Lessons in 2020

By Mercedes Muñoz

Illustrator: Ebin Lee

2020 did not make me,
But neither did you break me,
Separating families like cheap blinds,
With the vinyl bubbling up in the middle,
I still found a way to see,
Determining how much light was too much,
And when to twist the stick and open up to more.

2020 did not make me swallow

And choke back my tears in the hollows of my throat,
Like times before, pretending to be strong.
I let the salt slide, a preservative, and witness,
That someone needed to cry before all humanity was lost
In an abyss of political stench and a funk so tough,
The blues would throw it back.

2020, I found some gems in your underbelly,
Like sitting still in silence, 20 minutes at a time,
Washing over me like cool rivers, pristine,
Refusing to be shaped by whiteness and demands to fill it with more,
Instead, I held out my cup
Let the collected rain pour into this tender flask of this heart
And settle.

2020, you did not fail to teach me
The sacredness of all kinds of mothers
Those with barren wombs, those felicitous and well-meaning ones, donned in yellow,
Making walls of bodies,
Those weathered and worn, too heavy with grief, like a balloon tied down with stone,
Ready to burst from both intentions and blood running in crimson streaks,
Knees to necks, and bullet hails.

Yes, 2020, I saw it all.
For 8 minutes and 46 seconds,
I did not know if I would come back to my right mind —
Indulging myself in the glint of obstinate eyes, cold as steel
And reflecting back the hatred, thick and balmy, tropical in its seduction.

But I did not succumb.

2020, I fought back
With Black fist raised,
With nappy tendrils on my shoulders,
I did not tweet or Facebook my results
I went underground
Finding gratitude as sure as the evergreens
I made meals
And allowed my breasts to be cupped tenderly,
I drank the expensive wine,
I kissed my babies and cherished their melanated gifts
Of sun, resilience, and carefully constructed double helixes
2020, I think you are a gift
And terrible thief.

I saw your shadow, lurking, 2020
So, I cut down the blinds.
I faced you full-on,
No turning back.
Victory is getting up, your lessons
A full river surging, my heart pumping
Its own rhythm, alive.

Mercedes Muñoz (munozmrs76@outlook.com), a special education teacher at Franklin High School in Portland, Oregon, is Oregon’s 2020 Teacher of the Year. She received the 2021 Award for Teaching Excellence by the NEA Foundation.

Illustrator Ebin Lee’s work can be seen at ebinlee.xyz.