Vaccine, Please. Restore Our Lives.

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The U.S. COVID news is a murky mix of contradictions: We see steadily rising vaccinations - 187 million to date, with Saturday setting a record of over four million - but over 75% of the country isn't fully vaccinated; meanwhile, for the third straight week, new cases and hospitalizations are up. Last week saw over 68,000 new cases a day, largely in vaccine-hesitant red states; many are younger adults, with the deadly new B.1.1.7 variant now the dominant strain across the U.S. For millions looking with hope toward the growing availability of vaccines but still grappling with pandemic trauma from these last long, dark, cloistered months, a new Global Vaccine Poem project offers a chance to "hope abundantly," to use the powerful tool of poetry both to make meaning of what we've been through and to help us heal from it. A collaboration of Kent State's Wick Poetry Center and the University of Arizona Poetry Center, the project seeks to create a global community poem, "inviting all" to share their voices, their feelings, their pained losses, their shiny visions for the future. Running through April to correspond with National Poetry Month, the project airs new poems every Friday on WKSU, includes a vaccine finder from Boston Children's Hospital, and hopes to create  programs for schools next fall. Its premise is simple: Share your thoughts and feelings in your own words, with no worries about rhyming, grammar, literary niceties. It offers four prompts to ease the way - Dear Vaccine, We Liked, It's the, Vaccine Please - based on its inaugural poem by Naomi Shihab Nye, the Poetry Foundation's Young People's Poet Laureate. Nye wrote, "Vaccine, please/Restore our lives/Believe they were beautiful."
 
Since the website's April 6 launch, many hundreds of people from every state and 51 countries have sent poems. They are short and long, minimalist and dense, full of sorrow, gratitude, uncertainty, regret, jubilation, the longing through "these many months/stock still/static" to hug a pregnant daughter, share "holy reciprocity," revisit "the smiling face of an old friend /seen again/through the clearing fog/waving me into the shore," relish the crowd in a dark movie theater "even when someone behind us laughs too loudly." "We liked our lives," writes one. "Maybe we didn't thank them enough." More: "The blessing of science/reunites me with grandma...None of us imagined that breath/ could bring us death...Gift us a new vision/of relentless benevolence...Vaccine, please bring back our dancing shoes/ and we will sing our song of freedom...Enter our lives like light/pass through our bodies/leave us shining/and alive....Dear vaccine/please let our breath/be a prayer of hope/we remember those we loved/and still love...Let us share/dear vaccine/the space around us/again. A teacher asks, "Grant us (the) useful liberty of shared work/the sacred plume of chalk dust." Many voice the hard and solitary lessons learned, the "call for the need to do better." "Dear vaccine, help in bringing us back together/not divide us apart/to value you, but/value each other the most." And, "Vaccine, please would you/restore our community/we need each other."
 "We want to see each other again/Not “see”, but IRL LOL/We want to hold each other again,/Not a quick hug, but the long embrace/That says we belong./And we want the walls between us to dissolve/To come tumbling down from Joshua’s trumpets./Also we want our lives back—/Our jobs, our people, our homes/Or we want new lives instead/With the right to exist/Real liberty, real justice for all./And vaccine, we also need you to fix our governments and end our wars/And make us whole./Such a long list for such a little vial!/Too many hopes misplaced./Too much/Ok then./Time now to roll up our own sleeves/And get to work."

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