Paisley Rekdal: What We Thought About Just After the Shot

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Janet Bitner vaccinates Jeffrey Hesterman on the last day the Salt Lake County Health Department's COVID-19 vaccine operation was open at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, Saturday, May 29, 2021.

The vaccination program administered by the Salt Lake County Health Department is a monumental operational challenge. Success relies on people, staff and volunteers, to step outside of traditional roles and sacrifice for the community. In January, Salt Lake County announced a call for volunteers and in less than a week, nearly 3,000 people signed up to support three mass vaccination sites across Salt Lake County. Now that we steadily approach the goal of a 70% vaccination rate, it is clear that we would not be here without the amazing people who volunteered countless hours for this work. As a small token of gratitude, Salt Lake County commissioned Utah’s Poet Laureate, Paisley Rekdal, to create a short work of poetry for those who made the effort to get us back to normal individually and as a community. Although the poem has been gifted to the staff and volunteers in Salt Lake County’s COVID-19 response directly, Paisley views the work as a gift to the community and it serves as a reminder to us all of the sacrifice and fear of the pandemic and the hope that was borne from the vaccine.

— Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson

What We Thought About Just After the Shot

Tuscany, perhaps, and haircuts, no longer baking

casseroles twice a week or delivering groceries

to someone else’s family. The warm new weight

of a cousin’s baby, or the clarifying light

of an afternoon alone. The awkwardness

of kisses and restaurants. I thought of my father

as a child, who almost died of polio, the nurse

who berated him into re-learning how to walk.

I watched a woman in the chair beside me

snap selfies, one man twisting in his seat

as he tried to thank everyone. I’m flying home,

someone murmured, in just a month.

Some thought of funerals. Some thought of sons

they couldn’t yet convince, or worried how much

the side effects would cost. Perhaps some thought

of burning forests, of rhetoric and politicians.

Most likely considered something simpler

yet more complex: how gratitude

was now a dictionary written in all the languages

of the world. I thought of my husband

and my mother’s aging body, the scar

on her upper arm I’d fingered as a child.

Pitted, pale, round as the moon whose light,

she said, I would see anywhere I traveled, linking her

to me, and us to everyone.

Paisley Rekdal

Paisley Rekdal is Utah poet laureate.