43 POEMS by 43 AUTHORS
in response to COVID-19, PT.2
This is the second in two installations, be sure to check out Round One, here.
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 do I need to tell you poetry is as important a response and chronicle to the prevailing tide as anything else–probably not. 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. — Gilmore Tamny
As to PT 2, thanks to these poets, writers, journalists, musicians, performance artists, and photographers for their work: ANONYMOUS I, Heide Hatry, Doug Holder, Thomas Kitson, Ruth Lepson, Martha Mccollough, Kevin McLellan, Michael Peters, Andrew K. Peterson, Phill Provance, Jessy Randall, John Ruch, ANONYMOUS II, Jason Sanford, Angela Sawyer, Christina Strong, Gilmore Tamny, Christie Towers, Rebecca Uchill, Annie Won
43 POEMS by 43 AUTHORS
State of Emergency
State of Emergency
Is it crazy that I feel meant for this moment?
The normal days never made sense to me: I was designed—no, raised—to live in a state of emergency.
My love is a siren, my gut instinct is to gather seeds where ever I go.
The calm before the storm is the closest thing I’ve ever felt to a sense of true order.
My only fear is that there is something beyond this, for which I am not at all prepared.
I don’t even know what it’s called.
We started staying home both a little later and a little earlier than was called
for. Now, we wash our hands very seriously. It’s like church: The Blessed Order
of The CDC. We bicker, but not too too much, about when to go
shopping. Should we wait until it’s almost, but not quite, a toilet paper emergency?
We’re not even bickering because it matters. We’ve prepared
this bickering, knowing we’d need games to play in the early moments.
Our real conversation is an exchange of facts—the latest freedoms to go,
the most dire emergencies,
who and where is least prepared.
This stands in for the facts I know we will begin exchanging at any moment:
Who is sick. Who is recovering. Who is not. Our own symptoms, as they arise, in order.
It all helps dull a sharp awareness: what if you could not recover? (I don’t know what I would do, if you were called…)
War is almost, but not quite, the right metaphor. War is based on orders,
given from somewhere, for some reason, rational or not. You can smell the emergency
coming for years usually when it is a war. In this case, sure, experts knew this moment
was coming, even if not what it would be called.
I knew it also in my bones. But like them, expended the energy I could have spent getting more prepared
sounding constant alert before it was a go.
Here is how I’m prepared:
I am ready (but I am not ready) for the waking days to become an endless flash of nightmare-moments.
I am ready (but I am not ready) to be stumbling over death where ever I go.
I am ready (but I am not ready) for chaos to feel like order.
I am ready (but I am not ready) for the greed and selfishness driving the politics of this time to be called
forth in their full force. I am ready (but I am not ready) to learn the true meaning of “emergency.”
Is this extreme? Maybe things won’t go
so far. Maybe we will “flatten” the so-called
“curve” and everything will be orderly
and calm, though we must be prepared
for at least a little bit of “collateral damage.” Maybe it will just be a moment
like so many other moments that have come and gone before.
Order me up some of this kind of emergency, please!
I don’t care what it’s called. I’d rather have that than what I fear is being prepared for us.
The enemy’s within,
inside the walls,
beneath the masks
to seem more like it.
with our food
and nursed it
at our breast,
with our words,
the very songs we sang
to comfort children
in the night.
Now’s the time
the castle down,
who counsels peace.
I wear a pristine
to cover my contorted face
my hands covered
in clenched fists
of tight blue
in the street,
for six feet
from the storm.
