Imagining Your Way through Pandemic: A Love Letter for Students of Creative Writing in Times of Crisis

Emily Carr | Summer 2020

Emily Carr



In the morning, one of you says We no longer know how to live safely in the world.

Outside my office window the trees are throwing their yellow flowers against the startled March sky. Everywhere, it is spring and the Earth is remembering her beauty.

February was tricky and strange. In this open-ended moment—our last?—I am almost fooled into believing March will be different.

That was a Wednesday. By the time I finish teaching Poetry for Prose Writers, campus will be closed, you will be sent home due to a silent, invisible, and unpredictable killer for which we have no cure, and the future as you had once imagined it will suddenly be reduced to ellipsis.

Two weeks later, I invite a poet who knows struggle to join our online session. He says what I—whose struggles are small, having largely been of my own creation—cannot:

  1. You can’t be afraid to think broken because if you don’t think broken you won’t think at all.
  2. What’s your Existential Bucket list? If you don’t have one, get one.
  3. Your fear exists on the threshold of self.
  4. Your fear doesn’t exist in the same shape or form anymore.
  5. Your fear is the cause of someone else’s suffering.
  6. Crisis is a creative opportunity to transform fear.
  7. Rise above for someone who has less than you.
  8. We are born screaming on the inside and die screaming on the outside.
  9. What song unsticks you from Writer’s Block? If you don’t have one, get one.
  10. Visualize the person you want to be on the other side of crisis.

He reminds us that this is an old story. For some, this crisis is the one—in a series of crises that have largely been ignored by the collective—we all happen to care about because the virus does not discriminate as we do.

Together, we write a poem called “Water Believes What We Cannot”:

Buy a plant. Name it after someone who broke your heart.
Don't ask whose imagination you're in.
Everyone should try on a dress at least once.
I believe that spirits visit me. You should be careful which ones you invite.
Don't be a bitch on accident. Be purposeful.
The strongest parts about me are the weaknesses I can admit.
Flatirons are like a crash diet for your hair. Avoid at all costs.
There is no right way to die.
Exercise your lower back. The chip on your shoulder’s not growing any lighter.
Societal expectations have rarely stuck to my slippery skin.
Don't mix prints too often, most don't have the eye for it.
From you, there is no distinction.
I'm going to fly out of a roller coaster seat one day from the drops.
I believe the stock market is just astrology for capitalist men.


Once upon a time in the 20th century, a man fought injustice and suffering, broke his heart on the brutality of the human species. After many years, he walked away. He could no longer participate in stories of false hope and human triumph. He founded an organization for artists and writers committed to the belief that the end of the human race will be that it will eventually die of civilization.

Let’s tell it together: with grace and vulnerability, with discipline and generosity, with an urgency that isn’t—finally—allowed the pettiness of our species.

Together, they wrote: “Now a familiar human story is being played out. It is the story of an empire corroding from within. It is the story of a people who believed, for a long time, that their actions did not have consequences. It is the story of how those people will cope with the crumbling of their own myth. It is our story.”1

Now a familiar story is being played out. Our economy is collapsing from within. We have walked together down that golden road and have met the wizard: a bald little man with all the wrong answers. Now we know our actions have consequences. Now the consequences are coming to get us. All around us, our myths are crumbling. This is our story.

One of hope and distance and loneliness.

Let’s tell it together: with grace and vulnerability, with discipline and generosity, with an urgency that isn’t—finally—allowed the pettiness of our species.


For two centuries, negative capability has been poetry’s superpower, our secret weapon.

Daily, we have used our negative capability to combat the everyday uncertainties, the mysteries and doubts of learning to be a self, of becoming answerable to the world, of stretching ourselves to the place where we might say the things that we don’t actually know how to say.

Daily, we have shared our negative capability with you, our students, as you learn how to shape the air that comes out of your specific and individual throat.

Your lives, your careers, your growth as poets, are being telescoped in this moment, and you have this superpower: negative capability, and how it shapes the air that comes out of your specific and individual throat.

