Special Reading of San Mateo County’s Community Poem on Memorial Day at the Mystic Seaport Museum, Connecticut
A few days after the six Bay Area counties issued the mandate to shelter-in-place, my NextDoor community mobilized to find ways to support each other. A few people started yard-based neighborhood pantries stocked with food and other personal care items, others offered to run errands for their elderly and disabled neighbors (within days, almost a hundred people had signed up to shop, pick up meds, cut grass, and do other chores for those who need help), and there were those who gave away N95 masks and homemade masks. Some people in the community also posted poems to log their days and cope with the anxiety and uncertainty brought on by self-isolation, unemployment or other pandemic concerns. Around that time, I was in the process of curating poems on “Sheltering” from poets from across the US and around the world. I suggested to my NextDoor neighbors that we create a community poem for our frontliners, and for every line that will be submitted, a dollar will be donated to the San Mateo County Health Foundation’s COVID-19 support for San Mateo County hospitals and clinics. As of April 10th, I received a total of 125 lines from people from all around the county, which I had put together into this poem, with much gratitude to everyone involved in the project.
Aside from raising money for the San Mateo County Health Foundation, this poem was read at the Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut on Memorial Day, May 25, 2020. It was also cited in the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project in Minnesota; used as a resource by the Montgomery Independent School District in Texas; and included in the New Orleans Poetry Festival in Louisiana, The Transcendients Exhibitions which on view until May 16, 2021 at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles and the Maui Arts and Cultural Center in Hawaii on view until December 18, 2021. San Mateo County Poet Laureate Aileen Cassinetto was invited to speak about this poem and its extensive impact at the San Mateo County Community & Covid: 4th Town Hall on April 29, 2021.
San Mateo County Supervisor Carole Groom, Terry Adams, Lisa Anderson, Ginnie Backes, Jay Thomas Beard, Chuck Brickley, Michelle Brcko, Jackie Burleigh, Judy Campbell, Patricia Delara, Debbie Diaz, Rev. Terri Echelbarger, Aaron & Gina Feil, Paul Fericano, Ivana Hansen, Diane Hendrix, Teresa Kelly, Susan Kokores, Heidi Leupp, Victoria Maier Magbilang, Veronica Montes, Carol Mukhopadhyay, Amy Pabalan, Ann Powers, Tony Press, Anita Ferrin Rodman, Diana Ross, Lyla Strauss, Sherri Sunahara, and Craig Wiesner
With special thanks to Tanya Beat and Birgit Eeckman for helping spread the word.
Curated by San Mateo County Poet Laureate Aileen Cassinetto
This poem was presented at the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors Meeting on April 21, 2020.
Love in the Time of COVID-19
A Community Poem for Healthcare Workers and Other Frontliners, from San Mateo County
Your voice holds me
when your arms cannot.
You spoke calming words to me
as I slipped into sleep,
and yours were the first eyes I saw
as I came out from under the fog.
Afraid and alone, you hold
our hands through the darkness.
Wingless angels dressed in scrubs,
footfall on our steps,
jasmine scent, a bag of groceries
on our doorstep,
a tap on the window,
a neighbor’s wave,
a newly-sewn mask tossed
(in a plastic bag), to the front
of the door: “run it through the washer
first,” she calls, waves, and departs.
(Fifteen years ago, at fifteen,
just arrived from El Salvador,
she walked into my Jefferson High
ESL class. Today, she is a hero,
daily risking her life for her patients,
while her own children wait
in their fog-shrouded home.)
Earth angels, haloes shining bright,
working with this virus in the air!
We will not despair
You support us
You surround us
Because of you, the world
will get brighter,
Bless the arms that hold you today.
My arms ache with the energy
of a thousand unspent hugs,
eager to envelope someone
in an embrace so all-encompassing
as to make us both forget all that’s happened,
if only for a moment.
We’re all joining hands,
guests on this planet,
across many lands.
We are forever grateful
to the warriors who save lives.
Time to recognize the real heroes,
brilliant shadows, as we’ve never
seen before. God calls us
to opportunity, it is for each
of us to claim. Our neighbor
is our brother, is our sister,
is our keeper, is our healer.
As soldiers, you stand tall,
ready for the next patient who calls.
Your love and care exemplify
heroism without compare.
Without you, our country would be
facing an even larger catastrophe.
Doctors and nurses and other
frontliners, with help to give.
Some deliver goods,
some clean and scrub,
stock the shelves,
and work so hard
so we can stay in our space.
You can do it, you can make it,
single mom working two shifts,
exhausted nursing home staff
and loyal admin staff,
fighting against depression
and confusion. Dementia.
Dressing up in silly costumes,
dancing down the halls,
holding iPads high
so loved ones can see,
their elderly parent
who are unable to communicate,
that everything will be okay.
Smiling faces, heads pounding,
the outside world
and residents stay safe.
For the inner strength,
courage and compassion
with which you serve,
our eternal devotion, you so deserve.
For all your efforts,
may you be blessed
a thousandfold. Where we are,
the tired ghosts of fearful uncertainty
welcome the laughter
that champions the heart,
as help travels at the speed of light
to spread hope in desperate times,
for the speed of love turns out
to be the speed of light.
A gentle reminder:
Be safe. Be well.
Be kind. Which is to say,
shelter in safety and love.
and nobody’s alone.