Scenes From a Pandemic: 49

26 04 2021

by Daisy Cockburn

A continuing series of dispatches from Kopkind participants, advisers, guests and friends on life in coronavirus time as they observe and experience it.

Portico (photos: Daisy Cockburn)

Letter From Italy


It’s been more than a year since Florence locked down for the first time, and the rate of Covid infection has increased by a factor of four. A family friend has been moved from the Santa Maria Nuova hospital to a hotel out of town to continue his recovery. He’s too weak to talk, but his daughter tells me that he wants P.G. Wodehouse novels: anything “non-Jeeves.” (He’s read those.) Or anything funny, for that matter. It proves harder than expected; put on the spot, my books have never seemed less capable of raising a laugh.

I am an outsider in Florence, here because of my husband’s teaching gig. As a voice actor, I am used to working remotely from a home studio set-up. Silence is good for that, but this is eerie. It’s as quiet in our street as it was a year ago. The university opposite used to mean reliable bouts of victory cries from laurel-crowned students, four times a year no less, which is when they graduate. The café on the corner used to cater to a stream of regulars with its affordable lunch menu of homey pasta dishes. Gone also are the students of love—those painfully breaking up in our dark side street. No more agonized crying, shouting, and huffing off over the cobblestones.

For a broader soundscape, 100 yards away is Piazza Santissima Annunziata, former home to megaphoned protest speeches, tourist groups of 50 in matching baseball caps topped with swirly helicopter blades, dubious brides posing for the camera, Santa conventions, etc. When the pandemic kicked in, the square became home to a soup kitchen set up under the porticos at the top of the steps. People waited to be called up by ticket number to receive their bag of food. It was quiet, apart from the sound of a small transistor radio belonging to a few gentlemen living on the other side of the square, under the portico of the old foundling hospital, now a building owned by UNICEF.

One of the paradoxes of the lockdown has been that Florence, a city of interiors, has had to play out some of its secret games in public. UNICEF has traditionally held a grand, exclusive ball. Last July, the ball was in the piazza, a perfectly socially distanced al fresco affair, with white-clothed tables spaciously placed and cordoned off with plush rope, where bodyguards checked names.

As a consequence of this ball, the wolves were kettled. Just a few days earlier, Chinese artist Liu Rouwang’s installation The Wolves Are Coming, 100 bronze castings of wolves, appeared in Piazza Santissima Annunziata and Piazza Pitti. In various attitudes of rapacious intent, the wolves encircled a statue of a cartoonish hero wielding a paddle-shaped sword, no match for the beasts. Exploding the stereotype of wolves as bad guys in fairy tales, here the hero was a caricature and the wolves looked like natural, powerful free beings. People interacted with them playfully, sitting on them, posing for selfies.

This encounter with the wild had an unexpected parallel in newly uninhabited spaces in Florence and other parts of Italy. Dolphins appeared in the Grand Canal in Venice, ducks waddled into malls in Florence, and actual wolves are having a major comeback, with as many as 2,000 of them presumed to be roaming the countryside. (The first national census of the Italian wolf was initiated last October.) As ball-goers celebrated in the piazza, the wolves were caged for the night. The men under the porticos also disappeared, but were back the next day. I asked what I could bring them. More triple-A batteries; that’s all.

During the initial lockdown, when we were allowed out one at a time for a valid purpose only, Matteo and I took turns going to the supermarket. Walking under the deserted porticos gave me the sense I was in a de Chirico painting, as if I were part of the city for the first time, inside its body, closer to the famously icy Florentine heart. Without people, each architectural detail is more vivid. The bas-relief sculptures of busts on plinths take on the appearance of figures pressing themselves into the walls, as if trying to socially distance from passers-by. The Duomo, the mothership, has seen it all before. In the summer of 1347, when the plague that would wipe out a third of the population here broke out, it was just being built. Despite the catastrophic blow to the city, construction wasn’t abandoned. Once more the Duomo is a silent witness. A local actor offered his take on a be-plagued and still Florence in a YouTube video of him questing through the streets, stopping to chat with statues of Dante, Brunelleschi, and others, looking for answers.