“Negative capability,” Mary Ruefle has somewhat famously written in her essay “On Fear,” “is a bit like the US Constitution. By that I mean that it may be interpreted to suit the purposes of a great many people who are at odds with one another. For instance, nothing prevents someone from saying that the essential definition means: once depressed, stay depressed…”

Ruefle argues that “if negative capability works at all, it works in reverse, a kind of negative negative capability—which would make it positive—where very real anxiety and irritability over mystery and doubt enable the poet—no, propel him—into the world of the eye, the pure perceptual habit that checks all cognitive drives, not before they’ve begun but after they’ve begun, and done their damage. So that the poet paralyzed with fear lying in a hammock on a beautiful day—unhappy person in a happy world—does not suffer any less when he looks around him; he does not cease to suffer, he only ceases to try to understand.”

Ruefle also reminds us that Keats’s development as a poet “was telescoped into an intensely short period of time in which he passed through as many stages as another poet may experience in a life three times as long.”2

Your lives, your careers, your growth as poets, are being telescoped in this moment, and you have this superpower: negative capability, and how it shapes the air that comes out of your specific and individual throat. That air, forged in the hot fire of a fearful soul—a soul taking in fear in a form we never imagined and breathing it out in a new shape—has the potential to liberate us from our runaway American narrative of consumption, hypermobility, and overindulgence.

We are dying as a species.

We have been dying as a species.

Now we recognize our fate as such. We have not been saving the planet. We have been saving ourselves from a planet that is through with us and our inability as a species to live lives in accordance with what, scientifically, we know to be true.

We are nowhere, exactly. Yet the impulse to narrate remains.


Once upon a time in the 21st century, a group of artists came together to change the world. Together, they wrote: “Creativity remains the most uncontrollable of human forces: without it, the project of civilization is inconceivable, yet no part of life remains so untamed and undomesticated. Words and images can change minds, hearts, even the course of history. Their makers shape the stories people carry through their lives, unearth old ones and breathe them back to life, add new twists, point to unexpected endings. It is time to pick up the threads and make the stories new, as they must always be made new, starting from where we are.”3

Where are we? Alone, and at home: with the lions inside our mind pacing, prowling the meanings of this moment, desperate for an account that makes sense, to be able to say this is what we have to do and here’s why.

In times like these, when the lions in our minds—desperate for answers, fearing mystery—take over, it helps to check in with the lions of our heart.

There’s Chili Palmer, chasing a black snake across the patio and stalking cardinals, following his instincts up the lime tree, over the fence and to the edge of the world, which can’t be far away…

And then there’s the panther in the famous poem by Rilke:

The Panther
His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold
anything else. It seems to him there are
a thousand bars; and behind the bars, no world.

As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
the movement of his powerful soft strides
is like a ritual dance around a center
in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.

Only at times, the curtain of the pupils
lifts, quietly—An image enters in,
rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,
plunges into the heart and is gone.

And then there are the wild cats of the tarot: the Two of Swords, the Ace of Swords, and the Three of Wands.
Three tarot cards (discussed in the article)

The deck I’m using—the Brady Tarot—“celebrates biodiversity and is a call to protect it. It is an invitation to view the brutal and beautiful aspects of reality with equal enthusiasm. It is a tribute to the People who care for and learn from the land of North America and is an attempt to honor the lessons and stories they passed on for millennia. It is a reminder to listen and trust in the process.”4 There are no humans in the Brady Tarot; the natural world, with her host of plant and animal sentiences, is foregrounded. The Brady Tarot is thus a perfect deck for this unprecedented moment, when it is spring and the blue jays are flirting and the daddy longlegs are fucking next to the doorbell and the crocuses are sprouting up from their own heat, generated in the frozen dirt—and we humans? We’re hiding at home, trying not to die.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the tarot: the cards are an opportunity to pause, reflect, process, and digest. The tarot doesn’t give us answers or instructions (in fact it’s really bad at that); rather, it’s making space for us to more carefully explore our intentions and reactions. Particularly in moments of crisis, it’s important to keep in mind that the tarot does not predict the future. Nor does the tarot impose any particular belief system on us. The cards do not know anything. Rather, the cards listen, and make suggestions based on what they are hearing.

