43 POEMS by 43 AUTHORS
in response to COVID-19, Pt. I
Please note: this is part 1 of 2. The second will appear later this week.
Oh these times, these times! The COVID-19 has landed. And it’s left me feeling aghast, confounded, completely wigged out, aggrieved, antsy, and, above all else, keenly aware of just how much the wider forces in life have the final say, however much we, quite rightly, try to mitigate them (hello, masks). And poetry (as all art) is as important a response and chronicle to the prevailing tide as anything else. In a way, I’m reluctant to say we’re all in this together!, for fear it seems a little pat or a little rah-rah or a little hollow, but oh, the thing is I do think we’re all in this together. Why would I bother to try to lure people into writing poems if otherwise? Now please do delve into works by these talented poets, writers, musicians, and artists—it will do us all good. And don’t loose your marbles. Inestimable thank yous: Sharon Anderson, Linda Bamber, Jim Behrle, Deborah Bennett, Amy Brooks, Stephanie Burt, Sean Cole, Alfred Corn, Lindsay Crudele,Linda Cutting, Jef Czekaj,EricDavidson, Jordan Davis, Michael Deluca, Jim Dunn, Bridget Eileen, Amy Fusselman, JenGodfrey, Forbes Graham, James Greer,Kim Gaul, Laura Harrison, and Chris Hughes for trusting me with their work.
Six red cars
on my block
Parked with fever
Cracked dew claw
Tons of red
For flushed lymphatics
Maize Road lawn
I love the rabbits
My Emogene is gone
In a FaceTime casket
Shelter in Place, March 2020
I’d been meaning to go on retreat
but I was too busy. I mean it:
I had too much to do. Suddenly
the world I meant to leave
the next day
until it all shut down. Spring
comes on anyway
just as it did the year my father died.
“Terror, euphoria, and rage,” texts an articulate
friend. Walks are still allowed. Masks don’t work
so why are people
wearing them? Intensely colored
garden flowers pierce the year’s
and day by day trees hint what they’ll contribute
to the frenzy on its way. Spring here
never learns. Now I’ve got Time
How Are You Doing?
Anybody write King Lear yet?
March Sadness / Mind Sanitizer
nothing down this aisle
nothing down this aisle
only Manhattan Clam Chowder down this aisle
instead of saying goodbye or stay safe
upon parting I now solemnly whisper
‘Don’t fucking die on me’
Out of an abundance of caution
I’ve duct-taped my asshole shut
I signed up for poetry to make stupid jokes
This was definitely not in the brochure
American Virus. Stay away from me.
American Virus. I didn’t study epidemiology
uh oh I touched my face again
I watch porn in which someone
just asks how I’m doing and then
intently listens / I never though I’d miss the Knicks
you purell me and I’ll purell you
how far up your butt do you jam
I keep thinking, should
I wait and just loot this later?
Me: Hold my beer
No one: No
I coughed on the train and
they threw me in the river
I don’t have to imagine there’s no heaven
What’s a good wine pairing for blueberry pop tarts
singing Zeppelin from our balconies
Your life is in Jared Kushner’s hands
Maybe we’re already all dead?
Have a great Worst Day of Your Life (So Far)
By the time you read this I will have died a virgin
If I don’t die I’m going to be so mad
I bought all this toilet paper
I’m the only living boy in Times Square
We have never lived
this before, we make soup,
play board games, we do not
wear masks, the words
are not new, peculiar
the order, form a puzzle
we sort and organize
our days I do not know
if I have been in contact
tracing the line a rope
I hold onto today you
wrote in your diary, “I don’t
understand the concept
of not being alive” you are
endemic to me, the humid
continental shelf we straddle
now a rookery of blue
and yellow tents they anticipate
positives we stack canned
goods, wipe books clean
of another crisis I learned
a term we hope does not fail
us now, shelter in place.
— Deborah Bennett
There once was a virus, Corona,
Hit New York, Washington, Arizona,
Social distance is sure,
Washing hands, de rigeur,
we’re all in this together, alone-a.