I play Hollywood Squares on Zoom
framed portraits of friends
a museum of distress–
gallows humor does
Decay suspended at the lapping lake’s edge
The mind of murmuration sees the sun go down
Blackbirds’ whirr descends to gulp and hum
The city stills now
Sundown all day long
I’m awake to the subtleties of the floor
knob and the light switches —got me some
Cholorox wipes to get me through these quarantine nights
Got AHCC, a mushroom compound
Recommended by Nada Gordon
Which looks very lovely
I’m slurping echinacea
Not bad considering it gets peed on in the garden
Day-old coffee in the car
From Simon’s Cafe takeout
I sat in my blue Subaru
With the window open and looked forward to
The warmer weather coming which is supposed to
Kill the virus
though Mario told me
A guy in Japan came down with
The virus a 2nd time, meaning we can never
See anybody ever again….
Did Dean Koontz predict this?
I have no idea –I was busy reading
Denise Levertov for my class, which is migrating
Online—why do you think I’m writing this?
To avoid learning Zoom in this short period of time
Some students in front of
Jordan Hall tried to be cheerful —
‘Look we’re having poetry class right now’ —
I asked, ‘Are you freaked out’ They
Nodded, they have to move
Out of the dorms, all norms gone,
Except that Norm Macdonald guy
On FB NF wrote he’s devastated
— his last semester teaching —
Suddenly he’s done forever and I wonder
How many other people are done (forever)
I love the poem by Jim Berhle that Jim Dunn read
At the Gloucester Writers Center that I heard remotely
so maybe I’ll ask Jim B to cheer us up
With yet another poem — he was the first
I knew on FB to self-quarantine at home
So he knows some things that might or might not rime
Now he wants to have a Cantos group online
Do a porn cam and make some rice
He says he has no advice about coronavirus
I think that is very nice
Last box of black apples. Say goodbye to winter fruit. Time to
know a small number of things very well—half fox in a fable,
half handyman. I am prepared to be bored though I’m told it’s
a spiritual crime. You get used to a limited winter diet, rutabagas
and television. Contrary to expectation things continue to
happen. Tornado, wildfire, viral flowering, steady chipping
away. Angel still blown backward in the storm. I still want an
apple red all the way through, an apple that understands sin. Go
into the orchard on a frozen morning. pick an empty ice apple.
Smell of grass rising in the thaw, the wreckage piling up behind us,
sharp bits falling off, clinking, all the way from paradise
— Martha Mccollough
MARCH 18, 2020
in my face.
my dr.’s nurse
said to self-
for two weeks.
the US closed
— Kevin McLellan
standing on a balcony above the great city’s wine caves with you & mayakovsky’s translator
( a fallen poet’s prophetic revelations that capital was essential to the rise of science )
in the divine pagoda, I had a dream that I put into a poem
that our thoughts & the ways of knowing
could be translated & liberated in the divine pagoda
wherein holy men grab sleeping leaders by the neck
& strangle them
their eyes opening as I come to
the night before easter
where we lift our hip points up to the sky
taking simple socialist ideas as refuge for our noble minds
& the translator tells us to put a mark on the doorway of our skulls
just a mark, he says, in red paint
babbling about something about lambs & symbolic sacrifice
we walk out on to the balcony high above the city’s wine caves below
we shout from some cavernous well deep inside our diseased lungs
“down with the new corporate fascism!”
“down with insider trading scams!”
“people, not the economy!”
“long live the prophets who see the veil of hegemony lifting!”
the air is mild & damp
there’s a bump in the leader’s approval rating
we know there is more starlight in the sky than city lights
but the quarantine is still in full effect
& the city is something like a horizontal christmas tree
the darkness is weird because it’s not dark
you can’t even see the stars
& yet, the twinkling passenger ship seems to be sinking into the earth
we shout some more slogans, but the translator can’t keep up
looking down, passersby violate the curfew in the street below
as one end of the city rises up to reveal its deform’d concrete head
then, a parade of chocolate bunnies begins to wander down the street
& chocolate versions of the stations of the cross
all 14, rumble down on flatbed trucks
then, finally, the promised ventilators & hospital beds
the shiny medals for all the valiant doctors & nurses
& crates of medical masks on elephant & camel back
& gloves, lots of rubber gloves marching in unison
( yes, with the first two fingers walking like legs )
confetti falls & rolls of TP flutter in the corridors of the city’s streets
the air smells sweet
is that from the chocolate?