Two of Swords

The Two of Swords depicts “two predators, a cougar and a gray wolf, each wounded by an arrow and tethered to a blindfold, walking together in tandem. The interpretation: they are bound together by a common danger, a joint challenge. The questions: how will they manage in the moment? What will they do if they overcome their problem? Will they separate, still wounded, or realize that each one can pull the arrow from the other one? And if they do that, will they just go their separate ways, or attack each other, or realize the advantages of working together to meet further challenges?”5

You do not need me to explain how resonant this card is with humanity’s current predicament.

Ace of Swords

The Ace of Swords “is a very symmetrical card, depicting an owl and a lion merging almost into a single creature, both of them alert and intense, challenging us to meet their stares, to look at some truth or reality we would otherwise look away from. This requires collective awareness and self-honesty.”6

Three of Wands

In the Three of Wands, “a jaguar looks into an unknown future, suggesting perspective, spiritual awareness, and being relaxed in sacrifice. We don’t—can’t—know what’s coming. What matters is how we prepare for the next stage.”7

I interpret these cards to be saying:

  1. Harnessing our creativity is an important strategy for going through something together that we might otherwise choose to go around individually.
  2. Get inside the answers and look for the questions that have been silenced in our desperation for answers.
  3. Visualize who you want to be on the other side of this crisis: will that person float or fall?


Not having wisdom of my own to offer, I turn (still) (again) to the wisdom of the tarot.

In conferences and small group meetings online, I ask you to channel your energy at the tarot—a tone, a mood, an emotion, a question—and while you channel I—not knowing how to serve you, trying my best to serve you—pray to the cards, asking them speak in a way you will be able hear over/through/beyond your anxiety, fear, frustration, grief, and anger.

After listening to one of you tell a story about purchasing a one-way ticket to move across the country to California to live with your sister—the anxiety of being forced into a split-second, potentially life-changing decision; the fear of getting on an airplane; the anger that one-way is the only option; the frustration of having a thesis (about the slave trade in Haiti, of all things!) to finish while drinking hot coffee in airport cafes at a safe distance from strangers, of potentially never seeing your college friends again—the tarot said hope, the tarot said this is possible, the tarot said but here, still, the pen in your hand.

The tarot said OK, so we are all experiencing a lack of agency, a lack of control in this moment. But we can still exert agency and control in acts of the imagination.

The tarot said here, take these cards, and push away from your fear; turn around and embrace the life you have been given, which you will never fully understand.

Tarot cards mentioned in the text


Three of Cups

The Three of Cups typically depicts three girls in flowing gowns, with chalices raised, in the split second before the toast. It’s a card of celebration and joy and getting together for a party with your girlfriends and, as such, I associate it with Mary Ruefle’s “Kiss of the Sun”:

If, as they say, poetry is a sign of something
among people, then let this be prearranged now,
between us, while we are still peoples: that
at the end of time, which is also the end of poetry
(and wheat and evil and insects and love),
when the entire human race gathers in the flesh,
reconstituted down to the infant’s tiniest fold
and littlest nail, I will be standing at the edge
of that fathomless crown with an orange for you,
reconstituted down to its innermost seed protected
by white thread, in case you are thirsty, which
does not at this time seem like such a wild guess,
and though there will be no poetry between us then,
at the end of time, the geese all gone with the seas,
I hope you will take it, and remember on earth
I did not know how to touch it it was all so raw,
as if by chance there is no edge to the crowd
or anything else so that I am of it,
I will take the orange and toss it as high as I can.

Jenny Offill reads this poem as suggesting that we prearrange reunions.8 When the future is reduced to ellipses and the human species—or some members of the human species—is trying its best not to die, it probably seems presumptive—solipsistic even—to plan a party with your girlfriends. In honor of Mary Ruefle, who does not own a computer, who corresponds almost exclusively by the post, who advocates for letter-writing as a creative act and as a gift, let’s make space for the epistle: as an act of courage, as an activist stance, and as a catalyst for the imagination.