Though we could imagine circumstances far posher
than those of our lockdown, and others far more punk
rock—elbows flying, amps blown out, a mosher
in every corner—the banged-up cookie tray with trails of gunk
across its grey-green surface; the disgusting gusher
from the no-longer-hidden rubber hose; the funk
that suddenly filled the laundry room; the slosh, or
rather trickle, of clean water through that hose; the junk,
the literal nuts and bolts, fastened again, and the tools (potato masher?
aluminum snake? metal letter K?) back in the trunk
of home improvements, have left me in awe. Sure
of victory once the bin
begins to hum and spin,
you sashay downstairs, bowing like an ecstastic monk,
and sing to the whole of the house: “I fixed the washer.”
— Stephanie Burt
March 19, 2020
Who needs Paulie Gee’s Famous Pizza when I have
sequestered cheddar and Texas Pete salsa and rosemary
crackers. People don’t really die of boredom. Anyway
you can’t when there’s so much cheating of death to do
indoors. Take these houseplants I have in my imagination.
They will never fail for lack of succor nor window light.
How do you feel about that? I’m so glad I didn’t
begin an important lyceum series about spring. Now
my life is perfect while remaining in theory.
In theory the parkside farmer’s market has the most bodacious
oranges. I lean against the grit of the deepest tree
peeing — do you see what I’m doing? We all congratulate
soldiers one Sunday, their perfect bodies returning to the park
falling in for commendments. Not commandments,
commendments. The herl of a flower’s tusk bottom
suggesting the epaulet. Ah what flowers
are here all around us, both for sale and wild-
growing like fibrous stalks of ideas.
Is in fact social cohesion
“Namaste” works as well as a hug
I need your well-being
News about the pandemic went viral
But health too is contagious
And races through
The worldsphere like wildfire
Be well and get me well
When I see you strong
Tears well up in a healing wetness
Reading is personal, a close-up
The opposite of distance
A word kiss works very well
Feel it when writing and reading
The word “love,”
Which holds a wealth
Of well-being. Yes,
This is a chant a shaman
Taught me she brought up
Wisdom from a deep well
Freely given in the name
Of health, which thrives
when social beings hold each other
close in their hearts
(It’s OK to cry)
and at a safe distance
all of us reapers
i never imagined
god looked like you
your hand on the fence
my life aloft
on your voice
god’s hands, making coffee
and taking in the mail
stop biting your nails like that
i am still growing
into your mercy
you are still learning
clean feet, clean hands
let’s take our measures together
god, on the sidewalk and in the park
god, crowding the beach
god is everywhere
stand over there now
my neighbor, my divine love
did you know that i am a god too?
— Lindsay Crudele
Your pearly glow,
engulfing the darkened disk of the moon,
visible during a solar eclipse,
how can your crown of beauty
and light, cause such death and despair
seen only when it’s much too late
after thousands have died,
before many more fold, bent
low under your cruel scepter?
We used to drink you,
squeezing limes into thin-necked bottles,
celebrating summer and baseball games.
Now we avoid you, shutting ourselves
inside, closing schools, churches, sports,
eventually, even funeral homes.
Long after we’ve turned to ashes,
our legacy to those left behind to mourn us
is waiting until it’s safe to gather.
Perhaps by that point, we will all be forgotten,
those unlucky thousands who’ve succumbed to your peril.
It’s not as if we can go ask for prayers.
or the laying-on of healing hands.
No one allows hands to touch any longer,
or if they did, church doors are closed.
You’ve left us to ourselves to isolate, to hide
inside from you. Your insistent threat
circles us the way you once rounded the sun.
Now you are the sun, and we take
our cues where you shine the brightest,
scorching those under your fiery beams.
Can I hate you, Corona, once bearer of light,
now bearing darkness and death?
I can only fear, take shelter from you.
I hope and pray you will die in the heat
of the sun’s real rays, that you will burn out
as swiftly as you have killed.
Once I thought I was done fearing death—
but you have awakened everything in me
that doesn’t want to die.
—Linda Katherine Cutting
streaming a friend
playing his synths
in his basement.
The rain pounds.
The Roku logo bounces
around the screen because
I paused the document’ry
Oh, now he’s sampling Leonard Cohen.
And Ernie K. is watching.