I didn’t think we could pull this off, I think
I feel dizzy
I look at you looking at me™
your eyes, they’re wide
I look at the translator
avoiding my eyes
offering semantic shoulder shrugs
I look down
is it raining?
is that blood on the floor of the concrete balcony?
I realize my head is bleeding
I lean on the railing to steady myself
I look over the railing to that little doorway below
I think, that’s probably not red paint
O fallen martyr from the future of unbridled poetic genius
write your poems in your own fucking blood
I look at you now in wonder, & think
fuck this, I’m not going to die enthusiastically
I think I’m going to die fully conscious
knowing the whole world was a god damn corporation
knowing everything was a farcical commodity
this is how the dream will end
For J. Dilla
In people is
How they stop
that do don’t
Forget to live
Like all the ways
The all all right y’alls
of the game is
& I can’t
Stand to see
You cry, maybe
both can win
Games we don’t
The end of
All over again
Say it, say
Baby. Say it,
one for ghosting
a middle crystal
& blue, I’m
Do be by
You say, &
I do, I will
I do be by
–Andrew K. Peterson
Meditation in Quarantine
In a drab room with dingy, brown carpet,
the television flickers Andrew Cuomo’s face
while steam from the coffee maker wafts
the scent of French roast across the nearby
cabinets and the sunlight frames the slats
of the dusty, drawn blinds yellow, as it does
every morning, not at all unlike a thousand
other mornings when I sat watching the news
alone. So why so strange this feeling, why so
strong the urge to wear jeans, shirt and shoes
past barren spring oaks and maples stretched
skyward like the pleading hands of the damned,
why the desire to sit in a crowded cafe and feel
ignored and bored, a stranger amid strangers?
It’s true that life would hardly be otherwise, only
forbidding tempts the imagination to believe
this soul that has so often felt abandoned
might somehow defy its exclusion and fly
most beautiful, free and desired, and walk
barefoot on the gold-crowned cloud tops.
Since I can’t touch my own face
how about if I touch yours?
— Jessy Randall
COVID-19, you mindless urge
against which my mindful ones are perhaps vain yet
I will parse you as if magically, equivalently
you won’t be able to parse me
“CO-” for we are all in this together, for once, for a fucking change, for now
“VID-” for the Netflix-and-news-watching and waiting and percentage-calculating
“19” for a time that already seems quaint even down to its monsters with their combustible flags and extinguishable fires
COVID-19, you mindless urge
to put us in our place
has awakened our mindful urge to put you in yours
The luxurious day will come we once again call survivors victors
and a leveling an elevation
I was freaking out some
But now I am most numb
It’s hard to believe still
That we might be done
– ANONYMOUS II
halfway between the worms in a dog’s ass
and a mouthful of aftershave
somehow my shit smells like someone else’s shit
someone’s shit I think I’ve smelled before—
miasmatic, rolling across the floor
just at calf-height, beneath the stall door
in a public rest room
at some highway rest stop
after lunch, about half-past
while the flagpole flaps outside at half-mast
halfway up or halfway down?
smell my half ass
only half mine
did we share a stall near half-past lunchtime?
