I have resisted writing a Pandemic [insert “poem/story/essay/play/song”] just as I have resisted writing a BLM [____], or a #MeToo [____]. Those borders, those things that can be designated and specificated have given me pause as far as I can remember.
In part it comes from perpetual rage: I want to write about all the worldwide historical injustices faced by Black women, about all the times powerful structures have failed marginalized people during globalized socioeconomic collapses. I want to write about all the moments when being alive on this planet felt like boarding an unsound ship.
When one lives in a tottering world, within a body and an identity frequently threatened, between multiple cultures that blurry the notion of belonging, and in an age that often disappoints in mundane, comical ways, the refusal to moor oneself to a place, any place, can be (ironically) grounding. Liberating, at the very least; because when everything feels terrible, as it too frequently does, it comes heavy. Immobilizing.
I have resisted, because surely, I tell myself, we are more than the random era into which we have been tossed together. The stories we tell are universal (the cyclical nature of History being some proof of this), similar accounts and heartaches reverberating simultaneously in every curious pocket of the world. How else to explain how the same folktale can pop up across unrelated cultures? How a same chord progression can transcend centuries and completely different instruments?
I imagine there’s vanity in there too: if I don’t point out when this particular story emerged in me, then perhaps in a thousand years, someone can consider it as a free and formless thing. Perhaps this story can live forever.
When pondering the Poetry and Nonfiction call for submissions for Reckoning 6, then, I deferred to that old determination: do not say pandemic-inspired, do not say 2020 racial injustice protests, or climate change school strike. Nothing, in short, that would contract the scope to this here Moment. If we received those pieces, all the better, because of course I wanted them: but mostly, I hoped for those everyday experiences that transcended the greedy enclosures of Time. The seething meditations, the exhaustion exhalations, those rooted anguishes that come barreling down each person’s generational road.
These Major Historical Events: they seemingly confine suffering + its company (faith, grief, clarity, disillusionment) to the dates that anchor them, as if that is where they generally start. Reflexively, the eye starts to look forward, for that other part, the end date, that indicates where it generally tapers off. It becomes a shorthand. There is an immediate accounting neither for those subtleties, nor for the enormity of every moment when something similarly calamitous—albeit quieter—has occurred.
These Major Historical Events: too often seen as catalysts, relegated to cause and effect, too seldom seen as uncoverers of what has always been there. We talk of colonization and the Civil Rights Movement and environmental racism as if the date of their coining effectively gave them more concrete life; as if everything that came before, the collection of separate events creating the momentum, were only leading up to that eruptive movement. As if everything after were merely the comedown from that Really Big Thing. If anything, it is convenient for those who are unwilling to recognize the constancy of injustice.
Even as a child, ever the cynic, I side-eyed the promises from the powers that be, instigated by the summit or protest of the day, knowing that even without them, the unglamorous and steady fight would go on. Knowing that when the moment passed, so too would the cacophonous and shallow empathy.
Maybe unfair, but I said I was a cynic.
It’s why I’ve done away with tangible places and dates in my stories, chasing instead the tantalizing flavors of uchronias, analogies, multiverses.
It’s why I’ve given in to the jolt of recognition when yet another person in the last two years declared “time has lost all meaning!”—my people! join the club!
It’s why I have worshipped any device that thumbed its nose at temporality, be it ghost stories and reincarnation and fortune telling, or a certain wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey flying police box.
But as most childhood cynicism goes, surprise, surprise: it buckles at first encounter with something so utterly unlike itself. My, how the poems and essays in this issue have proven me wrong. They are blazingly loud and searingly quiet and yes, funny, even. They are a sight to behold.
In a way, this call for submissions did more than I could have hoped for: namely it gave us devastating works of art that, borderless, might as well be speaking to a broad, almost abstract humanity.
But, it was also profoundly, unexpectedly humbling to challenge the notion that freezing a moment might reduce the scope of its significance: I sometimes forget how much it can intensify and honor it. We asked for environmental justice at the intersection of social justice—and indeed, every historical event existing under that umbrella is established, constant, neverending.
And yet, each poem, each essay, each story we got tells of what it meant, at that time, to that specific author. Every word, every line entrenched in the minutes, months, and eons that marked those who wrote them; in the specificity of a prancing second, in the gaping parentheses of a noteworthy couple of years. They make profound etches on the authors’ respective soft surfaces: I was There and Then. Whether about fleeting long-ago liminalities, emotions pinioned by constant rumination, or yes, even pandemic-inspired thoughts, they radiate Time.
Profoundly, unexpectedly humbling: to be reminded that it is not only futile, but also inadvisable to the integrity of a story, to try to disregard the weight of the moment that made it.
Just as too many people I love remember every setback—financial, emotional, personal—felt in the last couple of years; just as I remember every instance when my mother was told to go back to her country; just as the Lac Rose in Dakar remembers every foot that tickled its shores; so does this planet we’re on, surely, remember every time it was sorely wounded.
Cruel Time. Strange Time. Funny Time.
To any and all who need an overdue reconciliation with this baffling notion, I hope that this beautiful collection gives you a helping hand.
I still eye Time with suspicion, still dodge specifying questions; but making peace with it doesn’t seem so uncanny lately.
I imagine it’s like a brief closing of the hand around something small and floating, framing it just long enough that we are able to look, really look at it. And then, if we can, we let it go.