Memorial Day. I write a dark poem and send it to my mother and sister (we are writing poems each day, sending them to one another). As my mood darkens, I grow restless with intolerance, monstrous with impatience, defeating the intention of the exercise — to give our quarantined lives purpose, an activity we can invest in and share. It was my idea. My sister has jumped in enthusiastically. My mother looks forward to the daily prompts. But poetry. What is poetry? A rhyming verse, a happy refrain? “Go deeper,” I want to tell them, though I hold my tongue. Because who made me poetry god? Can they feel the hostility embedded in my Memorial Day poem?

Soldiers died in wars
And we remember them
On the beach
Or at a barbecue
Roasting animal flesh
To perfection

Holiday weekends
Have always come
With the pressure
Of acknowledging
Not only their occasion
But our good fortune

Never to have gone to war
Never a marine in Afghanistan
Nor a foot-soldier in Iraq
Not a pig or a cow
Or a chicken
On the grill

It has taken me a lifetime and much reflection to recognize my intolerance as a symptom of anxiety– a tantrum that can be controlled with self-discipline and compassion. Because it is the antithesis of what I want to be in the world, which is kind. It is my own kindness I defeat when I am intolerant.

I can apply this to the people on the street who don’t wear masks and runners who come up quickly from behind. Everyone is living in this strange new anxiety-making time, doing the best they can. It’s so important to practice kindness and compassion now– with loved ones and strangers both.

(Painting by Gerhard Richter)

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