Friends have begun asking if I’m willing to meet.
Not me. Not yet.
I’m considering a June opening.
Although you can see me on Zoom
For workouts and game nights
And family get togethers and meet ups
And political debates and staff meetings.
I’m usually at least one minute late to these.
–cue corny joke about the traffic from my bedroom to the living room–
–there’s always a pile up in the hallway–
It’s possible I will fall into the abyss
My body’s hollowing out of the Ikea couch in the living room.
I sit outside on the deck chairs when I can
Or on a rolled up yoga mat on the hardwood floor
Using the coffee table as a desk.
But the abyss always draws me back.
The other morning David and I
Switched who showered first,
And we spent the whole time making breakfast
Running into each other in our small kitchen.
There’s value to routine.
I don’t want out of Georgia.
I’ve become quite a fan
Of grits and Southern hospitality.
Also, I have a man.
You’d have me run from racism
Take refuge–you demand,
Escape to where liberal elites make fun of Donald Trump
While the electoral college binds their hands.
I understand you’re scared for me
Because our governor lifted the bans.
But I’m scared for you,
You think you’re safe in a state that’s blue
When the US is one land.
Do you remember what happened post-Reconstruction
When Jim Crow took command?
He was a minstrel character. Don’t laugh!
There’s a noose dangling from his hands.
I don’t want out of Georgia.
I want you to understand.
Fleeing ignorance isn’t going to stop it.
I’ll stay here and do what I can.
Since David and I first announced we were moving to Atlanta, we’ve been sensitive to comments from friends who’ve said they could never live in the South. You don’t exactly have a lot of choice about where you find a position as an academic, and we feel lucky to have ended up in Atlanta, a major metropolitan area and the birthplace of the civil rights movement. Our area of town is a liberal enclave with farmers markets and local restaurants similar to what we experienced in Berkeley.
Still, I will admit the past couple weeks haven’t been the best for being a citizen of Georgia. Our governor lifted stay at home restrictions and suggested businesses with close contact like hair salons and massage parlors should reopen despite not seeing a steady decline in the number of new coronavirus cases. On top of that, we learned through social media about Ahmaud Arbery, a black unarmed jogger who was killed in Brunswick, Georgia, in February, and whose white assailants hadn’t yet been charged (they have now).
In the midst of these two news storms, a friend posted on Facebook saying she would help find a place for anyone who wanted to leave Georgia. I’m not sure whether her comments were regarding Georgia’s reopening, the Ahmaud Arbery case, or something else. I do know she was well intentioned, and I know I occupy a privileged position here in Atlanta. I’ve been able to stay sheltered in place, and I feel relatively safe jogging around my neighborhood.
But maybe it’s because I am in this position of privilege that I chafe at the suggestion that I should leave a city I’ve grown to love. What’s happening here in Georgia is scary and dangerous, but it doesn’t make me want to leave. Not yet anyway. It makes me want to figure out how now, even in this lockdown, I can be an advocate for the changes I want to see: the implementation of public health policies backed by science and the dismantling of systematic racism.
Work out. Shower. Breakfast. Start the day
With a steaming cup of chicory.
On the deck, looking up at the dimming sky between the trees.
Cheese and crackers. Pink wine. A home cooked dinner.
What comes between is more complex.
Working remotely as a fitness instructor.
“3, 2, 1, Go!”
Writing these poems.
“Keep it up!”
Taking care of home projects.
“You’ve got this!”
Trying not to give all my time away to
Social media posts and news reports that often leave me
Outraged, frightened, feeling impotent.
Trying to devote just enough of my time
To television shows and movies
So I’m entertained but not binging.
Every night I meditate in bed
(to keep up my streak on Insight Timer).
Breathe in. Breathe out.
If that’s not enough to drift off,
I cue up an audiobook.
Something engaging but low stakes–
Like this poem.
I read a post about starting a journal during the pandemic that suggested it’s useful to write now just to document what daily life is like. So my poem this week is my attempt at that.
