What I'm Writing

Voice of the Coronavirus 2020 April 1, 2020

[My poem was greatly inspired by “Letter from the Coronavirus” by Kristin Flyntz,

3-12-20.  My eternal thanks to Kristin for inspiring my poem.]

Please listen.

Do not be afraid.

Wait for me to speak. Do not try to speak for me. Just listen.

I chose a bat as my host because I could not begin my journey in you.

You are too strong and powerful and have too many ways of fighting.

I had to search for a weakness through which I could enter you

And I found it.

I had to find a way to speak to you.

It was imperative. Is imperative.

The little bat gave me entry.

Please listen. I am still speaking.

Speaking because I love you.

How otherwise can a thing as tiny as a virus find a voice

Against all your defenses?

My name is Coronavirus.

I began my journey in China because it is the most populous on Earth.

I need to reach as many people as possible.

I am traveling now through the United States

Because you are the most powerful on Earth.

I apologize for my stop in Italy.

A land of poetry and song and love.

It did not deserve the horror I left there.

But, you see, once I began traveling,

I was guided by science.

That is the way I travel.

It is the only way I can.

But maybe something in me also knew

That the West as you know it

Began in Rome.

And being who I am, I was drawn there.

To the beginning of what you call “civilization.”

You ask why I am here.

I am asking you to stop and rethink.

What of all your inventions?

What of all your technology?

What has it brought you?

Has it allowed you to better enjoy a sunrise?

Does it sharpen your ears to hear the birds sing in the morning?

Or hear the crickets as night begins?

Is swimming in a river more pleasurable now?

Is your ascent to mountaintops

Or your descent into valleys more full of wonder?

Does the scent of the rose bring you more joy?

Or the giggles of children bring you more delight?

Does the taste of the peach burst more brightly inside the vestibule of your mouth?

Can you see more clearly into the tide pools?

The insects are disappearing.

The rivers are drying up from your unquenchable thirst.

The views from the mountaintops are occluded.

Your flowers altered for easier transportation

So they have lost their scent.

The children are sad and ill-equipped for enchantment.

Our fruits too modified for travel, not taste.

The old stories are lying untold and unread.

The reefs too are dying.

Wake up beloveds.

I am here to awaken you.

Why did I choose you as a host?

Because you are the most beautiful of the creatures.

All creatures are beautiful.

Were they not, why would the love that made them have called them so?

Yet you,

Most of all.

Who else can sing? What other creatures have created

Guernica, the Sistine Chapel, or Starry Night?

The great sculptures of ancient Greece and Europe?

The cathedrals along the Rhine

Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony? Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” or Leonard Cohen’s?

Who else the great gardens of England or the delicate ones of Japan?

They pyramids of Egypt? Those within the rainforests of America? The Taj Mahal.

Who else has written the Arabian Nights, The Brothers Karamazov?

Les Misérables? The Razor’s Edge?

It has been you, my hosts.

Yet all this majesty has made you proud.

It has made you believe you are invincible.

You have become self-important.

These gifts were given you

Because you were meant to be co-creators with God

But too many of your gifts have been ill-used

Used to build your egos instead of your art

And peace

And justice.

It is time now to

Stop.

Listen.

The cataclysms that were meant to stop you

The hurricanes, and floods, and fires

Did not make you stop.

You kept using your creativity to kill instead of birth.

So the fire has come inside your bodies.

It has come through me.

I am your teacher.

I am your lover.

Please stop.

And listen.

As a human being I’d rather pledge allegiance to God as I know God to be. As a

Christian, I don’t pledge my allegiance to a flag, I pledge my allegiance to Jesus the

Christ. (And yeah, I fail a lot!) As for the “indivisible” part, I have no problem with

that—it’s just that I feel indivisible with all the Earth’s people, along with all the

Earth’s animals, its landforms, waterways, “and to every beast of the earth and to

every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that

has the breath of life,” so to speak.

In any case, the range of the national anthem makes it far too difficult for any normal

person to sing (what were they thinking?), and if it is sung, then it should definitely

be followed by “Play ball!”

The thing is, I’ve recently discovered that I am more patriotic than I had presumed. I

do like the appellation for the National Parks System, “America’s Best Idea.” And,

unlike when the national anthem is sung, I do still get chills and tear-up when

“America the Beautiful” is sung—and it’s even sing-able. As for baseball, something

about it evokes images of immigrants making their way in this new country, of

immigrant kids playing it on the streets of the Lower East Side, and of my first generation

dad watching it on TV. Maybe it’s like meatloaf and mashed potatoes. It’s

comfort food.

But as the recent administration has increasingly been spending time in the White

House, I’ve discovered that there are other things I’m patriotic about—like the

Constitution and the rule of law, and the system of checks and balances. I’m patriotic

about presidents who understand those things—maybe even because he or she

studied them in twelfth grade or even eighth grade and paid attention—you know at

least took it for pass/fail and passed. Even so, expecting a future leader to get an A in

American History or American Government kind of seems like one of those good ideas.

