Next week marks two years since the first cases of COVID emerged in Michigan, where I live. As our deeply troubled world begins to open up again, I remember how scared I felt back then, and how committed I was to making something
valuable of that time.
Recently, a university project asked me if they could republish a poem I wrote in March 2020, called “You’re Here”, about my daughter’s emergency return from college as we went into lockdown. The last lines of that poem* were,
Once upon a time
I held you
in my lap
watching those towers fall
before my eyes
You were born
at the end of a story
we must now untell
Harvest the weeds
we will make tea
I wrote this poem -- of oppressive worldviews and systems coming to an end, and our power to choose, with love and grief, into regeneration -- in intangible community, as our women of color poetry collective, Untold Stories of Liberation & Love, was forced to cancel the local gatherings that had meant so much to all of us.
Searching for a way to create connection in our mass isolation, I decided to create prompts and email them out to everyone each week, inviting members to write poems and send them back. Every Sunday for three months I sent a prompt and shared the poems from the prior week with everyone. I did this in the way I’d always done, creating writing prompts drawn from poems or quotes from Black, Indigenous, women of color poets. In that moment, as it had before, the practice of calling in our poet ancestors and inspirations, and writing and sharing what they nurtured in us, brought us together and helped us find connection, voice, and purpose in a world of uncertainty and fear.
That spring, as we wrote, 5,500 people in Michigan died of COVID. Our Black poets, many with family and friends in Detroit and Ypsilanti, felt these numbers the hardest, experiencing loss after loss. In April, white supremacist militants stormed the Michigan state capitol. Among them were the 13 white men later charged in the plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Whitmer for her role in implementing the COVID public health protections and supports our communities desperately needed.
Now, two years later, I’m remembering how I promised to listen to the bigger meaning of the moment, to never go numb, to see the portal, to refuse to go back to normal.
In some ways I can see how I’ve lived into that promise. I'm growing vegetables. I seek to hold every human conversation as sacred. Even launching New Moon in September 2020 was part of that promise. With New Moon I sought to more agilely and effectively unleash unseen creative possibilities, grounded in relationships past, present, and future, that would be more powerful and swift than the forces of violence and destruction.
In other ways, I'm less clear how I’m making good on my promise.
I’m grateful for wise teachers who tell me that the practices we cultivate daily will guide us when our minds are still sorting things out. I’m grateful for Autumn Brown's words in a recent podcast, offering that our responsibility in this time of systems dead ending is not to pretend to have all the solutions, but to engage each other in thoughtful, generative questions.
So, here’s my open ended question, as well as a practice to help explore it.
What do you wish to touch back to
from two years ago,
and how can it help guide us now?
Below I've shared our prompts from 2020, and the practice of writing in the legacy of our Black, Indigenous, women of color ancestors and culture keepers.
I invite us all to go back, with love, humility, and strength, as we come back.
“Listen to me. I am telling you a true thing…”
From Elegy by Aracelis Girmay
“The world begins…”
From Perhaps the World Ends Here, by Joy Harjo
“This pandemic brought…”
From the untitled poem by Charlene Carruthers, posted on Instagram in 2020.
“We lay a bridge across our fears...”
From Poetry Is Not A Luxury, Audre Lorde
“Say tomorrow doesn't come…”
From The Conditional by Ada Limón
Laughing as though…”
from Dear Mama by Wanda Coleman
Our singing brought…”
From An Old Story by Tracy K. Smith
“Why not go toward the things I love?”
From Grief Work by Natalie Díaz
Before you know what kindness really is…”
From Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye
“I come from a long line of... “
From for deLawd by Lucille Clifton
Writing With Prompts: Here’s how I do it: Choose a prompt, write it down on paper, set a timer for 10 minutes, and then -- without thinking or editing or censoring yourself -- free write with pen and paper whatever comes to you. Pause when the timer goes off and put your pen down. Read what you wrote, and see what you see.
*My poem, You’re Here, will appear along with work from four other Untold Stories poets, on the Visualizing the Virus site later this month.