The more meticulous, the more homemade, the better.

I, for example, have been collaging pleasantly ominous “revenge postcards” featuring ballerinas draped over horseheads and captions like A flamingo at sunrise. Had a trick or two up its sleeve. But it was too late.

Flamingo at Sunrise. AhAD. A trick or two up its sleeve. But it was too late.
Visualize yourself, a poet at home, making space for others to be together, to feel whatever it is they are feeling, to commune in their fear.
Image of someone riding a horse backward.


Ace of Cups

All of the Aces are beginnings. Cups is a suit associated with emotions and intuition, so the Ace of Cups is usually read as a card of creative opportunity. I read this card as suggesting that you use your creativity to spark the imaginations of those around you—particularly in this moment, when you are living with people who might not think of themselves as creative, who might not be good at using their words, who might not have strategies for connecting with their imaginations. In times of crisis and isolation, it helps to think of your creativity as a gift: a strategy for rising above to support those who are suffering more than you.

“What,” Matthew Zapruder asks in “Poetry and Poets in a Time of Crisis,” “is the special role of poetry in this condition (of crisis)?”

He answers: “Poets, according to Wallace Stevens, help us live our lives, not by telling us what to think, or by comforting us. They do so by creating spaces where one individual imagination can activate another, and those imaginations can be together. Poems are imaginative structures built out of words, ones that any reader can enter. They are place of freedom, enlivenment, true communion. One could say, correctly, that this is true of any form of literature, or really any use of language. But because poetry remains free of all the other obligations that any other use of language inevitably must take on, it can be devoted purely to the creation of these spaces, where one imagination in the company of another can remember what it is to be alive and free.”9

Poetry quite literally creates space. It is one of the most spacious of art forms.

Visualize yourself, a poet at home, making space for others to be together, to feel whatever it is they are feeling, to commune in their fear. In The Art of Cruelty, Maggie Nelson argues that art isn’t about expressing your emotions so others can feel them; it’s about creating space for others to feel their emotions. Make a shape out of words, turn your shape a gift, let it activate the minds around you.


The Magician, card I in the tarot’s Major Arcana (the first or second card, depending on how you like to count), is the true beginning of the soul’s journey, and is one of the few cards that depicts all of the suits. The Magician typically stands with one arm pointing down to the Earth and the other arm raised, pointing a wand up to the sky. The Brady Tarot depicts a raven, with an arrow (sword) in his claws and a peacock feather (wand) in his beak. Water flows from horns (cups) over a tree’s exposed root system. The eagle soars up to inscribe a message on a white banner that is unwritten, blank.

Traditionally, the card is interpreted to mean you have all of the powers and the question is how will you use them? You have potential, and it’s time to choose how to best mobilize your skills.

Shortly after Donald Trump was elected, poet and publisher Richard Siken was asked, “In our current political climate, what brings you joy?”

Richard answered: “Joy is such a startling word. I guess I’ve been aiming low, hoping for moments of occasional relief. I feel like I am, like we all are, being strong-armed into reaction and binary thought. I’m drawn to anything that can remind me of playfulness or multiplicity. I was watching a YouTube video on film editing yesterday—a little thing, couple minutes long—and I found myself thinking about lateral movement, concurrent meanings, texture, atmosphere, the consequence of the frame. I don’t know if I could call it joy, but I remembered that I had more strategies to understand the world than I was being encouraged to use, and more agency to use them than I was allowing myself.”10

You have more strategies to understand the world than you are being encouraged to use, and more agency to use them than you are allowing yourself.

This is an important reminder for most of us. It takes energy, determination, self-reliance, and generosity to allow yourself agency, to gift yourself your own strategies for understanding the world. It takes practice. Let’s start now. Let’s start together.

Here are four Magician-inspired provocations to jump-start that process.

Respond to each provocation in any form, mode, medium that works for you: write a song, choreograph a dance, write a poem, write a postcard, make painting, a cake, a collage…

Provocation #1 | Cups: Emotions and Intuition

The revelation of a secret love. Someone decides to reveal a love they have been afraid to express to the person, thing, idea, place, possibility they have been loving from afar. What happens when the love is revealed?

