Thursday, July 9, 2020

Poems of Persistence, Solidarity, and Refuge – Marlena Chertock

We are each other's harvest; we are each other's business; we are each other's magnitude and bond.  ― Gwendolyn Brooks  

Split This Rock Virtual Open Mic announcement includes a black background with red Split This Rock logo, text that reads "Virtual Open Mic," and an illustration of a hanging lamp sending out rays of light over a laptop.
As we journey through political, economic, and global health crises, we turn to poetry to share truths that unearth underlying causes, illuminate impacts, and insist on transformative change. For many of us, today’s challenges are not new. The struggle of isolation, economic insecurity, inadequate medical care, deadly institutionalized negligence, governmental decisions that put Black, Brown, Indigenous, Asian, disabled, sick, and other structurally precarious people at greater risk are not new. Today, many more people are experiencing the vulnerability of these unrelenting issues. We recognize this opportunity for a heightened awareness of how our very survival depends on one another.

Poetry can help keep the flame of resilience, solidarity, and resistance alive in us. It can help us process and move through grief, anger, loneliness. Poetry can be a comfort when the most necessary actions are to rest and recover. It can remind us of what’s at stake, that our lives and legacy are worth the fight. As cultural workers, we know that culture shapes our political and social imagination at a foundational level. As poets, we can use poetry to map what is, what has been, and possibly, the way forward, including the reasons not to return to what does not honor and protect our lives, our communities, and our planet.

We asked poets to give us the words they chant to get out of bed, to raise their fists, to encourage their kin, to remind us, as this crisis does, that “we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond.” To read all of these poems, visit Split This Rock’s website.


Insomnia in a pandemic
by Marlena Chertock

You’re not sleeping well,
when do you ever. As a kid
at sleepovers, you were the last

to pass out. At one friend’s
birthday party, you laid awake
for hours in the living room

among the sleeping bags,
the snoring impossible
to sleep through.

So you climbed the stairs
quietly to your friend’s bedroom,
took the clock off the wall,

hid it in the bathroom.
The quiet, then, so soothing
you slept through breakfast.

You try not to think
about people dying
alone in their ICU beds,

that doctors wear the same mask
for days, forced to choose
who gets a ventilator,

try not to think about your disabled peers,
older folks, the immunocompromised,
who may be denied treatment.

Then you’re wondering
will you ever see your parents
again? How long will this last?

You just got groceries,
but consider buying more.
Make a list in your head

instead of sleep.
You try to picture the stores
in your neighborhood.

You don’t know if they’ll
all be there when this is over.
In 12-18 months

will they really find a vaccine?
There’s still no vaccine for HIV.
Why should this virus be different?

The speed all our lives changed
keeps you awake, reading the news.
Is a city still a city

with people stuck inside?
No cars honking outside your window,
no smiling at people you pass on the street,

it invites closeness. Stay six feet
apart, maybe further
just to be safe.

If this is ever over,
should the world be the same?

Listen as Marlena Chertock reads "Insomnia in a pandemic."

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