So much remains uncertain a year later. For stores and small businesses in Florence, the hardship is incalculable. Of the 3,000 restaurants in Tuscany that have closed permanently since the beginning of the lockdown, 100 have been in the province of Florence. A 44-year-old restaurateur in Santa Croce took his life in his restaurant before a restricted evening shift.

I wonder about Rocco, the owner of an after-hours teahouse in the center of Florence. His business appears not to have folded, but I haven’t seen him since the pandemic struck. Back when his cozy cafe was a beacon on the way home, a place to lounge for hours chatting—often with Rocco himself—Rocco purveyed the theory that some Florentines shuffle along under the unbearable weight of the city’s past, kept from new discoveries as if by a transparent domed ceiling. Any idea that flies too high hits the dome and comes crashing back to earth.

Walking through the subdued city the other day, I watched a crane crew’s final effort to secure a 90-foot trompe l’oeil photocollage by French artist JR to the front of Palazzo Strozzi. Called La Ferita (The Wound), it creates the illusion of a gash through the building’s shuttered facade.

Daisy Cockburn is a voice actor (under the name Daisy Tennant) based in Petrolia, California. She was confined to Florence during the long lockdown. Daisy, who spent many girlhood summers at Tree Frog Farm, is a longtime friend of Kopkind.

Scenes From a Pandemic is a Kopkind/Nation magazine collaboration. This piece originally appeared on The Nation‘s website on April 21, 2021. We thank Katrina vanden Heuvel, D.D. Guttenplan and the Nation crew.

Bonus: From Brazil — The Sounds of Life

“O Que é Que a Baiana Tem?”, written in 1939 by composer Dorival Cayymi, is one of the most beloved sambas in the world. A former Kopkind/CID Film Camper, São Pãolo native Daniela Broitman, has made a documentary on Cayymi, titled Dorival Cayymi The Sounds of Life. Daniela talked about making the film earlier this year with Sounds and Colours, around the time the film was being shown virtually for a limited time:

Daniela: Culture and art are seen today by a good part of society as something expendable, and what these people do not realise is that they live culture and breathe art for a large part of their day: during their entire leisure time, or even on a journey to work, or while waiting in a doctor’s office. Imagine the world without art, without culture, can you imagine people’s despair?! So, imagine Brazil without [artists from Bahia] Dorival Caymmi, João Gilberto, Caetano [Veloso], [Gilberto] Gil, Gal [Costa] and [Maria] Bethânia?

Caymmi revealed Bahia to the world in the voice of Carmen Miranda; he contributed to making Brazilian music known worldwide. He revolutionized Brazilian song-writing and influenced generations of musicians, paving the way for movements such as Bossa Nova and Tropicália. He is the symbol of a powerful, diverse, creative, exuberant, sensual, avant-garde, charismatic and affectionate Brazil. It is the image that I want to convey about our country, which has suffered a lot with so much political greed. I want Brazil to be remembered again for all this beauty and cultural richness, and I hope that Dorival Caymmi – The Sounds of Life will be able to show this.

See the full interview here. Daniela’s beautiful trailer is below.

Scenes From a Pandemic: 48

20 04 2021

by Suchi Branfman

A continuing series of dispatches from Kopkind participants, advisers, guests and friends on life in coronavirus time as they observe and experience it.

Dancing in the gym at Norco prison, before lockdown. (photo: William Short)

Undanced Dances

Santa Monica, California

My solo starts off with my arms out-stretched towards the sky, trying to touch the rafters, stretching on tip-toe, reaching, head up to the sky.

Terry Sakamoto, Jr., is describing a dance he calls “The Mountain.” He wrote the choreography from his bunk while in Covid lockdown last spring at the California Rehabilitation Center, a medium-security men’s prison located in Norco, California, about 65 miles from my home.

Before March 2020, when the state prison system shut down all programming and visitation due to the coronavirus, Terry was among the folks inside the prison with whom I had the remarkable opportunity to dance, make dance, and converse every Monday night for years. The project, called Dancing Through Prison Walls, began in December of 2016. The work took many forms, whether teaching credit-bearing college courses or Rehabilitative Achievement Credit workshops, collaborating on choreographies, bringing in guest artists, or simply spending hours dancing with folks inside the prison gym.

