Poetic Blackout

Confronting the news with a Sharpie

It’s been difficult for me to listen to the news this past year; something about a raging virus combined with a government that seemed to encourage its propagation crushed my historical ability to meet the terrible state of the world with something more productive than abject fear. I’ve gradually waded back into letting myself in on the day’s events—but I’m still skittish, still brought up short every now and then by the effects a little information can have on me.

Example: just a few months ago, I was convinced my mental health would be better just knowing a COVID-19 vaccine was out there, period. Naively, I believed having a time frame in which I could expect to get said shot/s would bolster my patience and resilience, lessen my fears. And it did—for about two days, before all the production and distribution problems, and all the viral variants developing as they were being confronted, were made plain.

It should be no surprise, then, that the whole situation has made it hard to write, hard to use my brain at all.1 That the anger has made me want to cross things out, not come up with more ideas or complaints or laments to add to the mix. Just cross it all out and start over. But wait—there’s an actual idea. Why not put a big X, a big fat line, through everything? I was reminded of the erasure poetry friends and colleagues have produced over the past few months,2 taking their erasers or dark markers to texts and letting only some words from the original remain standing, shaping those survivors into something entirely new. This particular “means of confrontation,” as the linked article describes as one motive for producing erasure poetry, seemed particularly apropos in my own case; if I couldn’t change the situation in which we’re living, or the contents of the reports describing it, if I couldn’t give any sort of speech, anywhere, that would make one bit of difference, I could at least engage in a therapeutic gesture. Take that, depressing reality: feel the full weight of my dismay!

What resulted from this initial experiment doesn’t quite feel like a smackdown. But the words that remained after I’d taken my Sharpie to this NPR article do, I hope, reflect something of what I’m feeling these days, hanging around helplessly and waiting to see what new sort of normal might emerge, once we’re allowed to show our faces again and figure it out together.

Waiting for the Vaccine

This would upend everything. Finally: a way out.

But—
instead—
a frequent promise, explanations
and the need to give counts.
Here, flowing all the way back to blame:
Slow in getting that money,
the money will execute a public,
the money will bring color,
that money: complicated to handle,
frozen, ultracold.

The complexity has slowed down.
A new, simpler help at the same time
arriving without waste,
looking ahead, promising:
the science can be kept for longer,
giving in the months ahead.

Many candidates very quickly go around
to all of these places.
If we don’t open up, reach each day,
more will likely crop up,
steady, at full volume, high
in every county in America,
already overstretched,
caring on their own.

That’s a problem.
It’s a problem if no idea serves
a little demand.

A major had to apologize;
there are still inconsistencies.
A steadier plan, ready awareness,
a public ready and eager
to combat and reassure:
safe and effective,
comprehensive, crucial.
Efforts planned,
efforts to get the word out.

Have confidence: go out and educate.
Advocacy, activism, questions, myths:
make a decision.

A slightly different government
trying to figure out why,
a team dedicated, inundated with questions:
why and where.
People want and
we're just not there.

Activate plans,
get answers
soon.

(An erasure poem after the original article by Selena Simons-Duffin and Pien Huang)

1

I hope you’ll take that fact into forgiving consideration with all my less-than-stellar posts of late.

2

Check out one of Lost Gander’s erasure poems, or Carrie Olivia Adams’s new collection, Be the thing of memory.