With COVID and teaching online I’ve managed to come up with different ways to engage my students with the material we are studying. For instance, in my Modern Poetry Class, we are looking at poetry of witness (see Carolyne Forche’s Poetry of Witness and Against Forgetting).
We discuss how poetry is one way to document the traumas happening around us, to us, to our loved ones, and this sense of catastrophic urgency that has taken over our lives. We miss human interaction and campus but we have managed to connect to each other differently through online learning. I asked my students to try documenting their experience with COVID and the traumas that they want to bear witness to — and here are some of their poems, shared with permission. They are all literature majors and wonderful people and I am honored to share their work:
I remember February’s friends,
January’s birthday celebration,
December’s Christmas in London with my cousin,
November’s rainy car rides featuring the soothing sounds of Nothing But Thieves,
October’s ragdoll and witch costumes for Halloween,
I remember being happy,
I remember feeling seen,
I don’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday,
Or the day before that,
Or the one before that,
I don’t remember if a smile even crossed my face,
I don’t remember the last time I looked at my calendar,
I don’t remember the last time I left my bed for a purpose,
I don’t remember the meaning of a good night sleep,
I don’t remember when I stopped counting the deaths,
Or when they stopped scaring me,
I remember when it began though,
I remember my last day of uni,
One week turned into two,
Two weeks turned into a month,
A month turned into nine,
And I am slowly but surely losing my mind,
What is it like to function?
What is it like to be human when you’ve become so numb?
Desensitized from a pandemic that’s taking over your life,
When nothing brings you sadness or joy anymore,
What have you become?
A body with no soul,
— Nina Q.
21st Century child—
Open the windows,
Lock all doors,
Face the blue four walls
You ever so adored.
21st Century child-
Sick with ague,
Stay here, I’ll take care of you—
Once I’ve dealt with
All sixty million of you.
Mother-to-be, hunched over on your hospital bed-
Tears, tears flowing down her cheeks,
The virus was too strong,
That life you once carried,
Nothing but death in your womb.
21st Century child—
Open your window, Stay indoors.
The howling wind at night comforts you,
Plastic cans roll down the street,
The street you once loved and adored.
21st Century child—
The death-toll rises.
I know that someday you’ll forget this ever happened,
Carry on with your life.
Carry on against forgetting.
“You never know what you have until its gone”
Is a saying we wish to never hear
I want to see the smiles on peoples faces
But now we all look like robots from different places
I want to breathe in fresh air
Without becoming a scare
The people closest to me have become strangers
It seems like we all view each other as dangers
My social skills have deteriorated
And so has my mind (Anonymous)
wallowing in isolation, anxiety, melancholy
the comfort in the confinement of those four walls
sprinkling the seeds of solitude in my mind
“it’s too dangerous to go out still.”
is that a lie i keep telling myself? to further isolate myself? till when? till i vanish?
the world is moving on
while i sometimes wake up and realize,
i don’t quite remember what “outside” feels like. or smells like.
it constantly feels as though i am in the middle of the sea, floating.
sometimes i can see the shore,
i even try to swim to it but the waves are too harsh on me.
sometimes i do make it to the shore
but then find myself in the water, again.
not knowing how i got there.
– fatima alhashash
Locked inside houses
fear hurting our mental health
missing the sunshine – Hasan
Although the world came to a complete shutdown
Our hearts opened up
We connected with our family’s
and managed to open up
Although the streets were empty
The house was filled up
With nostalgic connections
we should’ve never given up
In a world so fast, we needed a pause
to sit back and reflect
To dream of a better tomorrow
with a system less corrupt
To acknowledge that humans are humans
and lift each other up
I’m grateful for my privilege
and all the things I didn’t have to give up
I learned to be appreciative
even if it’s not enough
because even something so small
can mean so much
So, here’s to the future
and the struggles we’ve overcome
Through all these hardships
a better tomorrow will lift us all up.
The screen is black, the clock is ticking
“I can’t see you”
Did they forget to practice social distancing?
“Are you there?”
Did they switch their masks? The social and the medical?
“Can you hear me?”
I wonder what’s the problem, is it really just something technical?
“The connection is weak.”
I think all connections are weak, human ones the most
“Can you try again?”
I have, but then again, what is the cost?
“Hello? Answer, I insist!”
The participant you are trying to reach no longer exists
Started as a global panic,
Then came the if’s and when’s, the memes the jokes
Then the need to blame.