We were still dancing when the work was abruptly ended. I was given 48 hours to send in guidance as to how we might continue to dance together, apart. It was a rich challenge. I ended up writing prompts for ways that dance might be imagined/written, without actually moving. Although not a common way of making dances, there is a history of this kind of work in the dance world. And it turns out that writing dance is actually a liberating way of making dances. There are no financial, gravitational, technical, or locational limitations. Anything is possible.

Almost immediately, the dancers began sending out their choreographies for these undanced dances.

From “‘Safety and Security’: Two Nations’ Borders,” by Terry Sakamoto:

She’s slowly backing out of the driveway into the still quiet streets of Mexico, heading toward a day filled with check-points, questions, searches, and persons’ attitudes sometimes empty of human kindness and empathy.

From “I Wait,” by Carlos Rivas:

I start to feel the power of my dance as I empty out my thoughts and feelings on the dance floor. I always feel free when I dance.

From “Arm Leg Leg Arm Head,” by Landon Reynolds:

I see people gliding on water as they move fluidly across the landscape.

From “From In Here,” by Yusef Lamont Pierce:

Slide the top hand over the bottom palm from wrist to fingertips. You’re imitating the act of sliding bills off the top of a stack. This dance is called “The Hittem’ Where It Hurt$!”

More than a choreographic residency, for me the project has been a commitment to learning from and with folks inside; to making work grounded in their stories and ideas; to examining mass incarceration, its deeply racist roots grounded in the legacy of slavery, and the prison industrial complex. Prison abolition has become my North Star in the work, what gives the work context and location.

Last fall I began the process of embodying the dances to share them with the “free world.” Highlighting six, written between March and May by Brandon Alexander, Richie Martinez, Landon Reynolds and Sakamoto, I entrusted them to some dear dance colleagues who had joined me in dancing inside the prison over the years. Bernard Brown, Jay Carlon, Irvin Gonzalez, Kenji Igus, Bri Mims and Tom Tsai are steeped in hip hop, tap, breaking, performance art, Quebradita, spoken word, Bhutto, and contemporary dance forms. In these dances, movement is accompanied by the resonant narration of formerly incarcerated movers and organizers with whom I have worked inside: Marc Antoni Charcas, Ernst Fenelon, Jr., and Romarilyn Ralston.

One choreographer, Richie Martinez, was released last summer during the prison’s largest Covid wave; to our joy, he is now narrating and performing “Richie’s Disappearing Acts”:

I close my eyes and I’m somewhere else.

He calls his latest dance, written in 2021, “Richie’s Reappearing Acts.”

Richie Martinez dancing on Santa Monica pier. (photo: Suchi Branfman)

I have been overwhelmed by all of this profoundly personal yet wildly radical work. We still can’t dance in the prison, but people inside continue to send out their undanced dances, and they are always astonishing to receive. Meanwhile, the embodied work, dubbed Undanced Dances Through Prison Walls During a Pandemic, has been performed publicly. It is currently part of the City of Santa Monica’s Art of Recovery project, examining the school-to-prison nexus. A film of the dance and a conversation with the artists was presented virtually at the 18th Street Arts Center on April 16.

Conversations among the artists have highlighted the multiple realities of mass incarceration: the imprisoned loved ones not previously spoken of, the difficulty in getting parole during Covid, the restrictions that make it impossible for people on parole to see children in other counties, the unexpected in-home police inspections even many years after parole ends.

From “Internal Battle: Negative and Positive,” by Brandon Alexander:

Every move I make, every transition, every expression is reflecting the inner conflict within me.

In December, Sming Sming Books published Undanced Dances Through Prison Walls During a Pandemic. The book is a sort of message in a bottle (or in an envelope, so to speak), sent from people who are so profoundly invisibilized on the inside, to live in plain sight in people’s living rooms, altars, desks, kitchen tables on the outside.

From “Mapping a Journey to Visit Me,” by Landon Reynolds:

As the journey descends into Southern California with the clear skies and sunny weather, the dance transforms to a more relaxed style. A lot of open gestures which allow the sun to shine down on the body as if one is sunbathing.