— Jef Czekaj
Subway to the Moon
I spent a number of years living in a house in Columbus, Ohio
that sat near old train tracks.
About twice a day, a long cargo train passed
that seemed so rusted enough
it might fall apart right there.
To the point I made plans to pillage it for goods
should that happen.
But it always kept lumbering along.
I live in Queens, NY, now,
right next to an above-ground subway train that passes
far more often. But,
I take that as progress.
Our city held onto some everyman dreams,
no matter the ups and downs of wealth disparity, gentrification,
or Times Square’s levels of unagreeable electric beauty,
Today, as has been the case for a few weeks now,
I’m sitting on the couch watching that subway go by.
This time watching one of those CNN “documentary” series
that are basically the grad school student’s version
of VH1’s “I Love the ‘80s!”
It’s called “Soundtracks,”
where they try to frame famous historical events with
the music that framed those.
This one was called “The Space Race” about,
well, you know.
The most jarring line from one of the talking heads
was that the most futuristic thing we’ve done
is half a century old.
I still take JFK’s insistence that we land there
I still check out those ‘60s space flight docs
and marvel at our blue marble, and
that far away moment
where Americans of every stripe
were so eager to pay higher taxes
for a higher goal.
Even if that goal was essentially
a pissing contest with Russian oligarchs
who now sort of run our country.
Hence I always marveled too
at Gil Scott Heron’s amazing contemporaneous screed,
“Whitey on the Moon.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=otwkXZ0SmTs)
Every word true as the old rust on that Columbus train or
the deep science that landed us on the moon,
now telling us to stay in the house.
The space race ran nearly parallel with the civil rights movement, women’s liberation,
and even Stonewall happened
less than a month before “one small step for a man.”
There are overlapping, progressive ideas that propel us,
be it deep into the slums of NYC or
to the craters of the Moon.
A “Soundtracks” scientist mentioned the irony of the fact
that the last man to walk on the moon was the first scientist.
Yesterday Trump said,
“You should wear masks when you leave the house.
Not that I’m going to, but you can.”
We are in a stuck-on-the-couch moment,
but the subway still rolls by.
Essential workers have to get to their jobs.
The everyman keeps rolling.
Whether it’s forward
just never gets answered.
To be known
for seeking motivation —
is that like
asking for an event
to befall the world?
I look out at it
waking up and
I want to tell it
to stick to process,
If you want
to motivate me,
be gentle. I’m old.
If you tell me
your dreams, that
is more than enough.
— Jordan Davis
The sparrows have devoured
all the birdseed I had stockpiled
soon ducks will be nesting
Groggy woodchuck got clobbered by an SUV
entrails pulled by crows all over the road
I let the cats into the backyard while I’m out there
try to avoid stepping on a tiny crocus
We plant aspirational peas
I stand twelve feet from my neighbor across a fence
he says they had to put his dog down
No traffic on the highway
we can see it from the garden now
they leveled two houses to make another parking lot for the church
left the big silver maple
Under the ground, sunchokes
planted them years ago, they’re like weeds
little sweet crunchy roots that make you fart
traditional famine food
wondering when I’ll dig them up.
Sixty degrees in the morning, twenty by night. Big wind.
— Michael Deluca
An Overabundance of Caution
We had decided
To share our
Of cautionary tales
To keep safe distance
We take these steps
Climb them upward
Onward into a womb of stone
A silver seed to secure
Freedom from fear
Across the touched face
Of the sun
I am up for anything
The God of Inertia
He just sits there
I pray to the
The sacred statue
Of static energy
A ball of sparks
As they devour
On the side
In all its
With its own
This is Ostara
I don’t want to be home
When will freesia come
Catkins scattering sunlight
Chalk hopscotch sidewalks
Clean this up
Deal with it now
Just good plans
I don’t understand
I don’t understand
This is Ostara
We are all inside
Except the birds
They are very loud
They are so loud
Undisturbed red clover
Milk white blooms
The light future
The ancient darkness
Nothing to celebrate
Wash this sorrow
Dreams can’t fix it
We are the rich yellow yolk
Half cooked in the soft boiled egg
It doesn’t matter what you own
The consequence of this silence
Maintains the rate of the deceased
A few months ago, my partner Frank started making drawings of a creature, in marker, on pages of old New Yorkers.