Provocation #2 | Wands | Work and Willpower

Find a couple. Have each of them tell you a secret. Install two safes in their home. Lock each secret up in its own safe. Keep the codes to yourself. The lovers will have to live with the other’s secret. Close in hand but out of reach. Neither half of the couple has or shall have access to the secret of the other. What happens?

Provocation #3 | Pentacles | Finances and Craftsmanship

A poet I love and admire, who also happens to be a colleague at the institution where I teach, has been crocheting un-words in an attempt to channel her anxiety into something literary.11 I’ve been sharing these un-words with you as gifts: the permission not to articulate how you’re doing, the gift of expressing yourself through sound rather than meaning, the relief of saying something by saying nothing, the happy accident of making sense via non-sense.

We start each online seminar by sharing an un-word that expresses where we’re at right now. We don’t have to define our words for each other unless we want to.

This week, we are feeling: slstakie, dikano, sonfin, meih, unzynctional, helationary, mulawh, schwoop, disundoing, ujhh, veigney, and fwoobar. One of you shares that fwoobar articulates the moment when foreground and background collide; imagine news of the pandemic spilling out of the television set while three college students have a playful argument about how to scoop ice cream.

Yesterday, I gifted fwoobar and the moment that inspired it to my financial planner, who’s working from home with a toddler and on the receiving end of fear-fueled phone calls from investors. We had a good laugh together, and ended the call in solidarity.

Provocation #4 | Swords: Ambition and Execution

This suit is often associated with the intellect, and with sorrow. The swords know loss, intimately, and yet they keep fighting. Sometimes I think of swords as the suit of poets, who have an intimate understanding of failure, and keep writing. What poets do you admire most for their intimacy with failure?

So many come to mind, it’s impossible to list! Today I’m thinking about Elizabeth Bishop, pushing away from womanhood as far as she can for as long as she can, until she suddenly turns around and embraces it.

The Waiting Room

In Worcester, Massachusetts,
I went with Aunt Consuelo
to keep her dentist’s appointment
and sat and waited for her
in the dentist’s waiting room.
It was winter. It got dark
early. The waiting room
was full of grown-up people,
arctics and overcoats,
lamps and magazines.
My aunt was inside
what seemed like a long time
and while I waited I read
the National Geographic
(I could read) and carefully
studied the photographs:
the inside of a volcano,
black, and full of ashes;
then it was spilling over
in rivulets of fire.
Osa and Martin Johnson
dressed in riding breeches,
laced boots, and pith helmets.
A dead man slung on a pole
—"Long Pig,” the caption said.
Babies with pointed heads
wound round and round with string;
black, naked women with necks
wound round and round with wire
like the necks of light bulbs.
Their breasts were horrifying.
I read it right straight through.
I was too shy to stop.
And then I looked at the cover:
the yellow margins, the date.
Suddenly, from inside,
came an oh! of pain
—Aunt Consuelo’s voice—
not very loud or long.
I wasn’t at all surprised;
even then I knew she was
a foolish, timid woman.
I might have been embarrassed,
but wasn’t. What took me
completely by surprise
was that it was me:
my voice, in my mouth.
Without thinking at all
I was my foolish aunt,
I—we—were falling, falling,
our eyes glued to the cover
of the National Geographic,
February, 1918.

I said to myself: three days
and you’ll be seven years old.
I was saying it to stop
the sensation of falling off
the round, turning world
into cold, blue-black space.
But I felt: you are an I,
you are an Elizabeth,
you are one of them.
Why should you be one, too?
I scarcely dared to look
to see what it was I was.
I gave a sidelong glance
—I couldn’t look any higher—
at shadowy gray knees,
trousers and skirts and boots
and different pairs of hands
lying under the lamps.
I knew that nothing stranger
had ever happened, that nothing
stranger could ever happen.

Why should I be my aunt,
or me, or anyone?
What similarities—
boots, hands, the family voice
I felt in my throat, or even
the National Geographic
and those awful hanging breasts—
held us all together
or made us all just one?
How—I didn’t know any
word for it—how “unlikely”. . .
How had I come to be here,
like them, and overhear
a cry of pain that could have
got loud and worse but hadn’t?