Reading dances allows us to imagine them, much as abolitionists strive to reimagine society. Embodying them mirrors the act of bringing deep, well-grounded imaginings for justice into the streets. Writing and dancing itself, Richie Martinez once said, is an exercise in creating some “freedom time.” Back in 2018 a dancer at Norco, named Kamasi, told us, “You may not be able to get us out of here immediately, but you can take us out of here.” We are doing our best.

Suchi Branfman is a choreographer and prison abolition activist. A second edition of Undanced Dances Through Prison Walls During a Pandemic is forthcoming from Sming Sming Books. Suchi is a longtime friend of Tree Frog Farm and Kopkind, having known Andy and John from the early days. For more information on her project:

Scenes From a Pandemic is a Kopkind/Nation magazine collaboration. This piece originally appeared on The Nation‘s website on April 14, 2021. We thank Katrina vanden Heuvel, D.D. Guttenplan and the Nation crew.

Bonus: One Night and a Fight in Miami

Site of the historic meeting in Liberty City following the Clay-Liston fight in 1965, the subject of One Night in Miami.

Those who follow the Oscars will know that on April 25, One Night in Miami is up for best adapted screenplay, original song and supporting actor (Leslie Odom, Jr.). For most of the action, the film takes place in a room at the Hampton House, where Malcolm X, Sam Cooke (Odom) and Jim Brown gather with Muhammed Ali, then Cassius Clay, to celebrate his victory over Sonny Liston. The motel is in the historically black community of Liberty City, which, though neglected by public officials and private developers for decades, is today hot property for one reason: it is ten feet above sea level. Liberty City, the public housing project long at its heart, Liberty Square, and the fight over displacement and climate gentrification are the subject of a documentaryin-progress by a filmmaking team including two former Kopkind/CID Film Campers. In 2019, Katja Esson (co-writer/director) and Ann Bennett (producer) came to Tree Frog Farm to workshop Razing Liberty Square. Katja had to leave abruptly that summer because bulldozers were about to level the low-rise housing project that had been home to generations of black Miamians. In its place, a $300 million development called Liberty City Rising. As a local resident, Valencia Gunder, tells the filmmakers: “My grandfather always would say: They’re going to come to take Liberty City because we don’t flood.” Here is a contemporary story about history and a fight in Miami, which keeps on going. Click here for a work sample.

A boy sits in ruin of his former home; in the background, the gentrifying development. (still from Razing Liberty Square)

Scenes From a Pandemic: 47

12 04 2021

by Lillian Osborne

A continuing series of dispatches from Kopkind participants, advisers, guests and friends on life in coronavirus time as they observe and experience it.

The ubiquity was always about more than just mittens.

A Common Love Lost


Loss is the story of the pandemic. For me, over the past year, that has meant losing a relative to Covid, losing a job, an apartment, health insurance, and a romantic relationship. But there was another loss, a common love lost on the American left, that we haven’t fully grieved. I am reminded of that now because April 8 marks the anniversary of the end of Bernie Sanders’ 2020 campaign.

Around the time that the first Covid case appeared in Seattle, some friends and I packed a car and drove four hours to Muscatine, Iowa, to campaign for Bernie in the Democratic caucuses. It was January. At a makeshift field office—a detached garage warmed by space heaters—three women volunteers arranged piles of yard signs, canvassing scripts, and clipboards on a plastic folding table. As her mom trained us, a toddler waddled across the cement floor in a blue Bernie onesie and stretched her arms out to us, total strangers. Hours later when, exhausted and frozen, we returned from door-knocking, it was dark. The women were still there, the mom and her baby, too.

That scene, both mundane and remarkable, warmth in the dead of winter, will stick with me forever. It symbolized the depth of commitment and shared connection of ordinary people who joined the campaign in the millions under the banner of “political revolution” and “Not Me. Us.” As the campaign crescendoed, the unity of purpose, the high stakes, and electricity of the campaign made it feel like falling in love for the first time, only with millions of other people.

