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Tuesday, April 19, 2022

A Prufrock for the Covid Era, or, How I Spent My Day in Quarantine

Prufrock's Streaming Consciousness
By Tamar Wyschogrod

(With apologies to TS Eliot)

Let us stay then, you and me,

When the waiting room is spread against the screen,

Like a patient seeking telemedicine;

Let us stay, in certain nicely done-up rooms,

The muttering retreats

Of endless days on droning video calls

With coffee mugs and Zinfandel.

Rooms that follow like a tedious argument

Of insidious intent

To lead you to an overwhelming question.

Oh, do not ask, “Am I muted?”

Let us sit until we’re rooted.

In the Zoom the women glitch and freeze,

Talking of their NFTs.

The bluish light that rubs its back upon the laptop screens,

The bluish glow that rubs its muzzle on the smartphone screens,

Clicked-on links to fill the emptiness of the evening,

Lingered on Twitter memes and TikTok tunes,

Let fall upon its queue whatever falls from algorithms,

Slipped by the sort order, made a sudden beep,

And, seeing that the battery was dangerously low,

Curled once about the bed, and fell asleep.

And indeed there will be time

For the bluish light that slides along the line,

Rubbing its back upon the laptop screens;

There will be time, there will be time

To mask your face to meet the faces that you meet;

There will be time to contact and expose,

And time for all the works and days of lungs,

That leave contagious droplets on your plate;

Time for you and time for me,

And time yet for a hundred failed inspections,

And for a hundred infections and reinfections,

In restaurants while taking toast and tea.

In the Zoom the women glitch and freeze,

Talking of their NFTs.

And indeed there will be time

To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”

Time to apply a background of my choice,

And a filter to enhance my voice – 

(They will say: “How her face has grown fat!”)

A fancy blouse, some makeup and my cat,

My face composed while on my phone I chat --

(They will say: “Even her cat is fat!”)

Do I dare

Disturb the Twitterverse?

In a minute there is time

For tweets and retweets which a keystroke will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all:

Asynchronous lectures, webinars, livestreams,

I have measured out my life with quarantines;

I know the voices fading as connections fail

Leaving silence shouting from the laptop screen.

So how should I presume?

And I have known the eyes already, known them all –

The eyes that peer above the mask begging to be seen,

And when I am vaccinated, sprawling on a pin,

When I am jabbed, rejoicing, at the mall,

Then how should I begin

To face the variants that soon come on in waves?

And how should I presume?

And I have known account names, known them all—

Selfies edited with automated care

(Removed are age lines and some graying hair!)

Is it pictures from a trip

That I would like to skip?

Selfies taken in a crowd, no masks in view at all.

And should I then presume?

And how should I begin?

Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets

And watched miasmas rising from the lungs

Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows? ...

I should have been a valiant Antifa

Marching along the streets of mad cities.

And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!

Dulled by TV binges,

Biopics of singers,

Edgy standup comics, blood-soaked fantasy.

Should I, after comedies and spoofs,

Have the strength to make the nation face its truths?

But though I have masked and distanced, vaxed and boosted,

Though I have seen my hair (pandemic grown) resume its natural shade,

I am no influencer – my content’s undisplayed;

I have seen my viral moment pass and flicker,

And I have seen the eternal A.I. flag my post and snicker,

And in short, I was afraid.

And would it have been worth it, after all,

After the chat, the messenger, the Skype,

Among the pizza boxes, among the endless hype,

Would it have been worthwhile,

To have logged off the webcam with a smile,

To have squeezed the internet into a ball

To roll it towards some overwhelming question,

To say: “I’m David Bowie, CGI’d from the dead,

Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all” -- 

If one, settling a MyPillow by her head

Should say, “That is not what I meant at all;

OK Boomer, not at all.”

And would it have been worth it, after all,

Would it have been worthwhile,

After the riots and the protests and the insurrections,

After the shootings, after the terror, after the blood that spilled along the floor –

And this, and so much more?--

It is impossible to type just what I mean!

But as if an Oculus Rift threw the vid directly on my eyeballs:

Would it have been worthwhile

If one, whose All Lives Matter t-shirt falls,

And turning toward the browser, should say:

“That is not it at all,

That is not what I meant, at all.”

No, I am not Captain America, nor was meant to be;

Am a nameless extra, one that will do

To fill a crowd shot, start a fight or two,

Back up the star; no hero, not super,

Deferential, glad to be of use,

Politic, cautious, and meticulous;

Fine for exposition, but no backstory; 

Almost, at times, a blooper.

I’m not here… I’m not here…

I’ve looped a clip I took last year.

Shall I dye my hair orange? Do I dare to eat indoors?

I shall wear Manolo Blahniks and walk upon the floor.

I have heard the people clap for health care heroes. 

I do not think that they will clap for me.

I have seen them surfing nowhere on their phones,

Checking for comments from people never met,

And whatever’s pinged the saved searches they didn’t set.

We have lingered in the matrix of the net

By viral memes we give a thumbs up or thumbs down

Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

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