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Authors: Amanda Gorman

Call Us What We Carry (9 page)

BOOK: Call Us What We Carry
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After Layli Long Soldier

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In the beginning was the word.

—John 1:1


We thought we’d awaken to a world in mourning.

Heavy clouds crowding, a society storming.

But there’s something different on this golden morning.

Something magical in the sunlight, wide & warming.

We see a dad with a stroller taking a jog.

Across the street, a bright-eyed girl chases her dog.

A grandma on a porch fingers her rosaries.

She grins as her young neighbor brings her groceries.

While we might feel small, separate & all alone,

Our people have never been more closely tethered.

The question isn’t
we can weather this unknown,

we will weather this unknown together.

So, on this meaningful morn, we mourn & we mend.

Like light, we can’t be broken, even when we bend.

As one, we will defeat both despair & disease.

We stand with healthcare heroes & all employees;

With families, libraries, waiters, schools, artists;

Businesses, restaurants & hospitals hit hardest.

We ignite not in the light, but in lack thereof,

For it is in loss that we truly learn to love.

In this chaos, we will discover clarity.

In suffering, we must find solidarity.

For it’s our grief that gives us our gratitude,

Shows us how to find hope, if we ever lose it.

So ensure that this ache wasn’t endured in vain:

Do not ignore the pain. Give it purpose. Use it.

Read children’s books, dance alone to DJ music.

Know that this distance will make our hearts grow fonder.

From these waves of woes our world will emerge stronger.

We’ll observe how the burdens braved by humankind

Are also the moments that make us humans kind;

Let each morning find us courageous, brought closer;

Heeding the light before the fight is over.

When this ends, we’ll smile sweetly, finally seeing

In testing times, we became the best of beings.


In ancient Rome, augurs were official diviners,

Their darting eyes interpreting

Omens & the inked stain

Of birds across the sky.

Their job was not to prophesy the future,

But to determine if their new-named gods

Approved of an action before it began.

The only way to correctly predict

The future is to pave it,

Is to brave it.

The breakage is where we begin.

The rupture is for remembering.

That is to say,

Here is where we hold our hurt.

We inaugurate our dreams at the injury.

We consecrate at the cut.

Under a suture of sun,

We sense ourselves stir,

Slowly, sweetly,

As if for the first time.

This nearly tore us apart.

Yes, indeed.

It tears us to start.


The making of plans,

When this is over

We can’t wait

Really our knuckles rapping

Against the future, sounding

Out what lies beneath its hull.

But tomorrow isn’t revealed,

Rather rendered, refined. Wrought.

Remember that fate isn’t fought

Against. It is fought for. Again

& again.

* * *

Maybe there is no fresh wisdom,

Just old woes,

New words to name them by

& the will to act.

We’ve seen life lurching back in stops & starts

Like a wet-born thing learning to walk.

The air charged & changed.

Us, charged & changed.

A yoked-out eternity

For that needle to pierce our arm.

At last: a pain we asked for.

Yes, it is enough to be moved

By what we might be.


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Our hands splay toward some

Hazy & far-flung happiness

& we cleave open for some fragile

Non-evil, no matter how brief:

To touch,

To meet,

To human

Again; a scatter of non-particular

Wonders to be revisited.

All these unutterable blessings we forfeited—

Hugs, hope, heart—

Finally beloved by all & belittled by none.

It will take a whole fleet

Of words to return.

* * *

Then comes the thrust of our throats:

There is no more revenge

We shall boast, no matter

How heavily bladed in our fingers

Change is made of choices,

& choices are made of character.

Cling to whatever brings us to begin,

Even if it is formless as foam.

We keep hoping

For no reason at all.

For every reason we share.

It is loss, as well as logic,

When we cry:

May those laid to rest never leave us,

But lead us to rise.

We lived.

& that was more than we asked for

We, too, must howl ourselves ablaze.

* * *

We write

Because you might listen.

We write because

We are lost

& lonely,

& you, like us,

Are looking

& learning.


A film is not what happened, a film is an impression of what happened.

—Dustin Lance Black


The part of the narrative where we see our hero as they see the world. We understand “normal” in terms of how we believe a story begins.

Dec. 2019: A new pneumonia-like illness is identified in Wuhan, China (& though we aren’t aware of it yet, a patient treated in France in late December too has the coronavirus).

