Village Voice: Poems For Social Distancing

by | Apr 5, 2020 | Radio

Richard Blanco, fifth inaugural poet, joined Boston Public Radio on March 26 to share some poems he felt might be a prescription to the array of complex feelings many are experiencing during the coronavirus pandemic.

He noted a column in the Paris Review called “Poetry Rx: Poems for Social Distancing,” where people write in with an emotion, and poets respond with poems as prescriptions.

“When things are really bad, poets always find the good thing,” Blanco said.

Read along here:

“Shaking Hands”
By Pádraig Ó Tuama

Because what’s the alternative? Because of courage. Because of loved ones lost. Because no more. Because it’s a small thing; shaking hands; it happens every day. Because I heard of one man whose hands haven’t stopped shaking since a market day in Omagh. Because it takes a second to say hate, but it takes longer, much longer, to be a great leader. Much, much longer.

Because shared space without human touching doesn’t amount to much. Because it’s easier to speak to your own than to hold the hand of someone whose side has been previously described, proscribed, denied. Because it is tough. Because it is tough. Because it is meant to be tough, and this is the stuff of memory, the stuff of hope, the stuff of gesture, and meaning and leading. Because it has taken so, so long. Because it has taken land and money and languages and barrels and barrels of blood.

Because lives have been lost. Because lives have been taken.

Because to be bereaved is to be troubled by grief. Because more than two troubled peoples live here. Because I know a woman whose hand hasn’t been shaken since she was a man. Because shaking a hand is only a part of the start. Because I know a woman whose touch calmed a man whose heart was breaking. Because privilege is not to be taken lightly.

Because this just might be good. Because who said that this would be easy? Because some people love what you stand for, and for some, if you can, they can. Because solidarity means a common hand. Because a hand is only a hand; so hang onto it.

So join your much discussed hands. We need this; for one small second. So touch. So lead.

“The Conditional”
By Ada Limón

Say tomorrow doesn’t come. Say the moon becomes an icy pit. Say the sweet-gum tree is petrified. Say the sun’s a foul black tire fire. Say the owl’s eyes are pinpricks. Say the raccoon’s a hot tar stain. Say the shirt’s plastic ditch-litter. Say the kitchen’s a cow’s corpse. Say we never get to see it: bright future, stuck like a bum star, never coming close, never dazzling. Say we never meet her. Never him. Say we spend our last moments staring at each other, hands knotted together, clutching the dog, watching the sky burn. Say, It doesn’t matter. Say, That would be enough. Say you’d still want this: us alive, right here, feeling lucky.

“The Peace of Wild Things”
By Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.