This was the second poem I wrote after the order to social distance was issued in Missouri. We had actually just had Spring Break at my University the week prior, and the order to move everything online had come in the middle of that week, so I had already been thinking about being home all the time, looking for the positives in a full, however temporary or not, rupture to ordinary schedules and routines. Mourning the loss of face-to-face classroom experience and regular interaction with my colleagues on campus, I also found that going outside, even just at our apartment complex, was altered, and in a good way: with non-essential businesses beginning to limit their hours, evenings grew much quieter–less traffic on the roads, fewer lights from local businesses lighting the sky. I noticed stars that I have not been able to see since we moved here. At the same time, news outlets were broadcasting scenes of the changes in downtown and public spaces across the country–the dimmed lights of Broadway, the closed stadiums, the quieter city streets. Now, I am a huge fan of all of these things–of Broadway, of ball games, of concerts, and of vibrant downtowns humming with action; but, I am also a fan of silence and the dark. Likewise, I am a fan of my work, and also of not-working; both crave the daily routines and rely on the benchmarks of success in my career, and also fantasize about not having to get dressed daily and strive to achieve. I am a creature of contradictions, and I am not able easily to reconcile these oftentimes disparate desires, and I know I am not the only one who struggles with that, right alongside the struggle of both needing and wanting to be around people and needing and wanting to be alone. This poem came as I contemplated my idea of a sort of utopia, an after-the-flattened-curve where we humans had learned to balance these things and to value them, and each other, equally. It’s a dream vision, as much as anything; perhaps unrealistic and even undesirable in ways, but also an invitation to look, think, and feel differently.
A View From the Other Side of the Flattened Curve
When we are safely on the other side
of this, may we remember and retain
the things that it revealed to us as lovely:
Mornings with no agenda,
Long, quiet, introspective afternoons, and
Clear-skied evenings devoid of floodlights.
In downtowns and stadiums and suburbs
dimmed nightly by pandemic closures,
suddenly visible: the million-million stars
some are seeing for the first time
since childhood camping trips–
Lighting our way to dreams
and to another tomorrow that
we can collectively share, maybe better–
full of hope, and life, and love, together–
a goal to bolster us through our fears.
(Written on 3/21/2020)
I invite those who are also writing creatively in response to the pandemic to share their words in the comments below. I am sharing the “poem-a-day” on Instagram and Twitter, as well; follow me @mridleyelmes !