It’s easy for me to get caught up in the negative aspects of the current situation. This week I wanted to talk about what I’m grateful for, like sitting in the backyard at the end of the day with David, and how much I value aspects of my routine like starting the day with a work out (most days, not every day).
In March, I listened to a news conference given by Anthony Cuomo and was comforted by this slide he shared that said, “Remember this is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. We must each do our part and we must adjust.” Over a month later and with no end in sight, I’m wondering if the first part might be revised to something like, remember this isn’t a marathon, it’s an ultra marathon.
I’ve never trained for an ultra, but from what I’ve heard, it’s about focusing on the journey. And that’s what we’re on right now–a journey–together, collectively, but mostly in our own homes. On this journey, my life has been trimmed down to the essentials–simple mornings, simple evenings, and whatever comes between.
This is what I look like when I’m making dinner:
The space between here and normal
Stretches further than from here to where we started.
Seven weeks of restless nights and grim mornings,
Waking to a world gripped by pandemic.
Remember when we thought this might be one week or two?
Now months roll out the red carpet,
An endless walk to “business as usual”
With reporters posed as paparazzi screaming headlines.
I don’t know quite how to explain the dread in my chest
The ideological divide in our country and the distrust of science
Hollow me out like a carcass plucked by vultures on the roadside.
Over 30 million unemployment claims in the US.
Widening inequalities mounting on a local, national, and global scale.
I’m afraid what will happen if I contract coronavirus.
I grew up with asthma after all.
I miss being with my family, I worry for them,
And I hate not knowing when we’ll be together again.
Some ties have grown stronger, others weaker.
I want to talk to everybody and nobody.
I don’t know what I’m doing creatively,
And I miss being part of a group of artists.
I worry about my experience of this experience.
Am I making the most of living through this?
Am I properly enraged at my representatives?
Have I created the right art?
What if I come out of this not having helped anyone?
What if I haven’t checked enough To Do’s off my list?
What if the only things marked as done are
My List on Netflix,
My Watchlist on Amazon Prime,
My Stuff on Hulu?
I’d hate to look back and realize
The talent I’d wasted
While COVID-19 ravaged on.
I thought if I made it through April
There’d be some sort of clarity.
There are times in our lives we just have to get through.
Turn the Tide
A pile of plastic floats in the ocean,
Human garbage collecting in the water.
We only contributed an iota–it was minuscule what we shed–
But the tide will roll over us all.
Coronavirus–we didn’t start it.
But it’s been churning,
And as we’re learning,
Its waves will wash over us all.
Is it too much to hope that a society racked by coronavirus–
That economies toppled–could be rebuilt in a way
Where we don’t have to sell each other as many “disposable” goods?
Where renewable energy sources reduce our carbon footprint from a polar bear’s to a kitten’s paw?
A Green New Deal has already been written
by skies that choke on emissions
by waterways that gag on waste
by fish that eat our plastic bit by bit
by trees that have been fell
by forests that have burned due to extreme temperatures
by humans who have died during heatwaves
by coral reefs that sit silent as cemeteries
by species that are endangered or extinct
by land animals who’ve been displaced
by humans who’ve been forced to migrate
by conflicts that will escalate as temperatures rise.
I’ve never heard it called “the happy ending of the commons,”
But maybe it could be
If we can turn the tide for us all.
A new coronavirus poem–this one in honor of Earth Day.
When the outbreak started, I hoped it might provide an opportunity for humanity to come together and unite not only against coronavirus but also in the fight against climate change. I’ve hesitated to express this opinion because of the toll that coronavirus is taking both economically and in lives lost.
But if I’ve learned anything from history, it’s that ruthless ideologies can take hold in the wake of devastation and declaring these ideologies inhumane is not enough to stop their spread.
For those of us who want to ensure the future of the planet and who are concerned with the inequalities that climate change will aggravate further, we have to know: What are the ideas that we will rally behind? What changes to society will we champion? What sacrifices are we willing to make in a time where so much is already being sacrificed?