Love is about reminding us we’re alive. And what was Bernie’s campaign about if not an affirmation of life and human dignity? Bernie’s campaign was fundamentally about feelings—feelings of loss, anger, and insecurity; feelings of being stuck in alienating and undemocratic workplaces and political systems. Better than any other candidate, he grasped working people’s realities, affirmed our frustrations, and channeled those feelings toward a common project and a common enemy: capitalism. The campaign genuinely was about “us” and taking control of our lives.

For my generation, the left had never felt like this. Then it was over. Bernie dropped out on April 8, 2020. Those of us who’d worked on the campaign suffered the loss alone, huddled in our houses, playing Tracy Chapman’s “Talkin’ About a Revolution” on repeat, sobbing at the line “‘Cause finally the tables are starting to turn.”

For once, we felt we were in the driver’s seat, making the road as we sped across it. For my generation, the left had never dreamed of gaining popular support for socialist ideas, let alone coming within arm’s reach of winning with them. The day AOC’s endorsement became public, my boyfriend recorded a video of me with freshly showered hair, wearing his too-big sweatshirt, dancing and singing, “I’m having the time of my life, and I owe it all to AOC.” For the first time in a very long time, the left felt confident.

Then it was over. None of us that night in Iowa could have imagined the rapid spread of Covid over the following weeks, the political and economic crises in its wake, the Democratic Party’s resilience in unifying around Joe Biden, and Bernie’s subsequent drop-out. For those in the campaign, it was like watching a car crash in slow motion. We were powerless to stop it.

To make matters worse, we suffered the loss alone, huddled in our houses. The night Bernie announced the end of his campaign, I listened to Tracy Chapman’s “Talkin’ About a Revolution” on repeat, sobbing at the line “’Cause finally the tables are starting to turn.” We had gotten so close, it seemed, to turning the tables.

But we had to move on, quickly. People were sick and dying. Essential workers were organizing and striking. Mass protests against police killings and racism erupted. There was work to do, and many of us threw ourselves into it. There wasn’t time to take stock and reflect.

Now politics feels different, like falling out of love. Organizers from the campaign told me that afterward they felt numb; some cried. We had “debriefs”; people posted on social media about the campaign; some wrote articles about its lessons; but nothing came close to “closure.” Maybe nothing will. I don’t know. But it feels as if we’re each carrying a box around alone, afraid to open it together for what might come out. Not the lessons or failures, but the emotions that we packed away. The grief. Dealing with what it felt like. I don’t want to carry that unopened box forever.

Before Bernie, the left was like a sleepy Rust Belt town. We organized and marched, but acceptance of dilapidation was a basic part of living there after decades of defeat. After Bernie’s 2016 run, tens of thousands of people came flooding through the doors of the Democratic Socialists of America. Organizing meetings became standing-room-only. The usual faces, now stunned by the explosion of new political energy, were few and far between. The left wasn’t just revived; it was reborn.

After four years of organizing, Bernie’s 2020 campaign became a patchwork quilt of movement struggles. Our coalition in Chicago had more than a dozen grassroots organizations, including Chicago DSA, Sunrise Movement, progressive ward-level organizations, and socialist aldermen. I was repeatedly struck by the level of political unity among so many people I had never worked with before, and by our collective clarity that the campaign was about both electing Bernie and, most important, building a mass working-class movement through the campaign.

We packed away the yard signs a while ago, but my heart still leaps when I see Bernie signs in my neighbors’ windows. The movement continues, but the relative silence on the sheer depth of what we all lost—not just the race but pieces of our lives—makes it hard to reconcile with what we have gained, advances the left hasn’t experienced in decades.

We need to grieve the loss so that we can celebrate what we’ve won: a reborn left whose ideas resonate with millions of people. We’ve built real political will that has forced the establishment to abandon talk of “tough choices” or balancing the budget on workers’ backs amid the current crisis. The point of mourning is to get back to living—to recover the conviction, together, that we can win a better world.

Lillian Osborne is a union researcher in Chicago. She was a participant in Kopkind’s political camp in 2018.

Scenes From a Pandemic is a Kopkind/Nation magazine collaboration. This piece originally appeared on The Nation‘s website on April 7, 2021. We thank Katrina vanden Heuvel, D.D. Guttenplan and the Nation crew.

