Sometimes a moment changes everything.
At the end of March when so much of this ever-spinning world felt unknown and out of order, before the disruption of everything we used to know, I put together a virtual poetry night. There was a note posted about when and where, and if people wanted to come listen or share, there was a space for both. Poems were spoken into a universe that was wounding us, and we were all made anew despite all that wanted us to give in.
That was before we knew what we know now. Before we recognized the collective effort it would take to exist in a pandemic. Before marches and protests. Before many of us were woken from a bad sleep disoriented. Before our Instagrams went dark for a day and back to the regularly scheduled programming the next. Before the fire last time and this time, before some folks hit the snooze button and re-awoke to an alarm crashing in, before it all happened. At one point there wasn’t a pandemic, and the next day, there it was, not caring what plans were already made, which loved ones we had lined up to hug in the coming months, or which events we wanted to attend.
We come to this story in medias res. Poetry poured out into the lives of the 20 or so folks who attended. Some listened, some took notes, some snapped when they heard poems they’d never heard before. In the middle of things, we found time and space to let poetry consume us, even if only for an hour. We shared emotion that felt too big for one of us to carry alone. Perhaps this is what withness is.
Thinking about that moment now, after everything that has happened and right before everything else that is yet to come, I find myself in a hard moment that could change everything in front of me. A moment that feels like a crossroad of standing firmly planted to weather the storm or to uproot before the hurricane visits. I am in higher education and students are coming back to campus. This is the most scared for everyone’s lives that I’ve been since March when nobody knew what this thing was. When we rushed everyone off campuses across the world. And now, we rush them back. New policies in place. New procedures of mask-wearing, social distancing, and zero tolerance when it comes to gatherings. Perhaps too much hoping and not enough common sense. Scared is an understatement.
There is a poem by Sarah Kay called “Here and Now.” I read it to start this poetry night as a way of telling folks that this is all I have right now. When we don’t know what’s happening, we pile things into our hands, our arms, on our shoulders because we don’t yet know that which will save us. Today—on the precipice of all that is coming, so much we still do not know—I am coming back to this poem.
Here and now, I have only these hands, / this mouth, this skin as wide as a shoreline, / this beehive between my ears, this buzz, this buzz. / You are the best thing I never planned. / This is the widest I can stretch my arms without / dropping things. This is the first time I don’t care / if I drop things. This is what dropping / things feels like. This is what happens when / the flowers wake up one morning and decide to / smell human: it confuses us, makes us / reach backwards into places that are sharp, / feel around for what we’ve dropped. I have / forgotten what I was looking for. It doesn’t / seem important. You brought me flowers. / You made the bed. This is the widest I can / stretch my arms. This is all I have right now.
The world feels upside down, and still, there’s a quiet hum getting louder every day. Something like a small chorus inside of darkness vibrating towards hope. Maybe it’s in my bones where I’m learning to create with tools I can’t see. There’s a horizon for every soul I’m carrying. There’s going to be some things I inevitably drop, slipping between my fingers as I clutch tighter, trying with all my energy to save it. This is the widest I can stretch my arms. This is all I have right now.