Happy Easter, friends, and happy 4th day of April, the 4th day of National Poetry Writing Month. Easter’s not a huge deal in my household. There’s candy around the house, an egg here or there, usually plastic, and filled with, you guessed it, candy. The real eggs are in the fridge and they are white or brown, as eggs are, completely in their natural element. Perhaps, for me, the most significant kind of Easter observance over the last 8 years has been the writing of a poem. Sometimes it’s Easter related, sometimes not. This year, the Napowrimo website sent us a link to a twitter account called “Liminal Spaces,” and from there it was suggested we could write a poem about one of those images. I checked them out. Many of them are super cool-but what was most interesting to me about the prompt was not the imagery from twitter, but this word all by itself. Liminal. Easter, I suppose, is a holiday in which the liminal could be celebrated. If you’re a Christian, the connection is an obvious one. If you are not, then the task becomes finding elements of the liminal in your own experience, in your own mind-life. That’s where we’re going today in my second poem about the COVID-19 vaccination.
Poem on April 4, 2021
As I have said, and it’s worth repeating, I’ve had my shots. Twice I have stood with hundreds of thousands of people moving through a line, like a fast moving concert queue, or like a long line for some strange kind of amusement ride, a palpable feeling in the crowd of sharing some pivotal experience, one for which a little trepidation is operative, yeah, because no one really loves an injection, but at the same time, an overpowering awe for the enormity of it all, the historic nature of it, the profundity. Hell yeah, it’s profound. Everyone’s trying to be stoic, but it’s easy to see behind those serious faces (eyes, really, because everyone is masked), and maybe one thinks it can be seen because one feels it bubbling up inside: a tsunami of gratitude. Especially as I snaked my way through the second time, smiling under my mask what must have been the stupidest of grins, I felt on the verge of tears. And when I arrived at my ultimate destination and sat down next to my administering nurse, she seemed holy somehow, and I loved her. This is a liminal space. If there ever was a threshold between this place and that, before and after, then and not yet, this was it, and I was happy to be there.
I must say that the prompt for the day on NaPoWriMo left me feeling uninspired. Actually, it was not a bad idea, something about making yourself a deck of cards, a “personal universe deck,” and drawing cards from it to inspire a poem. It just seemed too labor-intensive for me today. So I will be reaching into the reserves already filed away in the personal universe deck that is my brain. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the vaccination experience. So that’s where I’m headed today. I’ve captured only a small part of it here. Could be the start of a series. IDK.
Poem on April 3
I’ve had my shots. Both of them. The first one hurt going in and my arm was sore for a day. The second one was astonishingly painless, but later the chills came, the creep, the fog, the overpowering desire to sleep. I missed a work day for that one, was able before the effects plunged me into a stupor to forge an elaborate interactive slideshow my students could do in my absence. Down for the count, as they say. And most everyone says it, to some degree, that they were down for the count. A small price, yes, for the security, the peace of mind, the near assurance that you will be safe. Nothing changes, really, in the short run: I’m still wearing the mask when I go out, still keeping my distance; I might be safe but other’s might not be, so we carry that with us wherever we go. We long for a social exchange between vaccinated friends, when we may not have to mask, and we might even be able to touch one another. I don’t miss handshakes, really, but I could sure use a hug from someone who is not my wife or my son or the dogs.
Be Drunk by Charles Baudelaire You have to be always drunk. That’s all there is to it—it’s the only way. So as not to feel the horrible burden of time that breaks your back and bends you to the earth, you have to be continually drunk.
But on what? Wine, poetry or virtue, as you wish. But be drunk.
And if sometimes, on the steps of a palace or the green grass of a ditch, in the mournful solitude of your room, you wake again, drunkenness already diminishing or gone, ask the wind, the wave, the star, the bird, the clock, everything that is flying, everything that is groaning, everything that is rolling, everything that is singing, everything that is speaking. . .ask what time it is and wind, wave, star, bird, clock will answer you: “It is time to be drunk! So as not to be the martyred slaves of time, be drunk, be continually drunk! On wine, on poetry or on virtue as you wish.”
The dry January turned out to be a dry January and February. As of this writing, 3/08/2021, I have been “sober,” or, I have abstained from alcohol use for 65 days. I have needed to find other ways to, as Baudelaire exhorts, be drunk. Oregon just had one of it’s worst winter storms in memory–at least, in my memory. Two days of heavy snow. Two more days of freezing rain. For my family, 6 days without power. For many of my neighbors, up to 10. So we have been drunk, of late, with powerlessness. When it came back on a few weeks ago, I found myself drunk on electricity. I couldn’t get enough of the stuff.
There has been some sad drunkenness–inexpressible, really–about the massive loss of life from COVID 19 in the United States alone: a half a million people. An inconceivable loss–especially difficult in its abstraction. Be it luck or ignorance, I’m not sure which, I have not known a single one of those half a million. I have known people who were ill and then recovered. So, drunk I am with thanksgiving. The universe has been looking out for my people. I am so stupidly lucky.
I have been drunk on my first dose of Pfizer vaccine, drunk with gratitude, and drunk, at least for about 16 hours after, with a really sore arm. I was drunk at the Oregon Convention Center with pure awe at the proceedings, hundreds upon hundreds of masked individuals, while maintaining 6 feet of distance in front and behind them, snaking their way though a labyrinthian series of lines and ropes, through one door and then another, into one big room and then the next, to this check-in station and another, until finally, the line to get a shot in the arm. I was drunk on the realization that I was, in that moment, taking part in a historic event, an event unlike anything in American history, maybe even in human history. Almost certainly.
I have been drunk on the good news that indicates we will see students in the flesh again by the end of the school year; the last quarter in our academic schedule will be, in some significant way, in-person. I will be able to see animated faces of students that are new to me this year for the first time. And while I am apprehensive about what this new hybrid model will look like, I am so much looking forward to working inside the school house once again.
And finally, I have been drunk on creativity of late–in creating things. You would think I would have been writing like a fiend, but no; I have done very little writing. I wrote a Winter poem. It turned out nicely. And I wrote a whole slew of lesson plans, but that’s not really terribly creative–I mean, it is, but not in the same way as a poem or a blog entry or a piece of fiction. No, mostly my creative drunkenness has had to do with music, first, by going through scads of unreleased, unheard, unperformed recordings from my band and deciding that, yes, these pieces need to see the light of day. And so quickly, from the time of conception to this moment, songs were chosen and sequenced, artwork was commissioned, a mastering engineer was employed, and the process began for a new album, new photos, new website, replication, the arrival on my doorstep today of a short run of compact discs. I’ve also been drunk, possessed rather, with hopes to upgrade the studio for the new project.
Generally speaking, I have been drunk with optimism. Things are looking up. They seem to continue in this trend. And this made me think of the Baudelaire poem, a poem I shared I don’t want to say how many years ago now, with my high school classmates at the 30 year reunion. I was actually drinking quite a bit then and continued almost uninterruptedly until January 2 of 2021. I really and truly don’t know how much of my present happiness is the direct result of cutting out alcohol–and I really am not bragging or making any promises to anyone about how much longer I will abstain. I just think that it’s worth noting. So I make a note of that as I move headlong into an impending Spring Season, finding new and exciting ways to “be drunk.”