Bonus: ‘… and Your Little Dog, too!’

No, that’s not Toto; it’s Li’l Bro at Tree Frog Farmand now that we’ve got your attention…

On Monday, April 19, PBS will broadcast American Oz, as part of its “American Experience” series. The documentary, co-produced by former Kopkind/CID Film Camper Tracy Heather Strain, tells of the life and times of L. Frank Baum, who wandered in the arcade of life’s endeavors until, in his 40s, he began writing children’s stories—most famously and fabulously, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. While in Film Camp, Tracy workshopped her marvelous film Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart, the first feature documentary on the great Lorraine Hansberry, which won the Peabody Award in 2018. Click on image below to watch an extended trailer for American Oz.

Detail of original 1900 edition of Baum’s book.

Scenes From a Pandemic: 46

5 04 2021

by Joël Díaz

A continuing series of dispatches from Kopkind participants, advisers, guests and friends on life in coronavirus time as they observe and experience it.

(photos: Joël Díaz)

Contact Tracing

Between Dominican Republic and the world

We’ve yet to find my uncle.

On September 18, 2020, my stepfather’s elder brother boarded the yola. It was the tail end of hurricane season, which had left 700,000 people without electricity and a reported 1.5 million without safe, drinkable water. Painted an auspicious ocean water blue, the boat, said to be undetectable at night by La Armada de Repùblica Dominicana, held within its interior a gaggle of men who’d paid thousands of dollars in hopes of fleeing the island for the United States.

Not long into the journey, the yola was ambushed by coastal pirates. Aware of the financial investments in migrations out of Dominican Republic, they attempted to steal the boat and seize its resources. The captain, avoiding the armed attacks, jettisoned from the boat, with the key fob in his pocket. No longer in range of its signal, the engine shut off.

Stunned, the men decided to chance their way to shore. Perhaps it was the adrenaline that minimized the distance, or the ecotone indecipherable in the dark, but ambition is most cruel under these circumstances. It was clear my uncle did not possess the physical endurance to reach the shoreline.

As chance would have it, they flagged a fisherman, who at first was reluctant to help because of the impending dawn and the risk of being named an accomplice by authorities, if caught.

* * *

I learned of his disappearance in a text from my mother, as an aside to a larger conversation: “…fyi, your uncle has been missing since 5 days. Daddy is very upset and anxious.”

Following the news, my father coped with the idleness of the pandemic and the unknown whereabouts of his brother by restlessly cleaning the Bronx apartment. My mother recounted his projects, among them patching and painting a ceiling that the landlord had neglected for years. During one of the city’s heavy downpours, the ceiling had collapsed. What remained was hanging plaster and water stains that, at first, had turned yellow, then a molded brown.

* * *

When I had visited my family months earlier, on March 4, 2020, before heading out on a trip to London, concern about the coronavirus was heightening, but not enough to stall movement.

“Yo no se po’que tu ’ta viajando,” my dad said, from a gray reclining chair, his worry masked in judgment.

“I’ll be fine,” I said.

Accustomed to withholding relationship details from my family, I told them only that I was traveling to visit a friend. What I didn’t say is that I was going to seek closure—though I really wanted continuance—after a severance. I had placed many hopes in this courtship. Up until that point, I had spent nearly a year and a half in Saint Louis in a graduate program that was stifling. Our six-month romance had been a balm for so much disappointment.

I don’t know why you’re traveling.

Later I wondered about how I’d dismissed my father, which I’m sure, at first, was a casual response but now mirrored the disregard many migrants to this country, like him, experience.

* * *

I was in London, spun wild with naiveté and optimism. We had spent much of that week in lengthy and redundant conversations about desire, aspirations, and life goals, attempting to make sense of our severance. On March 11I ventured to Battersea Park, trying aimlessly to fill the time. Staring out toward the Thames River, British flags made ecstatic by the wind beside the Albert Bridge, I wondered, How did I get here?

That evening, Trump announced a travel ban to and from Europe. I was overwhelmed at the prospect of being stuck in a non-native country with someone who’d just broken up with me.