Dec. 18: Australia experiences its hottest day on record, following its driest spring.


Our hero is summoned to some call that bends beyond the horizon.
Will they follow
, the audience ponders, munching on their popcorn. Only you can answer that.

Jan. 2020: Australia’s apocalyptic brushfire season garners international attention. Over the course of the crisis, an estimated 46 million acres are burnt, thirty-three lives lost & 3,094 homes
destroyed. The World Wildlife Fund estimates in January that over a billion animals die. Burning of the Amazon rain forest & deforestation across the globe continue. In 2020, around 10,900 square kilometers of forest—more than 2 million US football fields—will be cut down.

Jan. 30: The World Health Organization (WHO) declares a global health emergency.


The hero rejects the summoning. They are indolent, intimidated, or both. They are not yet what the story demands they become.

Feb. 7: Dr. Li Wenliang, a Chinese doctor who tried to warn the public early on about COVID-19, dies after contracting the virus. In early January, the authorities had forced him to sign a statement denouncing his concerns as unfounded. Use flashbacks as both foreshadowing & dramatic irony.


A teacher appears, bone-deep with knowledge. They would have our hero learn what they have never known, never questioned.

Dr. Anthony Stephen Fauci speaks center stage.


Our hero enters the new realm, the winding wood, the perilous path. There is no turning back, or else we turn our back on ourselves.

The Ides of March: The
Grand Princess
cruise ship is held at sea. In Italy, people sing off their balconies. Here, the music swells in the soundtrack, soft & undying. On March 11, the WHO declares COVID-19 a pandemic. On March 13, Breonna Taylor, a twenty-six-year-old emergency medical technician in Louisville, Kentucky, is killed by police officers during a botched raid on her home. She is not the target of the raid, nor was the target there. A total of thirty-two rounds are fired by the officers’ service weapons. It takes time for us to learn Taylor’s name & even longer to say it.

Borders seal, social distancing, lockdown & quarantine are the lay of the land. By March 26, the US has more reported infections than any other country, disproportionately killing people of color, the working class & the incarcerated. By April 2, there have been more than 1 million confirmed cases in 171 countries. Nearly 10 million Americans lose their jobs. Show close-ups of people scavenging for toilet paper, children at home chewing on absolutely nothing.


Obstacles bloom at every step, curved outward like weeds. We must adapt or fail.

In May, Japan & Germany both enter recessions. Cases rise in Latin America, deaths in the US pass 100,000, still the most of any nation. We are desperate to flatten the curve. Oh, how we miss curving into each other.


Loss strikes, loud & irrevocable as a gunshot. We must dedicate ourselves to our dead, march onward since they cannot.

May 25: George Floyd, a forty-six-year-old African American man, is killed in police custody as an officer kneels on his neck, ignoring his pleas that he can’t breathe.

May 26: Black Lives Matter protests begin in Minneapolis & spread around the world. All over, we scream. We keep screaming.


A surprise, like suddenly looking down & seeing a knife sprout from your gut. This, among storytellers, is called a twist.

June 11: Coronavirus cases in Africa top 200,000.

July 10: We are numb & numbered. The US reaches 68,000 new cases in a day, shattering its single-day record for the seventh time in eleven days. Cut to a wide shot of a flag wearing a rusted gold medal.

July 13: By now, more than 5 million Americans have lost their health insurance.


There is no question about it: We have failed one another in the worst way. All seems lost. We are trapped in the trench; even crawling is beyond us.

Aug. 22: Global virus deaths surpass 800,000. Body after body after body after

Sep. 2020: Wildfires across California, Oregon & Washington make up the worst fire season on record, leading the states to
experience some of the worst air quality on the planet (in some areas of Oregon, the air hazards actually surpassed the Air Quality Index). The fires burn more than 10.2 million acres of land, destroy over 10,000 buildings & kill almost forty people.

Sep. 3: The virus surges at US colleges, totaling more than 51,000 cases.

Sep. 7: India, with more than 4 million infections, becomes the nation with the second-highest number of cases.

Sep. 28: Global deaths reach 1 million, no doubt an underestimation.

Oct. 11: The world records more than 1 million new cases in three days.


