Coups and classes and poems
In my head, I thought it had been just a couple of weeks since the first letter I posted. Then, I realized that was December 17th and now it’s January 21st and that’s more than a month, but at least two of those weeks don’t count because we were holding our breath during an attempted coup, right?
That all happened when I was in Michigan, and now I’m back to my apartment in Cambridge with a new semester of classes about to start, freshly cut bangs, and a stockpile of pantry items from El Harissa and Shatila. Yesterday, instead of editing some papers, I spent an hour trying to figure out which Biden granddaughter was in which color coat and looking at photos of Ella Emhoff’s bedazzled tweed coat with combat boots, and sharing all analyses in slack threads and group messages. Then the rest of the night laughing at Bernie memes.
And of course, many of us witnessed the force of Amanda Gorman, youth poet laureate, who wove words and gestures into grace and power with her inauguration poem, “The Hill We Climb.” (I would also recommend reading another of her works, “In This Place (An American Lyric).” A friend of mine texted afterwards that her daughter now wants to write poetry, and scores of folks on Twitter lifted this up as a shining example of why we should support the humanities.
Last week, the world was overtaken by sea shanties, which resulted in me listening to this playlist for most of my drive back to Cambridge. Back before break, I read this excellent article on Brookline parents and the school reopening debates. Then, there’s this weird piece on an influencer argument because two of them both named their babies…Baby? Finally, I discovered this Martín Espada poem, which I’ve read once a day since.
This semester for me is basically a transition between directed coursework and the independent and unbounded research I’ll begin next year. I was finally able to enroll in a sociology seminar on networks and orgs, and other than that, I’m in some methods and writing courses, getting ready for what my program calls a “Potentially Publishable Paper,” or the journal length article we need to have written by the end of our third year. In true Abby fashion, I have many ideas and no decisions (even though I should ideally have a topic for that paper by…tomorrow). Some paths I’m considering are delving into the land of parent debates on school reopening, exploring how local district school boards use legislative action committees to advocate at a state and national level, or staying on the same course and working to get access with some Detroit schools folks.
Apart from this, I’m…in a poetry workshop for January and February! The idea has been in my head for a while—I often find myself writing academically but wishing I had more freedom to write narratively and, push buttons, so to speak—not having to couch everything I write in citations and neutrality. I’ve never written or studied poetry in any sense, only read it, but I took the plunge and we met for the first time yesterday. As you may have read in my last letter, I am someone perpetually terrified of sharing any writing with anyone. I sat down to the Zoom session as the equivalent of someone just dipping their toes into the pool—I figured I would observe, mostly, and if it all got to stressy and I’d made a terrible mistake, I could just feign internet difficulties. And then, the facilitator said that everyone was required to share at least one line from our free writing time, gave us the prompt, and off we went. When it came time to share, oddly enough, for the very first time in my life I didn’t get that dissociative terror in my brain that pops up every time I have to present. I ended up reading everything I’d written. I don’t know if it’s good, if it follows any common rules or conventions of poetry, or whether I’ll work on it anymore, but I like it and it was a beautiful and affirming process to share it aloud in a room full of poets. In the interest of actually following through on my goal to share more writing, it’s attached below with a little explanation of the prompt.
Till next time,
In the style of Ross Gay’s “Love, Here’s the Deal,” write a poem to someone to whom you have something to say. Begin it with, “What I wanted to say was,” and close with, “Here’s what I think I’m trying to say.”
I certainly don’t have a title for this, but it’s to Ronan, the four-year-old I babysit, and to many of the kids who have asked me questions that could be simple or complex.
What I first want to say when when the four-year-old looks across the Charles River and asks me,
“What happens if there are no more buildings for everyone who wants to live in a city?”
is that the limit does not exist, that I don’t think there has ever been a developer
who took no for an answer.
That the purple commuter trains you cheer on as they whoosh past us
into Porter Square are bringing more and more and more
people who are living in more and more and more buildings they build for everyone
who can’t pay $2000 a month for a prewar studio in Beacon Hill but can move
to Arlington where isn’t it so nice to have a yard? Or perhaps
they are arriving from Lawrence, where the gas explosions made 30,000 people evacuate
and the 911 operators hang up on Spanish speakers but the rent is cheap
enough for the people who deliver our groceries and do the building
of the buildings you just asked about.
That the row house apartments you and your brother live in off Kirkland,
where the walls are so thin
I am constantly weighing whether to shush you and
the troupe of masked children pull themselves up
to the windows to peer into homes other than their own,
were likely built when the university realized
their own students could no longer live in the city where they study.
I want to explain
there are already people living in this city who want to live here but don’t
have a building, not because there are no more but because last week in Boston
almost 500 people were evicted in the middle of a pandemic.
You want an answer in the tangible,
a process of events which might sound something like this
if I were being honest:
They find an open space, that might have previously been a school, a store, or even a home for
a kid just like you before they knocked them down, and put another
building right in the same place but for different people.
After all of these potentials race by and your squeeze of my hand reminds me
we’re at the river and I should hold onto you tightly
because we’re about to cross yet another street, here’s what I think I’m trying to say:
Whatever the answer I give and break down
into pieces you can understand, it still won’t convey how much I hope,
how much I hope that you and the other kids I’ve loved who aren’t my own, when you go off
and grow into adults I will no longer know,
decide not to build buildings but rather space for people
who need to live.