At the height of the pandemic, the whole world meticulously observed everyone, including themselves, from the indoors. For some, this garnered gross and terrifying discoveries about how we all regarded sicknesses. Businesses and schools were (rightfully) requiring regular testing when in-person activities resumed. But, what about those who manage invisible, chronic illnesses? What about those who manage OCD with hypochondriac tendencies? How do they regard sickness, almost before, but definitely during the pandemic? Every Journal is a Plague Journal by Raye Hendrix offers a glimpse into that perspective.
This poetry chapbook is an important read, especially for people who avoided creative works about the COVID-19 pandemic like a plague. Hendrix does not shy away from the complex, daily horrors that were ushered in, and the microscopic to multidimensional trauma that came from hearing the city cheer nightly, like a ritual or like war (“the city cheers them on, like war” – “Coronavirus Quatrain”); that came from sitting and stewing in a home that was full of an inescapable, presumed or un-presumed sickness permeating through stuffy air when you might have only opened the door to outside (“how sickening leaving the house felt” – “Still Life with Hypochondriac OCD”); or that came from others who refused to take the pandemic seriously and proceeded to invalidate and invade your privacy with a flood of questions and unabashed judgement (“Don’t get upset. / You don’t have to be rude. / I’m just asking a question.” – “Explain Yourself”).
Furthermore, Hendrix’s poems reach through the impenetrable darkness designed by nature, designed by hindsight, letting us reach there too, re-contextualizing what it meant to navigate through the pandemic in a sick body. Like Noah, we, too, “…sat down / in the deep hull of darkness and wept” (“On the 40th Day of Plague I think of Noah”). We wept for the loneliness, the burnout, the insufferable, and repetitive nature that the pandemic gifted us. To the illusioned dichotomy of night and day, inside and outside, because everywhere, there was the plague. It littered itself in newspapers, online forums, vague Twitter postings, virtual classrooms, the dinner table, in bed with our lovers–it littered itself until it became a mess of dark, old tv screen screeching static, until it became impossible to ignore because the more it lingered, the more it festered.
In “Melancholia”, Hendrix illustrates the how this deep night has become a state of normalcy, almost second nature, but introduces a desire to break through it all: “Dear God, please send me […] / a sequence / of 24-hour nights / […] / anything / to make me love again the light.” Then, the end of the chapbook offers a sort of mantra, “Night of stars, what can you teach me of death?” (“Prayer in the Pandemic”) that may heighten this sense of illusioned dichotomy of light and dark (night and day, inside and outside, etc.) on a surface level, but picking at it even more reveals a sense of reclamation. The lightsource may tell us things that can help us push through the night, help us push through the sickness that comes with the night, help us push through every small death that comes with our sickness. There is hope in the moments going forward if we learn to understand the patterns we forcibly find as a coping mechanism, the patterns that lead us to a sure death of sorts caused by a thousand cuts, the patterns that find us, especially when we have nowhere else to be but home, hoping to wait out the plague.