“What’s that?” I asked him, when I saw one.
“Horsebeast,” he said, and that’s how I learned the word.
A horsebeast is a creature with a horse’s legs, a horse’s butt, a human torso and a human head.
Over time, I learned that Horsebeast doesn’t walk on two legs with an upright body, like a satyr. He walks on two legs, but bent over double, with his head hanging down and his arms flapping around.
One day Horsebeast had a companion in a drawing: a sad, foxlike face.
“That’s Chupacabra,” Frank explained.
“I don’t get it,” I said. “Are he and Horsebeast friends?”
“No, Horsebeast worships him.”
“Why would Horsebeast worship Chupacabra?”
“Why does someone worship Zenu?” Frank replied,dragging the Scientologists into it. “Maybe Chupacabra helped Horsebeast once. Or maybe Horsebeast thought Chupacabra helped him.”
I tried to think of all the things Horsebeast could worship.
“Horsebeast can’t worship man because he’s part man, and man is subjugating him,” Frank said, reading my mind, which is not unusual when you are married.
Frank was standing there with no shirt on and a towel wrapped around his waist. I saw the tattoo over his heart, of a hand holding a small fire. He got that tattoo a few months after he was walking on the sidewalk, doing absolutely nothing wrong, and suddenly he got hit by a car.
“Chupacabra is in charge,” he said, as he walked off to take a shower.
I can’t identify the exact moment I became suspicious of infrastructure. As a kid
I rode the sketchy scrambler at the local mall parking lot fair and did not fear for my life
even though the operator was 17 with poor dentition and a complexion
I would not have recognized at the time as the hallmark of methamphetamine overuse.
In my early 20s I recall walking in New York past bodegas and stepping on the cellar doors with only the very slightest pause.
After that? I started noticing poorly secured air conditioners in second story windows, including my own.
One goes about one’s daily business unencumbered by concern for the safety of basic things, interrupted from time to time with a contaminated spinach leaf, an armed incel, ebola.
I assumed that situation rooms existed with holographic displays of epidemiological scenarios. Biologists and statisticians with slide rules and 12-sided dice exploring worst cases, designating unused sanitoria as overflow for the inevitable pandemic, stockpiling hazmat gear and constructing marching orders
As it happens, everybody thought someone else was taking care of that.
We are them and they are us but I think I shall demand a head on a stake nonetheless.
May they be cursed
even more people
— Forbes Graham
What current or wave, seed, particle
Of hope, goads conscience into blurt?
Inauspicious breath-in-sense: Huh.
Wood duck feeds on lily bud, and grows,
And growing, dies. Death don’t stop
Time but particularly, done by one.
These hapless shapes help more than hurt,
But hurting, kill. And how don’t destroy
Things we love? And how repair?
And how can change be constant, and
Complete? How prop despair?
Stop, you say. Repeat. With pieces we can play,
And pause, and trace the future with precision.
What’s matter then? Decision?
Moon’s in every phase at once
And sunrise neither walks nor runs.
Seems to conspire to get us
Doubles triples quadruples
External internal topic
It grew tired of bats
As mammalian hosts.
It likes us the most.
Covid nineteen I don’t covet you
We need not talk at all
glove and mask.
Coven of covids are coming
todaytomorrow or yesterday?
Five days incubate
Feels already late
The cases doubled in four days
Last week 1600
hand sanitizer running low.
Covid nineteen isn’t like a sweet sixteen
coming of age
Could be worse
Skipping down stairs blind in the dark. Covids
Are coming in
A national anthem.
— Laura Harrison
Virus with a Crown
My partner keeps wondering
what all the people who get infected
have in common.
All I can think of is just because
a sentence is in proper
does not mean it is
& I knew before but:
The more you want something
the more it alludes your
is why I know I won’t
die for a very long
time — ha
I’ve been drawing my own
skull with a fountain
to soften the endless hours
thinking all the while:
the only virus that wears
that this ain’t the only
now & that
while it’s worth giving up
it is better just to smoke
a cigarette, write a poem,
& get over it.