The hero clenches their fist. Something tightens inside us like a muscle, a trembling memory reminds us of who & what we are. The music crescendos out of our bones. None of this is normal. Then again, neither are we.

Nov. 7: Joe Biden wins the US presidential election.

Dec. 2: The UK issues emergency-use authorization for Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine, becoming the first Western country to do so, & begins vaccinations on Dec. 8.

Dec. 6: COVID-19 outranks heart disease as the leading cause of death in the US.

Dec. 11: The FDA grants an emergency authorization for vaccines by Pfizer & will later do the same for Moderna on the 18th.

Dec. 14: The US death toll surpasses 300,000. Sandra Lindsay, a New York–based intensive care nurse, becomes the first person to receive a COVID vaccine in the US outside a clinical trial. She describes how important it was for her to get the shot as a Black woman. One governor says that this is the weapon that will end the war. As we soon see, the war has just begun.


Our hero must engage in a battle between opposing forces. Armed with sword, saber, wands & words, they must defend what they believe in.

Jan. 6: Trump supporters storm the US Capitol, leading to the deaths of five people. Somewhere a poet writes in moonless light & all at once puts her pen down.

Jan. 7–8: Facebook & Instagram suspend Trump (later in June it is announced that this ban is for two years, ending in 2023). Twitter permanently bans Donald Trump for violating its glorification of violence policy.


Everything, it seems, has built up to this—a climax, a climb, high enough for us to see the pain, as well as the plain past it.

Jan. 20: Ext. Capitol Building—Day. Joe Biden is inaugurated as the forty-sixth president of the US, with Kamala Harris becoming the first-ever female vice president, as well as the first Asian American & African American to hold said position. Amanda Gorman, a skinny Black girl descended from slaves, becomes the youngest inaugural poet in US history. At exactly noon, sheer gray clouds bend & break for the day.


The hero wipes down their sword, counts the dead. They are heading home, back to where it began. Head held high & bowed at the same time, they will never forget what happened here.

Jan. 20 continued: Construction of the Keystone XL pipeline is halted after President Biden revokes the permit of the project, which had planned to carry 800,000 barrels of oil from Alberta to the Texas Gulf Coast. Hours after his inauguration, President Biden announces in a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that the US will remain a member of the WHO, canceling the withdrawal planned by the previous administration.

Feb. 19: The US rejoins the Paris Climate Agreement.

Feb. 27: The FDA issues an emergency use authorization for the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) COVID vaccine.

March 11: A year after the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic.

March 12: The United States administers its 100 millionth vaccine. Cases drop.

April 13: President Biden announces that he will withdraw all US forces from Afghanistan by Sep. 11, the twentieth anniversary of 9/11, ending the country’s longest war. In August, the Taliban will take control of Kabul.

April 20: George Floyd’s killer is convicted on two counts of murder & one count of manslaughter. All over, we weep.

By late July, almost 4 billion vaccination doses have been administered worldwide. We unglue our foreheads from our knees, tug our hands away from our faces like masks. Beneath them our smiles are stripped down like breastplates after war.

Somewhere a reader reads this.

Does resolution exist if it is ongoing, unwritten, unread?

The part of the narrative where we see our hero as they see the world. We understand “normal” in terms of how we believe a story begins. Inspirational, insightful, inside us.

There is always someone missing from the music.


The hero is different. Their universe is different. There is something new perched on the edge of the earth like a sun.

Hint at the movie’s sequel,
, coming later this year, as well as the third installment,


Narrator’s voice rambles, soaking up the silence.

Cue protagonist theme melody from the beginning for a good bookend.

At the end of their journey, a hero may stand in the same place where their story started, but nevertheless they have been irrevocably shifted, altered, displaced.

We are not all heroes, but we are all at least human. This is not a closing, but an opening, a widening—not a yawn but a scream, a poem sung. What will we admit of & into ourselves. There is no such thing as “all over” or “all done.” If we are brought any closure, it will be in us being brought closer. Oh, how neat & needed strife seems when it is storied. How we send a clean-carved arc on & on. Our tales are how this world is passed.

This timeline, naturally, will never be complete. The sample is never simple, is always insufficient at invoking the insufferable.

There is no one way to count who & what counted most to us in that dark.

These are but some of the things we overcome.

But let us come to be more than their sum.

BOOK: Call Us What We Carry
8.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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