The waiting room was bright
and too hot. It was sliding
beneath a big black wave,
another, and another.

Then I was back in it.
The War was on. Outside,
in Worcester, Massachusetts,
were night and slush and cold,
and it was still the fifth
of February, 1918.

We are all pushing so hard against this moment—pumped full of facts and statistics we don’t know what to do with, using them as weapons rather than tools. What if we turned around and embraced the moment? If we chose to listen and trust in the process?


On Saturday morning, I passed out while trying to make coffee and woke up on the kitchen floor.

I called my father, a family physician and medical school dean who knows how to use the facts, who will never be used by the facts, who has never let me down—ok, who has only let me down once.

But that’s a different story. And in this one…

It’s common, he says. It’s nothing, he says. Take it easy, he says.

Then he shares some statistical modeling that predicts Florida, where I live, will be one of the last states to peak. According to current trends, we won’t plateau until May 15, our intensive care units will be overwhelmed, and deaths will continue into the summer.

May 15.

I can’t imagine six more weeks of spinning a narrative I can live inside, let alone six more weeks spinning a narrative you can live inside, too. I want to push against that so hard, I want to run away from it, I want to let go of all of the words I have put together so carefully in these love letters, lay down on the couch, and cry. I want my fainting to be serious, to be something, so I don’t have to take care of myself anymore, so I don’t have to take care of you.

For the first time since I started leaning on the tarot, I pull a card for myself: The Star, reversed. A card full of hope, calm, and confidence—especially after a crisis. “Flowing energy, nothing held back. In the Brady Tarot, a bird replaces the woman as the main character. The scene is the Everglades, where the separation of land and water is often unclear. We could apply that to the distinction between events (the land) and emotions (the water).”12

We are such a stupid species I will think. We are so used to convenience we can’t even walk to the other side of the bridge to save ourselves.

I hold the card in my hand, upside-down. The water flows backwards, into my hand. I imagine verb-less sentences, little word catalogues, an urgency that can’t be bothered with or isn’t allowed verbs: falling through my fingers. The bird of love and the bird of fear flying through the place where the swamp should have been. I try to follow them there, to the bottom of the shadows of my fear.

I know I won’t get there. Not today.


“Go outside,” Jorie Graham advises in a recent interview, “and look for the strange.”

Today I will run with my little dog to the sea—through closed parking lots smelling of lime blossom and dry cleaner detergent; through Sarasota’s “first black neighborhood,” now home to the Spice Station, Canned Ham Vintage Boutique, a clinic specializing in “abortion pill reversal,” and a “creative, authentic, and biblical” Christian Church; past shuttered gun shops and Amish riding ancient bicycles in their bonnets and their suspenders and their brightly colored Crocs; past an off-leash Pekingese in heat and personal training sessions relocated to the playground equipment the children are no longer allowed to use; over yellow flowers and around dog shit; over the deserted streets of downtown and around the homeless camping out behind the bowling alley; over a bridge full of people ignoring the enormous road construction sign asking us to please practice social distancing and walk, run, bike with the flow of traffic.

We are such a stupid species I will think. We are so used to convenience we can’t even walk to the other side of the bridge to save ourselves.

This is before I realize that, because I am so inside my own head, my little dog and I have run against traffic in both directions. Because I am lost inside the answers looking for the questions the answers have silenced, I have broken the rules, I am the one who is at fault and I am stuck on this bridge.


I am your teacher. I am supposed to have answers. I am supposed to gift you the hope I do not have. I am telling myself this narrative, I am working backwards from despair to a story I can live inside; I am putting all my spirit into turning around; embracing this moment with what tools I have: my passion for paradox, my belief in bewilderment, my love of ambivalence; my determination to get inside the answers and look for the questions they have silenced; two decades of writing my way from uncertainty to boldness.