thanks for keeping the seat warm
thanks for seeping the heat
thanks for heaping a shitstorm onto my feet
I thought time had changed, but it was me
And now time is back
Like the terminator; ominous and peculiarly accented
The last time I felt this time I was 16
All summer I scotched a tiny folded paper to my hip, under my underwear, every day
It had the date, in tight numbers, so that my parents couldn’t lie about at least that much
I worried about where to throw away yesterday’s paper
Sometimes I ate it
Nowadays I’ve been lucky
I have cheetos, levothyroxine, all the showers I could take, even work
Some might say I still put everything that needs to be hidden down my throat
They wouldn’t know
I fought time and WON
I’m a celebrating bitch
Like the terminator, the past and the future are trapped by the present
This present is a polaroid
Queens Blvd, six lanes of traffic, at least two islands
and tons of accidents and deaths, done cocaine with
stock brokers as sociological experiment, did I learn
anything in girl scouts? did I learn how to cook, I thought
it was just tea, just the bad girl to be shunned, left
to the crumbling pillars, another statistic if someone
who cared took notes, careful notes, the age of the
victim. It’s a now victim. It’s a way of how we have to
rephrase. Plants do not wander like blank. We all like
to have a stable home. Free of the sheriff. Thank someone
for sitting in their car doing nothing while someone
gets killed. That someone is you. Or me. Or somebody.
I haven’t heard the church bells chiming in a day or so,
Will the train run more or less on time? There’s your answer.
for The Corona Times:
The Pandemic Interview
Had you foreseen the drowning
of your anxieties
in spy documentaries?
What if you could pay
someone to get COVID
in place of you?
Do you recommend
the eating of Ritz crackers
as preventative measure?
Some of us look like bankrobbers
in our masks—are you one of them?
I’ve hoped so.
What’s a good pandemic rallying cry?
Let’s do this thing!
Remember your brief horrified infatuation
with bubonic plague as a child?
Did you say “Karl Lagerfield,
eat my sweatpants?”
What if you die?
Ha–no, no, no–I’ll never die.
Would you like to give every worker
in Market Basket 10K?
Did you write a limerick?
I did (Corona/bologna/Paloma).
How are you finding working
Time is viscous
as hand sanitizer.
Did your friend give you a chicken?
It’s a corny question, but what
do you think Freud would make
of this overmastering fear
of running out of toilet paper?
Tell me your quarantine dream.
I said to myself, “Daylight is wasted
on the out-of-doors.”
Many solid hours of confinement later,
who finds whose behavior more
unaccountable: you or your cat?
I believe you’ve wondered why no one
has posted the ZOOM TV show theme?
Is there an image in the news that has
captured your attention?
A guy delivering take-out in Wuhan.
Overall, are you doing OK?
(pause) I believe so.
You posted on Facebook that after
all your dystopian entertainment consumption
you were confused if you were preparing
for zombie apocolpyse, alien invasion,
nuclear war fallout, or pandemic–what
was the response?
That this was relatable.
Is a pandemic a good time
to utilize your learned helplessness?
Do you want a mini-trampoline?
Are you scared?
Have you discovered you intensely
dislike the hoodie you’ve had for years
now that you wear it all day every day?
Do you feel at points you’ve disengaged?
Anything else you’d like to add?
Nothing Left to Watch But the Window
I wake to banging: hammers, the sound
of boots echoing in the empty air.
A few cars on the road and little else.
Across the street I see men draping
the old folks’ home in ominous black tarp.
I text my friend a photo – quarantine?
or roofing? From here, it’s hard to know
which. Or if there’s a difference. Can you
imagine what it’s like in there? The air heavy
with Clorox, rubbing alcohol, the endless
echo of hammer and nail. Business as usual,
but louder, worse, terrible, a quarantine
compounded by double-darkened window,
by the sound of singing steel. The hours bang
on. The roof comes undone, is put back on.
The work revealed to almost no one:
the men, the birds, and me.
Our building took stock:
Purell and paper towels
Still in shared supply
this poem needs 10-inch rubber gloves
this poem needs goggles and laser beams
this poem needs forceps
this poem needs zaps and zings
this poem needs radiation
this poem needs CFCs this poem needs wide-eyed irises
this poem needs dominant robots
this poem needs factories and sewage
this poem needs the body disconnected
this poem needs a single eyeball
this poem needs a single eyeball skewered on a metal prong rising from a bubbling
Erlenmeyer heated by a Bunsen burner melting metal down
this poem needs (you) to melt your metal down