The following poem is a living thing, as it's inspirational and beloved inhabitants once were. For every preventable and tragic death due to COVID under our governments, I have added one word to this ongoing poem. As of February 22, 2021, this poem has 1827 words.
On the day Lewis Hamilton becomes the first Black man to win seven Formula 1 championships, Alberta breaks 1000 new COVID cases. My mother cancels Diwali while my relatives return to work for the 270th day in a row, packing food and Christmas flyers, and staffing Emergency Rooms in infested hospitals.
My best friend is called back to the medical floor she once left under the threat of punishment and takes to sheltering inside herself while wealthy men dine out at Earl's Restaurant. Aritzia's online sales go through the roof as Sephora underpays their workers to sell makeup for work-from-home and the Canada Post mailman sings up and down my street as he delivers my tenth package in two weeks.
The premier takes to radio shows to blame everyone but himself, asking for me and my people to wake up, and neither my city councilor nor my Mayor defend us.
The city relies on Uber Eats drivers from Millwoods and the 11PM staff in the Taco Bell in Ellerslie to get through these difficult times, calling every attempted public health measure a "lockdown". The McDonalds in Leduc still does great business as rich politicians fly out of the Edmonton International Airport so that traditional Hawaii vacations are maintained, all while young folks bring disease home, unable to quit their jobs when the government demands rent to be paid in full. Rent is raised to make up for lost income while landlords claim emergency benefits as yet another small business closes down, lost in the depths of a failed system.
Another friend buys a house worth twenty-two times my life insurance, while others move back home, unable to stay within walking distance of an LRT. Manulife Insurance cancels my health coverage without telling me and promises to reinstate it only if I have not fallen ill, seen a doctor, or received special testing in the days I went without it.
Women around the world share tearful congratulations about Kamala Harris’ ascension to Vice President of the free world, leaving out the names of trans women who will die under police brutality. The revolution is forgotten for anyone who has the keys to change it while those the system hates continue to fight for more than anyone has ever promised us. Canadians as a whole are nothing like our neighbours until Regis Korchinski-Paquet and Ejaz Chaudry are both murdered without consequence. Then the tune changes, and it’s Edmonton that’s nothing like Toronto. Architecture supporting homeless folks in the downtown core is seen as trespass, while public lands go unused. Doing nothing is less harmful than doing something, so the police are directed to slash tents and trash belongings without a care to the cameras filming. All of this is legal under municipal hand wringing, as men and women return home to soft beds after another hard day's work blaming the provincial government.
MEAT off Whyte puts out more patio heaters to keep afloat as boutique stores down the Ave go out of business without rent relief or aid. The old Army and Navy becomes an empty husk, abandoned turtle's shell, once a home to cheap thrills, staring out at the street with shallow eyes as I pass on the way to Calgary Trail. Across the street, clothing stores once considered staples reduce hours before moving online as Malt and Mortar seats twenty at a time. None of the staff would choose this, I'm sure, if they had any choice at all. And to be honest, I've never caught COVID trying on shoes but I'm sure the brisket is worth it.
Curfew is now ten o'clock which means happy hour still ends at 8, and when we run to the old Mac's on the corner for eggs we hold our breath so the bar crowd buying lottery tickets don't fog up our glasses. Across the street, The King and I shuts down for good, but leaves my memories of the bad date and my memories of the good one inside my chest. On the walk back home I tell myself that things will get better. Hope has become a scarce commodity, and as usual it is the minorities who can’t vote that run out first as they pick up shifts delivering groceries so the federal government has nothing to claw back. I wonder how many times the Indian clerk has known I am glad to see him so far from the suburbs, and that it makes me happy to know he hasn't fallen sick yet. I smile at him beneath my mask when he asks if four bottles of kombucha are everything we're looking for. I’ve heard a rumour that casinos are booming.
Elderly folks die in private care homes without a last Christmas while Indian mothers work two jobs to keep up with being good immigrants on both Sal Mubarak and New Years Eve. Restrictions are eased for white folks to celebrate the holidays and anyone who points out the hypocrisy is considered a bad "mental health advocate". The actual mental health advocates call for guaranteed basic income and housing first, but if proven solutions were actually implemented the nonprofit industrial complex would collapse and take exploited labourers with it.
