I wore a pair of pants to work Monday that I hadn’t worn in a couple of years. They were terribly uncomfortable, and it wasn’t just because they had a zipper and a button. I regularly wear jeans. I don’t remember them being that uncomfortable before. Could be that I gained a couple pounds, or could be my weight shifting down. All day I fidgeted, and when I got home I went straight upstairs to take them off. Tuesday morning, I read this poem about commuting to work in my Poem-a-Day email.
On Working Remotely & No Longer Commuting with Chronic Pain by Camisha L. Jones
the train leaves the station without me / so does the bus / the sidewalks stay empty of my steps—the rushed ones, the ones pierced with pain, the its-too-late-at-night to still be walking ones / i keep my cash / it doesn’t load my metro card and then another card when the first one’s lost / i don’t panic in the car about leaving late—least not as much / when winter comes, i don’t sit on the cold, cold bench waiting and waiting, clutching a pair of my stockpiled hand warmers / i don’t bundle myself up in oppressive layers / or unravel in the late night, releasing the day’s pressure like a punctured balloon / instead i sit / and continue to sit / in this chair then that one / look out the window to escape the screen’s demands / wonder how i ever had fuel for those past travels / i rest / and i rise / and listen to the body that’s carried me here as it whispers the way forward
That poem got me thinking more about the opportunity Covid offers many of us to identify things we aren’t going to add back to our lives. Whether it’s the commute, or oppressive clothing, or just the endless hamster wheel of productivity we can’t exit. Adrie Kusserow captured this well in her poem “Mary Oliver for Corona Times” last year.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body unlearn everything capitalism has taught you,
(That you are nothing if not productive,
That consumption equals happiness,
That the most important unit is the single self.
That you are at your best when you resemble an efficient machine).
Wednesday night, I went to hear poetry at Otterbein University. Maggie Smith read from her most recent collection of poems. In one poem, “In the Grand Scheme of Things,” she contemplates common sayings like the title of the poem (as if there were a grand scheme of things), the naked eye, and the way the world works. Read it for yourself in Goldenrod.
Then Saeed Jones read from a collection that will be published next year, Alive at the End of the World. In the poems he read, he captured the incredulity of the time in which we are living. He has more than one poem entitled “Alive at the End of the World” because if you look around, if you read the news, it feels as though the world is ending over and over again. Thursday morning, I read this in my Poem-a-Day email:
In the Meantime by Max Garland
The river rose wildly every seventh spring
or so, and down the hatch went the town,
just a floating hat box or two, a cradle,
a cellar door like an ark to float us back
into the story of how we drown but never
for good, or long. How the ornate numbers
of the bank clock filled with flood, how
we scraped minute by minute the mud
from the hours and days until the gears
of time started to catch and count again.
Calamity is how the story goes, how
we built the books of the Bible. Not
the one for church, but the one the gods
of weather inscribed into our shoulder
blades and jawbones to grant them grit
enough to work the dumb flour of day
into bread and breath again. The world
has a habit of ending, every grandmother
and father knew well enough never to say,
so deeply was it stained into the brick
and mind. We live in the meantime
is how I remember the length of twilight
and late summer cicadas grinding the air
into what seemed like unholy racket to us,
but for them was the world’s only music
That line “The world has a habit of ending” resonated with me. This weekend I thought about what I want to give up, besides those pants, and about how to live In the Meantime while it feels like the world is collapsing around us. I went outside and looked at the leaves changing color. I swished through them, listening to the rustle. I walked in the snow, giant flakes blowing toward me, and I took deep breaths. I read poems and fiction. What are you going to give up, and how are you going to live In the Meantime?