Thursday, October 15, 2020

Poems of Persistence, Solidarity, and Refuge – Sunu Chandy

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.


First Quarantine Poem
By Sunu Chandy

1. How to Wash Your Hands


First, find a song. 

Then, double-check, how many seconds to scrub. 

Don’t forget underneath your fingernails. 

Don’t forget your wrists. Include your palms 

and each finger, one by one. 

Remember integrity. 

Repeat after the morning walk. 

Repeat after you pick up the mail. 

Repeat after you wash the produce. 

Repeat after you wash the milk carton. 

Repeat after you use the bathroom. 

Repeat after you get the week’s piano sheet 

music printed from the leasing office. 

Repeat after you take out the recycling. 

Repeat after you make lunch for the family. 

Repeat after you retrieve the package from the lockers. 

Repeat after you return from the building’s laundry room. 

Repeat before you start making dinner. 

Remember integrity. 

Remember what is at stake. 

Repeat after the morning walk. 


2. How to Avoid that Place called Panic 


First, find a song. 

The song is entitled: We have survived hard things before.  

The song is sub-titled: So many are suffering, and in worse ways. 

The chorus reminds you there is help out there, if it comes to that.

The chorus reminds you, you can still be 

helpful to others, even when you are worried. 

Remember integrity. 

Repeat after the morning walk. 

Repeat before you start the day’s work. 

Repeat after you teach your daughter the idea of decimals. 

Repeat after your spouse’s salary is cut 

to a fraction.  Repeat after you avoid your parents’ calls that week. 

Repeat after you teach your daughter about the Battle 

of Bunker Hill. And the Revolutionary, War. 

Repeat after you learn that your friend 

may be laid off.  Repeat after your office issues fact 

sheets on how this all impacts on women so much 

more. Repeat because it’s not an anecdote. 

Repeat because it’s not anecdotal. Repeat because 

it’s not hypothetical. Repeat after you press, 

okay, yes, I am still watching. It is 1a.m. I am still 

watching. Repeat when the four health aids’ 

livelihoods are in our hands. Repeat when our own 

health feels in the balance. 

Remember integrity. 

Remember what is at stake. 

Repeat after the morning walk.

Listen as Sunu Chandy reads "First Quarantine Poem."

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