A brave mother goes public, first with the names of every staffer and publicly paid politician who felt entitled to leave town while my cousin worked overtime at the hospital. She is ambushed in plain air and has her story stolen, but weeks later returns still with damning evidence of public health defiance at the same Earl's Restaurant that once provided needy patrons with socially distanced groceries. Pivoting is no longer the name of the game. Instead, those peddling defiance for the sake of the economy spit on the lives and graves of thousands of workers catching sickness without sick pay. Funeral homes are backed up and memorials are unattended as each life lost remains precious and abandoned by the government.
Every day I wonder if I'm imagining things.
Other young radicals are attacked on Twitter for their vision of a freer future, while popular radio hosts platform white women playing Devil’s Advocate. Grieving sons and daughters share screenshots of their final moments with their parents, as grandmas line up for a vaccine that has been rumoured to not be promised to anyone but the NHL. Lewis Hamilton contracts COVID, misses an entire Formula 1 race, and comes back in a week to end the season in a car with the names of every support staff who sacrificed their health so that I could sit on my couch and watch him drive for pleasure. Sergio Perez wins a race and for a moment I cry with happiness at a good underdog story. Us artists working to keep our loved ones entertained are considered less than dogs to most leaders while real dogs are in high demand, breeders birthing puppies that will grow up overwhelmed and overstimulated. Cats on Zoom are the real heroes, reminding me of my humanity every time I crave touch through a high definition screen and am left with empty fingers.
On campus, international students pay extra to quarantine in a country that thinks them worthless, while cashiers at brand name grocers charge 5 cents for plastic bags that will end up in saltwater. Winners and Homesense refuse to transition their inventory online, encouraging shoppers to come in person to unproven safe spaces while a new location on Whyte Ave lays empty and warm as people down the street freeze to death. Mutual aid groups set up at Gazebo Park months after inhabitants are shoved out, offering life-saving harm reduction and warm clothes and tents that the police will surely destroy again. A man dies in a hospice with only his staff to eulogize him.
Every week I call my father and my doctor, both of whom care about my pancreas more than my pancreas cares about me, and think about how saying I’m disabled or queer or brown are all comorbities. In the USA, citizens are furious that blaming fat people and demonizing their weight has allowed them to receive their first doses of vaccinations sooner, arguing that disability makes fat people less worthy of life. They want me to believe it.
My astronaut friend talks at length about Mars, and for a second I daydream before I remember that she was told to wake up to the reality that this is her fault. In space-time's continual quest for meaning, the Mars rover Perseverance touches down successfully, and I weep knowing that children who worked their whole lives for this day are people too as they cheer in a NASA control room. My friend continues working as a citizen-scientist and a doctor, and I am grateful that for some, hope is a lifeblood and not a luxury..
Teens take up the mantle to uphold Treaty and save the lives of those the City wishes didn't exist. The City wishes harder, shoves bodies into a convention center, and hopes the people with votes are appeased that no tax dollars have been wasted. In fact, the City does not raise taxes, so I lay awake and wonder which part of the Municipal Government Act, Section 7, prevents the City from spending money in a crisis in the name of the safety, health and welfare. But then again, I’ve only spent ten years studying politics, so what would a property-less millennial like me know about it.
Mayoral candidates start their long hauls to the finish line without once questioning their own acceptance of a system that hates them and wants them dead. I wait day by day for a candidate that believes in the future I want, and wonder if my mother could have predicted loneliness like this when she left India a lifetime ago.
I think about Christmas. I think about Easter and rebirth. I think about cooking for the 365th day in a row and divorced wives stuck in houses as women's shelters reach capacity over and over again. I think about starvation.I think about home. How being human makes me worthy of at least one of these things.
And, mostly I think about death. How my faith in politics died first in a refrigerator truck, then a field hospital. How deeply our love runs for our own imminent ecological collapse, how freeing up ICU beds is a success story and not a tragedy, how arrows on the floor are oppressive intervention and not simple courtesy, how tiki torch bearing white supremacists think it's their god-given right to sentence the rest of the world to death - what god will you face, and how much will I pay in my people's blood to see it.
I took one word for everybody in this province who died a preventable death, and wrote a poem. Eighteen-hundred twenty-seven words, one for every child that grew and loved under the hands collective negligence. How eloquent it will make me tomorrow. A previous draft of this poem is available here: https://www.nishapatel.ca/post/432-615-719