Followers and Friends and Participants,
Gallery View, which Speaker View supplants,
Meeting Attendants, who for now are Mute
or worse, Unmute, a word I might dispute
even exists, whether verb or adjective:
Is this life? Is this how you want to live?
Nose-scratches broadcast, thoughts shrunk to an icon
or two (Clap, Thumbs Up), and if you leave your mic on
while others talk, your faintest sighing framed
in gold light like a vanity mirror? Named
on your little tile, you can’t slip out unseen.
Self-surveilled, your eye contact onscreen
seems off. Don’t look at people! Focus where
the tiny camera is that proves you’re there.
Bookcase-prop and real or fake bouquet
behind you, well-dressed only to the waist
as if in a casket, top half on display,
here’s another weirdness to be faced:
you’re in the Gallery. You’re shown as one
of your own satellites—as if the sun
were both a planet and the Copernican
magnet for all planets. Yes, I can
undo all this and activate the Hide
Self feature … where again? It’s hidden
nearly as neatly as the moon’s dark side.
But that’s like suicide. It feels forbidden
now that I’m linked to the beloved spectator
who is myself: light-source and shadowed crater.
Here, as professor, I am Host; Enable
the Waiting Room, and one by one Admit
my students etherized around a table
in the Platonic classroom where they sit—
or recline in bed. Protest this? I don’t dare.
Full roster: nobody’s ill! Smile and wave
hello, a new habit. Can you hear me? Share
Screen, clicking a doc I thought to Save
to Desktop on my laptop. This is normal.
Mixed metaphors, and no term we have chosen
ourselves. Whether our verse was free or formal,
we thought we were free thinkers … Oops, you’re frozen,
we’re bound to say. We sign on for more jargon.
Paste in the password, try to Join again.
The baby has been brought up in a bubble.
No “outside people.” She’s Generation C
for coronavirus—naturally, somebody
clever already came up with that label
to spread like another germ. OK, Boomer
is what I am, and on a whim or weekends
her mother, my Millennial offspring, sends
an Invitation. Am I in the room or
am I not? To find out, Leena leans
forward to try to taste my virtual head
and failing at that, lifts a lightbulb-screwing
sort of wave, a wrist-twist like a queen’s.
Real life at a social distance, almost dead,
what on earth can she think we think we’re doing?
You’re done, Randall. You were my first Zoomed
memorial service—sadly, not the last.
Was it recorded? Will it be exhumed
one day to show the mourners of the past—
the talking heads in rows who told old stories
about you, laughing, crying—unaware
we’re under headstones in real cemeteries?
On the other hand: who says what’s really there?
Memory zooms you back, a neuro-heaven.
I see you still, wiping a dripping brow
with your ever-ready giant handkerchief.
Shocking you died (of “something else”), and even
stranger you’re more present in our grief:
more three-dimensional than we are now.
By the time these sonnets fit into a book,
blocks on a page, an old technology
happily unremarkable as the pre-
pandemic world, how odd will it look
that we’re solid flesh again? Someday soon,
the few corporeal beings we dare see—
grocery clerks and nurses, EMT
drivers, the essential Amazon
delivery guys who ring the bell and run,
the letter carriers who bear their worry
as to what spiky cells homebodies carry—
will be everyone. Reader, you took the vaccine,
you threw away your masks, you’re hugging, kissing.
As for your avatar—is that you, missing
your mirror-image mirage? Do you Schedule
more Meetings to screen, like movies? Do you tell
friends you could safely fly to see that travel
is, what with climate change, an ethical
problem after all? Think of the solitary
walks you used to take: though you were wary
of other walkers, and stepped into the street
unspeaking as they approached (an etiquette
of mandatory rudeness), have you found
yourself less patient now that there’s more sound?
Loud diners. Children. And nowhere a Mute button.
So much else from the old days you’d forgotten
and might sacrifice, if that were possible …
End Meeting for All.
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