Welcome to earthweal’s twenty-first open link weekend. Share a poem of your own preference – new or old, rosy or blue. Open links taken through Sunday; be sure to visit other linkers and comment.
In a recent PBS Frontline report on the height of the coronavirus pandemic in Italy, we follow a doctor going through her rounds in a hospital overwhelmed with the viral dying and dead.
It is not easy viewing but utterly necessary to understand the long shadow of pandemic. It should be required viewing for those too eager and careless about resuming their pre-COVID existence.
In one scene, the doctor comes home after a futile day of not saving very many and watching many of her co-workers succumb. After rigorously cleaning up, she asks her teenaged children what they had done for homework and they reply they are writing about the virus.
The exhausted doctor—happy to be home but terrified she will infect her family, does not have an encouraging response. “Let’s say that the only positive thing about this pandemic is that there’s no pollution,” she says. “Only that, the rest is tragedy.”
It occurs to me that the world I live in is so hellbent to get back to its old life because it hasn’t paid adequate witness to that tragedy. It happens afar—in quarantined rooms and hospitals on restricted access, in nursing homes of other people’s mothers and in distant countries.
The world so in haste to open back up is more captivated by what it gave than any concern about saving lives. Perhaps failing to acknowledge that tragedy makes it blind to its own tragedy, that there’s no going back now. The pre-COVID era is still so close by – only a few months —it’s hard to recognize that it’s already dead.
Another great look into the COVID pandemic was on CBS 60 Minutes last Sunday. Titled “What Will Be The Long Term Effects of the Coronavirus Pandemic?”, Jon Wertheim tied it closely to climate crisis. 2020 started out with a wildfire’s continental roar (that surely seemed bad enough moodiness from Mother Nature) and then completely emptied out from a pandemic caused by trespass too deep in the wild.
How big was that second event? Greater than I have been able to properly conceive.
“We might speak achingly of our pre-COVID existences,” Wertheim said. “But life has changed—abruptly, profoundly and irretrievably. We will instead go hurtling into a new era.”
And what will that hurtling new era be for us? The question is resonant at earthweal: Will we listen to the Earth and those who study it closely and change our ways? Or do we continue to our blind mad dash into an even surlier, more destructive future?
The Indian novelist Arundhati Roy was interviewed in the segment following a piece she published in The Financial Times, “The Pandemic Is A Portal.” She said that the pandemic has placed us in a waiting room between the past and future, and we should think a moment about how we should stitch those two back together. This, from her essay:
Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.
We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.
Strange but perhaps magic opportunity: A fresh start.
Bill McKibben was also interviewed for the segment, and he also said the pandemic presents us with a chance to re-start things on a different foot. If we do, he said, in 60 years the world might thank us rather than curse us. The choice is collectively ours.
We have abruptly departed from one accustomed world and a vastly different one is shifting into view. And I have said before, it is for the namers—us poets, I mean—to discover the inner substance of that.
It’s not an easy task. Granted, naming never is; we write and revise and write again, rubbing away the detritus and leftover and used up and redundant. Getting to the inside of the inside, edging closer to the heart of truth.
There have been some wonderful poems here recently to that effect. Recently you have helped chart a strange new world … upturned the trope of hero’s challenge to suit that voice for women, animals, Earth … and woven vast particulars into the fabric of time. This is how a new earthly weal is bonded, I think. Poem by poem.
We are fortunate to have some new voices—Lindi from South Africa and Suzanne from Australia, Kerfe from New York City and others. So happy you have found us and chosen to add your far-flung voice to the global choir. We are so much richer in sound and texture for it.
There are multiple ways to enjoin this work. Sometimes we grieve, for much of the moment is broken-hearted. However, there is so much too to celebrate; a full and grateful heart radiates hope for all. And sometimes we must rage, refusing to be ordained by broken orders and systems no longer life-affirming.
To that third end, Sherry Marr takes back over the pulpit for next week’s earthweal challenge. “Protest in a Time of Pandemic” is planned as an open space for an all-comers rally, a chance to speak out against oppressors and users and abusers. (Lord knows, so many of them are coming out of the woodworks these days.) We hope that you will show up and help the earthweal sky become a-flutter with protest banners of every stripe.
The poet’s art is ever one of picking a course through the labyrinth: this way, not that; turn here; dig there. And we are ever reminded that choices are fateful, as Robert Frost told us in poem written as the United States was just entering into the previous century. What choices he saw then remain for us today, freighted with the consequence of earlier choices.
What then, shall we choose?
THE ROAD NOT TAKEN
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.