If You Ever Wonder

          A response poem for Gloria Heffernan

I want you to know
in these dark days
when all the world
is utterly changed,
one thing that remains
is how we feel
when anyone opens
the book of Us
to a random page
and finds a truth
they had forgotten.

Nurses and doctors,
meat packers and crop pickers,
journalists and janitors,
clerics and counselors,
bus drivers and truckers,
mail carriers and shelf stockers,
first responders and trash collectors,
scientists and governors and cooks,
every essential worker
eats and drinks
from the book of Us.

Pots and pans clang
from balconies and windows
flung wide from street to sky.
We are the cheering crowd, the book of Us
assembled and bound
together between soft covers
by a strong, supple spine.
Every page is sacred text.
Nobody is not essential.
We are the prayer for our ailing world
and this is the beginning of our shift.

Play notes: A few months ago, the poet Gloria Heffernan sent a poem of gratitude to me and my co-editor Ruby R. Wilson for Poetry of Presence. Ruby and I had never met Gloria, or even communicated. Gloria’s poem, “In Case You Ever Wonder,” floored me. By way of reply, I decided to write a “response poem,” building on Gloria’s own words. You can read the two poems here, side by side. I've since shared this poem through the Gatherings project, a powerful “art-and-poetry based experiment in giving and receiving” that has emerged from the pandemic. You might wish to try writing your own poem in response to another poet's reflections on the pandemic. (You could even write in response to this one!)