Sensing my worry, he encouraged me to call the airline to find a flight. Those calls were long, arduous, and in vain. I feared I was marooned.

* * *

My mother was the first to contract the virus. She downplayed her symptoms while we were on a FaceTime call, diverting my attention toward the line of taxis that were working in tandem with local pantries to deliver food to families who had difficulties making ends meet or traveling to grocery stores. This aguante, the carrying of the load, I have known intimately over the years.

Days later, I received word that she had a fever, difficulty sleeping, and tightening pain in her chest. She had called a hotline to see where she could receive a Covid test; they weren’t as ubiquitous then as they are now. If you aren’t having difficulty breathing, don’t come in was the verbiage used to discourage people from visiting hospitals. The care afforded to Bronx patients is notorious for being insufficient, subpar.

Health is a luxury; it is most often easier to endure than it is to chance care.

We assumed that she had contracted the virus from my sister, who might have brought it home from the hospital where she worked. “We’re being given one disposable surgical mask per week”: I recall the paranoia in my sister’s voice. She had lost two colleagues to Covid-related complications. When my sister inquired about how or if the hospital would sanitize her station regularly, she was reprimanded. There was no sense of safety. Unlike other health professionals who didn’t have to come into contact with many who entered the hospital, as the front intake and billing receptionist she had to receive each one. She has asthma.

My dad got tested for Covid in a makeshift, outdoor clinic erected at a Bronx reservoir. He couldn’t remember the identification number they had assigned him and assumed that the adhesive label placed on his windshield for contactless testing had flown off in the wind on the drive home. He was distracted, sick, and never able to confirm his symptoms.

* * *

No one is certain about what actually unfolded. The tale goes that, either begrudged or wary of his companions, my uncle split from the group once he reached shore. Unfamiliar with that part of the island, he went into the forest to make his way toward the closest inhabited town. During one of the police searches, a pair of shorts were found. They are believed to be his.

When I asked for updates, all details amounted to nothing, some wispy trace, deteriorating in an instant. My father and my uncle’s wife in the United States were investing all their resources into getting information on his whereabouts. One rumor was that he’d been taken by Haitian kidnapés, who would soon request ransom, said to be stalled because of police searches. It is uncertain if those claims are rooted in anti-blackness or in the realities of the kidnappings plaguing Haiti and neighboring towns in Dominican Republic.

* * *

Legend will say that there is a man who roams the town in his underwear, searching for his family. And there he stays, neither fully clothed nor whole. Just a memory. A rumor. A hope.

Joël Díaz is a writer and educator currently based in Savannah, Georgia. His work has been featured in The Feminist WireInterviewing the Caribbean, and Peregrine. He is the director of the Walter O. Evans Center of African American Studies at SCAD Museum of Art. He was a participant in Kopkind’s political camp in 2015.

Scenes From a Pandemic is a Kopkind/Nation magazine collaboration. This piece originally appeared on The Nation‘s website on March 31, 2021. We thank Katrina vanden Heuvel, D.D. Guttenplan and the Nation crew.

Bonus: Not Working 9 to 5

Filmmaking, an art form that historically has been an on-site group activity, has required creative approaches in the pandemic, from filmmakers going it alone to collaborating remotely while leveraging various technologies. Ari Rossen, who was part of the Kopkind/CID (Center for Independent Documentary) CineSLAM workshop in 2017, and Christopher Dawes, assistant programmer and projectionist for the Kopkind/CID Film Camp for the past decade, have made three short films together without being in the same room, let alone the same borough of New York City.

For your enjoyment, here is one of Ari’s creations, made remotely during quarantine: “Not Working 9 to 5”, written and performed by Ari himself. Check out his other creations on his YouTube page, including his most recent, an homage to Dolly Parton.

Click on image above to watch “Not Working 9 to 5”

We also congratulate Ari on his film “Lost + Found” (a modern twist on Milton’s “Paradise Lost”), being the most recent viewer chosen film to screen on PBS’ Reel 13 Shorts, winning the competition with 237 votes out of 254. Congratulations Ari!

Click on image above to watch “Lost + Found”