I recently noticed that those stupid Facebook memes asking whether we really knew anyone who had contracted or died of Covid-19 have disappeared. Their slightly smarmy insinuation that the pandemic was a hoax has become completely untenable. More than 25 million cases, more than 400,000 deaths and counting. At this point, virtually everyone knows someone who has suffered this modern plague, and most know someone who has died of it. We are surrounded by death, in constant mourning.
We can remember the dead. We can affectionately and proudly recall their deeds and foibles. We can learn from their lives. We can dedicate our lives to making their deaths meaningful. We can pledge to make deaths like theirs impossible in the future. What we can’t do is bring them back to life.
Years ago, I wrote a poem about our relationship to death and the dead that feels appropriate for this peak point in the pandemic. Here it is:
AN ANGEL PASSES OVER
Villains and heroes die often, in many ways,
in text, in song, in film and theatre.
On monuments to war, innocents and soldiers
die together, their causes dying with them.
Presidents and martyrs die one time each year,
while every night the news displays the incoherent death
of many, some by name, some by implication,
all dying every hour on the hour.
A friend may die several times a week,
another every time a certain song is heard.
A favorite aunt will die in prayer.
A brother dies in every mirror.
A father’s death occurs in boozy dream,
while in a trembling moment after sleep,
a mother dies, again and again. A wife, a child,
who can count the times they die each day?
in shrieking brake, in distant slam,
with every ringing phone, on every turning page.
The rain falls twice upon this pall of earth,
once so hard, droplets bounce
from bricks, from cars, from glass,
flicker candle-like, and fall a second time.
Originally published in Yawp!, 2003