A Poem + Commentary from a Half Year of Listening During a Pandemic
I’ve been struggling to write something about my experience in a wholly new field of work since July. I joined a corps of case managers during this Pandemic Summer and stayed on when contracts where offered to continue in a full-time capacity. I hadn’t intended to work or at least work in this way. It meant putting aside some projects, delaying more what had already been delayed. Contributing to a public health effort to offer assistance to those coping with the illness and delicately let their contacts know of their exposure seemed a way I could be part of something more than passive grieving. The struggle was how to honor the truths I hear and present in only an abstract way. They are as sacred as they are confidential. I can only impart fragments of feelings, patches that capture the whole of the cloth in a small segment of the pattern of lives lived in mid to late 2020. So, no names of people, no places, no direct experiences and no shred of identifying information.
It’s humbling. I am not sure that this is wholly the word. It is a humbling and profound experience. Maybe the word captures both these sentiments. Maybe humility should be profound. Either way, each of these five days a week, the experience for the Callers are both these things. There are measures of meaning, hour by hour, drop by drop. The Called have a lot to say, even beyond answering questions about clinical details, isolation instruction, how to find resources if help is needed, and recounting possible exposures. There are many questions, but there is twice the listening, twice the time bearing witness, and twice the reminding that “this is not your fault” when someone expresses regret.
Many work in residential long term care, meat packing plants, schools, retail, offices, construction sites, orchards and, of course, there are the skilled nurses. A third of the time I do not speak their native languages and place a three-way call with an interpreter with their consent. Then, those bearing witness are multiplied by two.
This blog is about the inter-regions. Life is lived in intersections of time and place. I’ve heard our current time and place called“liminal” — as if we are on one side or the other of some time and place we regard as more “conscious” or real. We express this as though we are only upon a threshold. It is as though we think of time and place as if the throughfare is real and the side streets are not. We live on the side streets, possibly more of the time. We embark more now upon the place where the snow is rarely plowed and getting out into the world “at large” is an adventure and sometimes treacherous. We were meant to live in this time. We live in this time and place, where many are experiencing something profound with deep humility, and we are still alive. We are still conscious…maybe more so. Wake up, call and be called, take to your side streets and please wear a mask. Wander with care for others–all of them, whether or not its clear that they are exhibiting the same for you.
© 2020 by Vincent Hostak
In the morning I put on my ears.
In the morning your voice carries delicate messages.
I imagine you aren’t speaking just to me
but the world gathers your words directly through the air
like the blessing of birdsong.
In hours free from clouds of distraction,
when ears are tuned to receive essential frequencies,
the words, the songs arrive.
Above a parade of noisy scrap your net catches more.
Free of all that insulates, we become conductors.
Cadences crackle, the voice is frail, the message is not.
“Listen,” a nurse said,
“I’ll tell you:
The broken ones of the world are repairing other broken ones.
I have a pocket full of fragments of shells
collected near the gulf that separates
my ward and I.
I am trying to reassemble just one,
to hold the glassy relic to his head,
so he may hear the surf again.
The healers are sick and the sick are healers.
We are calling from tidal flats.
We are sand clinging to a line of glue
and I run the length of a sandbar
to bring this fragile earpiece to someone
before the tide returns.”