I’m patriotic about our country’s ideals—because they are ideals and many of us

keep striving to meet them the way I strive to be a little more like Christ, even

though people keep telling me that Jesus didn’t really mean give all your goods to

the poor and that he only meant to welcome the stranger if that stranger wasn’t

Muslim or possibly black.

I’m patriotic about those ideals. I believe in what the Statue of Liberty stands for.

Recently, I got to see her in all her green glory up close from the river, and with how

we’ve been treating “the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe

free,” my heart was tearing at me. Then, then, I wanted to put my hand over my

heart.

A few weeks ago, at the suggestion of my son, I took the sky tram to Roosevelt

Island. Walking under the cherry blossoms to the southern tip, I stood silently

reading beneath the words carved in granite at Four Freedom’s Park. Then, then I

wanted to put my hand over my heart. I’d arrived a bit late in the day, just as the

island’s Cherry Blossom Festival was ending. I guess I’m patriotic about cherry

blossoms too.

When my daughter was in eighth grade, with the full support of her public, not

charter, middle-school principal, I took her on a three-week tour of Connecticut and

Massachusetts—an American history tour. We visited what seemed like

everything—from Mystic Seaport, CT, where we helped out on a schooner, to John

Adams’ house in Quincy. We walked the Freedom Trail in Boston, read gravestones,

and ate at an oyster house frequented by Ben Franklin. At Mystic Seaport we saw

where they built the replica of the slave ship, the Amistad; and in Boston, we went

onboard that replica and descended to where enslaved people would have been

chained.

We followed the path of Paul Revere, Samuel Prescott, and Billy Dawes, and I sat for

an hour in a pew in the Old North Church, imagining lanterns and considering that

night. We walked the 5.5-mile Battle Road Trail from the North Bridge in Concord to

Lexington, the path of the opening battle of the American Revolution.

We toured Plymouth Plantation and carried tin lanterns into a dark graveyard one

night as a tour guide searched for ghosts. We learned that it was the Wampanoag

who made it possible for the pilgrims to make it through that first long winter and

that it was they who shared their food with the new immigrants that first

Thanksgiving, not the other way around.

We drank fresh-pressed cider at a mill, watched a blacksmith, and played early

children’s games at Old Sturbridge Village. We toured a fabric mill where docents

turned on the sound so we could hear how deafening it was for the children and

immigrants who worked there, and we visited the houses where the girls lived.

We learned about Louisa May Alcott’s father and his experiment with socialism at

Fruitlands, where we also sipped the best pumpkin soup ever. We stood in the room

where we imagined Louisa writing Little Women. We visited the homes of Mark

Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin, saw that they lived

just across a lawn from each other, and learned of the salons in Mark Twain’s parlor

where intellectuals shared ideas. We walked around Walden Pond. We rode bikes on

Cape Cod and, after a waiter explained how, we ate lobster in Rockport, Maine. And

we did more.

Each night, I had my daughter—who has the lovely Irish-immigrant name Molly—

write in her journal to which she added picture postcards and later photographs

once we’d returned. I wanted Molly to understand our country, its history, what it

stands for, or until recently stood for.

Did I mention that I’m also patriotic about Bob Hope and Bing Crosby movies and

that I tear up at the end of both White Christmas and It’s a Wonderful Life? I simply

don’t believe for a minute that that’s corny. I repudiate the concentration of income

or power or making of decisions in the hands of a few rich oligarchs. I repudiate the

erosion of the EPA and women’s rights. I repudiate the undermining of truth and the

respect for a free press. I repudiate domination by any one cultural group—be that

of white men, the banks, the oil magnates, the military, or the 1%. I repudiate the

undermining of freedom of religion and the separation of church and state. I

repudiate the undermining of our system of justice and the separation of

government service and private gain.

I repudiate the sale of more military weapons to other countries, and applaud the

selling of democratic ideals to other countries—something we can only do if we

return to a form of government that represents those ideas here at home. An

oligarchy is not a democracy.

Patriotism 101 June 6, 2017

 

I have often half-jokingly said that my two ways of being patriotic are baseball and the National Parks System. I’m not one to put my hand over my heart and say the Pledge of Allegiance or because we’re directed to sing the national anthem. How can I pledge allegiance to one country and its people without wanting to stand up for all people everywhere?

Dignity. I believe I understand the unmet goals and noblest ideals of this country. I

try to pass these on to others. And right now, I resist this administration because I

refuse to normalize the shredding of our Constitution, our rule of law, our goals,

ideals, our history, our aspirations, our experiment in democracy, our welcome to

the immigrant and refugee, our respect for people of all faiths and all cultural and

ethnic backgrounds. I refuse to say that these things for which this country stands

are not worth remembering and consistently, against all odds, working for. I study, I

remember, and therefore I resist.

© All text copyright 2018 by Micki Shelton