Conspiracy theories followed.
and then—agonizingly slowly—acceptance found it’s way in
Some believed, others didn’t
… it seems as though the thousand lives we lost
aren’t enough of a testament
Forced us closer, yet continues to tear our insides apart
Call it earth’s revenge
Call it a tyrant with a crown
The new year started off with happiness until the Covid-19 disease suddenly appeared. Out of china it quickly spread and filled all cotenants with gloom and dread. The world was shook and in definite dismay that what thought to be a small invisible disease could take our lives away. Our normal lives disappeared and all we knew was quarantine appeared and took over our lives. There are victims of this uncontrollable pandemic, with no vaccines or cures. Covid is steeling husbands from wives and daughters from mothers and is leaving families crying for their suffering brothers. Covid has no preference to whom it chooses, it ravages its victims until they die. The only way humanity can be saved is by wearing masks. Empathy and love for each other could save the day, if each and every one of us follow everything the correct way. -Noora Mohammed
Birdwatcher, when do you get to be so wild?
When do you get to be free?
Birdwatcher, when was the last time the sunray touched your skin?
Windows shut and doors locked
War criminals on screen
Wish there was something better to see
I know it’s hard
Birdwatcher, you may lose your sanity
Just hold on to the stars before they fall into the midnight sea – Khaled Alajmi
Imprisoned in our drunken thoughts of escaping
Is there any single hope for changing?
If the moon is a friend for the lonesome to talk to
Then why does it say, there is no directions available to pursue?
I wanted to live a dream, he granted it for me
And yet, there is no time to spare
O you, lonely soul, are you melancholy, or are you in despair?
Words cut like a knife sometimes
But it pierces my heart instead
They say that the end is the beginning, and the beginning is the end
Will it even ever change?
By Maryam Al-Qallaf
Dear diary, My father is sick and we don’t know if it is a flu or the virus that is taking over our lives. He is showing symptoms but we are kidding our selves by saying its not it.
Dear diary, My father did the corona test, they told us that if no one called you in twenty four hours that means you are negative. There is hope.
Dear diary, We were wrong to hope. They took my father to be isolated for recovery. They took him like a prisoner who was dangerous to society. We are all crying because of worry.
Dear diary, We are waiting for our results. The days are moving agonizingly slow. Will we be okay?
Dear diary, We are safe! That was the first light we saw after days of darkness.
Dear diary, My father is home. My father is safe, we are happy again.
How I am a “witness” of COVID-19:
I will try as much as possible not to seem like a drama queen while clarifying how it is to experience and to be a witness of a pandemic, which is COVID-19 in this case. I have never been through anything like this in my life nor have I ever thought of experiencing such thing. The virus happened so suddenly and unexpectedly; I do not think anybody have predicted anything like this to happen. In addition to this, it is so strange to me, how a teeny tiny virus, that cannot be seen by human beings’ naked eyes, can affect the whole world like this and turn it upside down, that can force you to stay quarantined, keep your social distance, that can force you to wear masks, bans you from many things including going outside and traveling, that has the ability of killing those old, poor people. However, we should still look at the bright side of the circumstance, we should still have hope, it will all end soon, nothing stays forever. – Amnah Rashed
in the span of 9 months, i have managed to reorganize my room twice, paint my sister’s wall, hyperventilate over online classes, solve endless crossword puzzles on the back of cereal boxes, re-read books that meant the world to me when i was 15,
felt nothing, felt everything
wondered if that’s what emily dickenson must’ve felt like all her life
what if isolation helped her tap deeply into herself allowing her to feel things: a lot, loudly, and too much
wondered how so much of her work now connects – despite her having the choice to self-isolate and i didnt
loved ones whom we saw everyday are no longer within arms reach
friends who knew our houses like the back of their hand
friends who shared inside jokes with our siblings and helped around the kitchen with our parents now solely exist through cracked phone screens – their laughter still managing to bounce off my living room walls
however, in the midst of all the frustration, fear and straight up anger
i found solace and solitude being around my family
i discovered my mother’s secret recipe to her triple chocolate cake, knew where my nephew hides his secret stash of gummy bears, and
laughed at old vhs tapes of ourselves doing the macarena in 2005
2020 has tested me in so many different ways, however, i have never had this much appreciation and gratitude for all the things i have as it was a chance to slow down, reorientate and reflect.