761: After

761: After

761: After


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

In the era of collective tragedies, it seems as if there’s always a mention of “the before times” or “pre-pandemic” in conversations discussing what our past or future might look like. And the same is true for those personal tragedies, the years before we lost someone, before someone we love or, we ourselves got sick. It’s an interesting concept, the way we mark our lives, a before and an after. As folks rush to return to some semblance of normal, many of my friends are wary of returning to a pre-pandemic mindset. That mindset seems to throw caution to the wind and act out of only our selfish immediate needs for pleasure or productivity.

On a text thread the other day, we were talking about how sometimes when you are named the chair of an academic department, the school sends you a real physical chair. We were arguing that instead of a chair, our friend should receive a full barrel of bourbon. Not a bottle, a barrel. We do live in Kentucky, this is not an entirely unreasonable request. And another friend on the text thread wrote, “Yes, actual chairs are so pre-pandemic. Bring on the barrel.” And of course it made me think of all the things that are pre-pandemic.

Right now, I’m recovering from Covid. After managing to avoid it for 2 and half years, it finally caught up with both me and my husband. I’m on day 10 now and keep thinking it’s leaving my system and then I get grounded again by fatigue and sinus pressure. I’m utterly aware that part of why I got sick was my rush back to travel. I was in South America for two weeks having a wonderful time, learning to tango, reading poems from incredible Argentine poets, and then well, here we are.

I think of all the pleasures that we have forgone to protect ourselves and each other and how often we said no, no, no and then I found myself weary and so I started saying yes more! Yes to life again. And well, now I am living with the consequences. I’ll be okay, and I’m grateful for vaccines and telehealth appointments and a chance to rest when I need it. Still, it makes me wonder if our world will ever return to what it looked like prior to March of 2020. I can tell you that I feel myself returning to caution, to distance, to self protection and setting firm boundaries for my health and safety. And still, would I take back learning to tango on a rainy winter night in a Buenos Aires nightclub, where the wine was a dollar and in the middle of the dance floor was a giant pulsating heart statue that began to glow? Probably not.

Today’s poem explores the idea of before and after and how we mark our lives with those events that formed who we are and how we live.

by Andrea Cohen

After the accident we had
the phrase after the accident.

Also this: before the accident.
We had a drawer marked

before and after, and after
and before happenings

we’d add atrocities and 
incidents and the wild

asters someone before
and after keeps leaving.

"After" by Andrea Cohen from EVERYTHING copyright © 2021 Andrea Cohen. Used by permission of Four Way Books.