“It was at first a foreign emergency”
Sadiqa de Meijer shares her pandemic poem
In the spring of 2020 Kingston Poet Laureate Jason Heroux and the City of Kingston started a project entitled Poetry in the Time of a Pandemic. Kingston poets were commissioned to write an original poem capturing the local human spirit as people went through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jason contributed “All People", which was posted to the KFPL Poetry Blackboard in May. He invited four more local poets — Bruce Kauffman, Eric Folsom, Sadiqa de Meijer and Alyssa Cooper -- to join him, with their contributions to be released on the first of each month from June through September.
Jason’s own poem “All People" launched the project, and it was posted to the KFPL Poetry Blackboard in May. Bruce Kauffman’s “this morning" was the next poem, posted on June 1. Sadiqa de Meijer's “Chronology of the Emergency” followed on July 2.
Watch the Blackboard on August 1 and September 1 for poetry from Eric Folsom and Alyssa Cooper.
Chronology of the Emergency
by Sadiqa de Meijer
It was at first a foreign emergency. Another terse
and transient refrain on news tickers at the sushi place. Skilled hands
cleaved avocados, uber drivers came and went. To crowd
a narrow counter was as ordinary as the falling snow. The numbered
dead were pixel casualties; we knew not to picture people
as beloved as our own. But the threat
was that it could become domestic, that it wouldn't know
a border from a pencil mark, would quietly transmit
from screens to rooms where our own imprints were
on chairs, where the dust was flakes of skin. The emergency
was only figuratively in the air, or was it? Maybe it would still expire
very slowly in our medicine cabinets. But then the emergency was singing
from Neopolitan balconies, went into quarantine at Sussex Drive,
killed its first rumourmonger witness. The graph said that our golden time
was ending. The emergency came with the snowdrops and the early robins
in the grass, slant ampersands that bound the blank unknowns
together. The directives for some resembled leisure. First there
were daytime fathers in the park. The emergency
could hide itself inside someone for five, no ten, no
fourteen days. It was going to cull us like Point Pelee deer.
It swiped the store shelves clear, it only tapped to pay. Then
playgrounds closed with crime tape. The emergency
took the subway. It found the captive and the minimally waged,
the lungs already waterlogged with griefs. It was
another bad time to be or seem Chinese
in our country, or was it just still a bad time. The blinds
were shut at nursing homes. Patients sputtered to their deaths
alone. The living stood in stagnant lines outside the grocery stores,
upright and apart like dominoes that wouldn't fall
against each other. Then the line-ups were outside the Cash Money
and the free meal truck in the park. On screens, groups of Indian
labourers crouched under disinfectant sprays, the Comfort
sailed past the Statue of Liberty, skies over Stuttgart cleared.
Outside, the birds seemed easier to hear. Masculinities struggled
with cloth masks. Classes, funerals, and iftar took
to Zoom. The emergency wore a crown. It was beautiful
in electron micrographs. It was mass graves and boredom
and skin hunger, it was scheduled announcements
of what would resume. Some said the new world order, some said
a revelation of what we always were. Choreography
of vigilant pedestrians. A vaccine is the emergency declared
disarmed. A breath is the movement of air into us into air.
Sadiqa wrote: “In March, when the coronavirus prevention measures first reached Canada, I took walks around my neighbourhood. It was quieter than usual, of course, and like others I was struck by the slow accumulations of unusual sights and experiences over those early weeks. I started taking notes, and a few months later I compiled them into this poem, “Chronology of the Emergency.” It is June at this writing and some of the public health measures have recently been lifted, but we all remain in unknown territory for now.”