My favorite poem was written 19 years ago. It is “First Writing Since,” by Suheir Hammad. It begins “There have been no words,” and only now do I really understand it. Today is not a Monday or Tuesday. It is only Today. Tomorrow and yesterday share its Today-ness. There have been words, really. Just no peace. I have been E-teaching children—a practice that feels remarkably similar to no one showing up for my birthday party. I have been homeschooling my child, which feels like a game of The Floor is Lava where the floor is existence and the lava is being unable to stop myself from cursing at my ten year old.
But under all of that, I have words. I have had two or three capital-I ideas come and go while I try to get my focus together enough to craft a sentence. A single sentence. I think I have some goal, some hope to write a thing worth reading right now. Everyone is on the internet. Everyone feels some kind of way about this, and maybe if I could just stop scrolling memes and reading death counts and think pieces about how this will end or how Denmark is doing so well (Fuck you, Denmark) . . . Maybe I could stop doing yard work and say something that would help us breathe.
I listen to Satie’s Gymnopedie No. 1 on repeat. Loudly. In noise cancelling headphones trying to drown out my wife’s business meetings five feet away. I pet a dog or fix some food or vacuum and remember how fucking lucky I am to live through this like this. Safe. Fed. Loved.
Some days I take rescued food in boxes to students from my school. The school bus is large enough for physical distance if we had multiple riders, but I’ve been riding solo. I call on the way to let them know to expect me. I carry the boxes to the doorstep and mostly don’t see the families or children. When I do see them, there is a mix of gratitude and shame. I try to make sure they know that I don’t judge. I just want to help. But what will it feel like for them, sitting in my classroom when I am the person who they met at the door, in that Today that time? How do I honor that kind of vulnerability appropriately? How can I rise to that challenge when today I cannot even write about being unable to write.
I feel the pull of every wrong choice. All the cookies and impulse purchases laced with sleeping in and staying up late. I’m less dressed for life, subconsciously dressed for the job I want. Considering calling out sick from a job where my main responsibility is to be on the internet. But I re-filled my prescriptions, and I catch myself furtively eyeing the kettlebells every once in a while.
“First Writing Since” is powerful because it responds acutely to an acute trauma. Suheir Hammad looks 9/11 in the face and stands her ground. Our trauma has been named, and it has begun, but it is ongoing and compounding over time. A train has brakes but they take miles to stop. Today is mostly me anticipating impact during this skid.