Today? Today I will start by writing an aggressive image followed by three delicate ones, like waves on the empty, silent shore. I’ll see where that takes me, and go from there.

| Postscript |

May 15 has come and gone. Our intensive care units have not yet been overwhelmed. Deaths continue. To much criticism, Florida has reopened her shores. The academic year is officially over, and for three months you are your own responsibility.

As luck would have it, I had surgery the morning of the 15th and spent the day anesthetized and tending to my middle-aged womb.

Before the procedure, I drew the King of Pentacles. An auspicious card: pinnacle energy for material matters.

After the procedure, when I am an impatient patient, I pulled the King of Pentacles again, this time reversed. The Brady Tarot depicts “a star-nosed mole poking his head above ground to experience the wonder of the outer world, particularly the stars. The message: Now is a time to wait. To marvel. To wonder at the world, and share in its splendor.”13

The King of Pentacles is the last card in the deck, and the most empathetic of kings. He is a reminder to ground ideas in reality, to speak about what you know from your experience, to share.

Another tarot card, described in text

In a letter to his students republished in the New Yorker, George Saunders writes:

We are (and especially you are) the generation that is going to have to help us make sense of this and recover afterward. What new forms might you invent, to fictionalize an event like this, where all of the drama is happening in private, essentially? Are you keeping records of the e-mails and texts you’re getting, the thoughts you’re having, the way your hearts and minds are reacting to this strange new way of living? It’s all important. Fifty years from now, people the age you are now won’t believe this ever happened (or will do the sort of eye roll we all do when someone tells us something about some crazy thing that happened in 1970). What will convince that future kid is what you are able to write about this, and what you’re able to write about it will depend on how much sharp attention you are paying now, and what records you keep.

Also, I think, with how open you can keep your heart.14

How far can you open your minds, your ears, your eyes, your hearts? What have you learned about empathy (an echo or an aggressive emotion demanding response?), about wonder (estranged, as we have been, from the world), about the kinds of lives we are going to make for ourselves in a world we are finally recognizing we, ourselves, have made hostile, about the work we are going to have to do—together—to survive?     



Artwork in this article is used with permission. Emi Brady created the Brady Tarot and the images above are from her deck. In the Brady Tarot, the traditional Tarot suits and court cards translate as follows: Wands are Feathers, Cups are Horns, Swords are Arrows, Pentacles are Roots, Pages are Daughters, Knights are Sons, Queens are Daughters, and Kings are Fathers. Rachel Pollack wrote the guidebook to the Brady Tarot; her language is italicized in the card descriptions above. Sophie Calle’s installation “Secrets” inspired Provocation #2:



Emily Carr writes murder mysteries. She has an MFA in poetry from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, and a PhD in ecopoetics at the University of Calgary. She is an assistant professor of creative writing at the New College. Her tarot romance, Name Your Bird without A Gun, is forthcoming from Spork in 2020.



  1. Paul Kingsnorth and Dougald Hine, “Uncivilization: The Dark Mountain Manifesto,” The Dark Mountain Project, June 12, 2018.
  2. Mary Ruefle, “On Fear,” Poetry Foundation, June 1, 2012.
  3. Kingsnorth and Hine, “Uncivilization."
  4. Emi Brady, The Brady Tarot (Denver: tiny brown bird studio, 2018), n.pag.
  5. Rachel Pollack, The Brady Tarot, (Denver: tiny brown bird studio, 2018), 123-4.
  6. Ibid, 121–2.
  7. Ibid, 69–70.
  8. Jenny Offill, “Tips for Trying Times,” Obligatory Note of Hope. Accessed May 27, 2020.
  9. Matthew Zapruder, “Poetry and Poets in a Time of Crisis,” Literary Hub, April 16, 2019.
  10. Mandy Grathwohl, “Play Is Fundamental: An Interview with Richard Siken,” Matador Review, Winter 2019.
  11. Vyas Avni, “Unwords.” Instagram. Accessed May 27, 2020.
  12. Pollack, The Brady Tarot, 45–6.
  13. Ibid, 175–6.
  14. George Saunders, “A Letter to My Students as We Face the Pandemic,” The New Yorker, April 3, 2020.

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