Mr. Harmon Returns from One Place to Another

We wrote a ghazal about vaccines

May 06, 2021

I recently hosted an online poetry reading and social gathering called Vax Party USA. The real purpose of the event was just to share some poetry with some of my closest friends, but it was also to celebrate the increasing availability of COVID-19 vaccines.

As the centerpiece of the event, we all worked together on a ghazal about vaccines. If you're not familiar with the ghazal, it's a traditional Arabic poetic form that has spread all over the world. Legend has it that it's the oldest poetic form still in use.

If you watch the video above, you can see my sloppy introduction to the ghazal. You can also see my friend Andrew Nicholson read the ghazal that the crowd collaborated on.

There's something fascinating about introducing people—especially non-poets—to a new form. It's easy to see a lot of variation in how people approached the form, whether they followed all of the rules or not. In my introduction, I joked that since most of us are new to the ghazal, we'd all be "good little formalists" in our first try writing one. Some people definitely took that as a challenge and tried to go as avant-garde as they could. A lot of people kept to the rules too. There were plenty great contributions on both sides. Together, the poem is a kind of wild cacophony of the fears and hopes we're all experiencing right now, as people wish for vaccine adoption to end this awfulness.

That's just the tip of the iceberg, though. Watch the full video to get a real taste of what the day was like, with its jarring mix of transcendence and silliness. See the YouTube video description for credits and more information.

Here's the poem.

Moderna travels at -25 Celsius. Don’t open it unless you know vaccines.
Ten doses in each vial come from Massachusetts where they grow vaccines.

Some patients sardined into stadiums to get the serum in their arms
and others hit up CVS in search of unclaimed, ever-so vaccines.

People are afraid to breathe; they can be set free—
embrace the 25 below vaccines.

Moderna, Pfizer, and J&J are going to make a bundle
If we all get in bed we will need a throw made of old yellow vaccines

As if humid air wasn’t hard enough to drink, Jair thinks you’ll be OK,
In a cauldron fourteen million bodies wide, brews a way to slow vaccines

Measures meant to slow the spread rank below vaccines—
The suspicious still shout and demonstrate, saying no; vax scenes.

To get them into arms faster, maybe we need to throw vaccines.
Or maybe we need a wedding. You’re my new beau, vaccines.

After spending a year-plus on our own COVID Walden Ponds
We shrug off our cloaks of Henry David Thoreau, vaccines!

Following slow torrent of rain over a year,
We rush into our gazebo: vaccines!

Vaccines into arms! Vaccines into shoulders! Vaccines into triceps! Vaccines into muscles! Vaccines
travel under skin, vaccines into chests, vaccines into hearts, vaccines into haircuts, into toes, vaccines!

We’re a Pfizer Pfamily, Others are more Modern,
Different vials, different lots, different needles. Flow, Vaccines!

I almost hugged the Kaiser nurse who shot me up with the beautiful vaccine
Inappropriate excitement among social-distance strangers waiting to go: vaccine!

We should call it the Johnson vaccine
The Pfizer & Pfizer vaccine, the Moderna & Moderna vaccine

No ending, just a million more beginnings.
Even though at midnight, on my screen glow vaccines.

I got my dosey-dos but have you gotten your single dose of vaccine
Your healthy, lean cuisine vaccine

Grind our scabs, let our wounds heal each other, vaccine!
2 weeks, 4 weeks, 2 weeks, embrace, vaccine!

“Which arm?” she asked. I hid my excitement in a nonchalant shrug.
I pretended to be chill, but all I could think was “whoa, vaccines!”

Mundane episodes hindered my attempt to drive toward you,
so I ate some pumpernickel bread to digest the no-no vaccines.

The weight of shame in my arm, as relief washes through me,
knowing I have been unequally visited by vaccines.

It was a date, our times concurrent. The rain began. We hoofed the blocks.
Closed restaurants, their windows papered over months now with Slovak zines.

Zero-sum privileged individualists scramble over the stockpile
while variants evolve in crowded corners of the world that slow vaccines.

Anti-vaxxers are trying to shut sites down—they want no vaccines.
Let’s protect ourselves and others around—let’s say go vaccines.

So much praise! But is this creation, this marvel, the greatest achievement?
Maybe, rather, that is when a doubter changes and accepts vaccines.

T-lymphocytes, B-lymphocytes, mRNA vaccines, vector vaccines,
swelling, wheezing, sneezing, breezing—by all means, submarines.

The earth is full, the earth lives on, onward through the pandemic—
Birds, beasts, sun, Elliot, rainbow, vaccines.

The authors of this poem have released it to the public domain under the CC0 Public Domain Dedication.