Earlier this year, CavanKerry Press created the Dispatches from 2020 online folio. With assistance from our staff and authors, we created an online record of our times in 2020– dealing with an ongoing pandemic, the continuing struggles and protests for social change, and our recollection of our past and present as we imagine new futures.
The following pieces simply highlight the scope of this project and we encourage you to read the entire issue at your leisure.
You Had to Be There
You had to be there to believe it,
the men and women marching,
Black, White, Brown.
“We’ve had enough,” they cry,
pain so deep,
suffering so great.
They shout, “I can’t breathe.”
Police like the army,
each day a glass full of evil,
like the rallies in Irvington
when I was a girl.
Brown shirted men raised
their hands in a Nazi salute
and shouted “Kill the Jews.”
Cops paid off, Newark’s gangsters
turned out and beat up the anti-Semites.
My father led the charge,
his fists like clubs.
My father is gone like the God
who is nowhere.
But why blame Him
for inventing the hatred of love?
After so many words,
will we be swallowed up
in our own darkness?
I hold hope in one eye,
despair in the other.
Selections from: Shelter-in-Place: Forty-Eight Fragments, Episodes, Anecdotes, Fodders, and Vignettes
(First featured in World Literature Today)
(1) On the longest day of the longest year, I did not sleep. I stood as witness with the maximum tilt of the Arctic Circle toward the sun.
(2) I live with my husband in Queens, the storied borough of New York City frequently cited as the most diverse place in one of the most diverse metropolises in the world. But when peeled away, diversity is exposed as disparity. At the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, in April 2020, Queens, specifically its western triangle of Corona, Elmhurst, and Jackson Heights, was the epicenter of the epicenter.
Grocery Gavotte 5:30 a.m.
At the Senior Citizen hour, Market Basket 3/25/2020
Our carts roll aisle-by-aisle
in stately 4/4 time, no Top 40
Muzak, no youth with their
Just head music as back-up
for creaky morning joints, still
sleepy ears. My cart fresh,
cleaned at the front door,
I foxtrot from dairy
to cereal, from canned soup
to produce, frozen food,
and ice cream; quick-step
past empty shelves for paper
goods and disinfectants.
We all maintain always
the 6-foot dance space
except when that old guy
stops mid aisle, not defiant,
just oblivious—the dancer
without a dance.
The cashier smiles and I realize
I haven’t looked into a face
outside myself in days. She asks
“how are you?” as I do-si-do
with the checker behind me.
I answer “doing well…and
that has a whole new meaning.”
The bagger grins as I waltz
to the car. I travel morning
streets, so empty now. At home
I cue up music—two more
weeks of tango with my shadow.
In the Time of the Virus (excerpt)
In the time of the virus we argued over words like ANXIOUS, which had the mental health professionals experiencing anxiety or anxiety-adjacent. I myself felt something akin to DISTRESSED and DEPRESSED and FEARFUL. I was distressed that I let my anti-anxiety prescription lapse. In the time of the virus we had home haircuts and home manicures and home massages and those of us who had previously outsourced these services now found ourselves with extra income to outsource other things, such as take out, which was left in brown paper on our front stoop after you clicked “contactless” delivery option on the app on the phone.
Those of us who had privilege in the world before the virus seemed to have more so now. Everything became an ethical conundrum, which just exposed how much life before had also been an ethical conundrum only some of us hadn’t paid enough attention. In the time of the virus, I wasn’t doing anything that seemed unique, nor was my experience universal. The “we” I evoked was, as it had always been, an illusion. In this time I broke my tooth and debated for two weeks whether this constituted an emergency; the dentist’s office told me that I could only be seen for an emergency appointment and they could not tell me if it was an emergency without looking at my tooth. This experience of the time of the virus was mine alone.
The Small Door
is the door back into the pandemic
and the room where I am trying to tell the story
of my husband, our house, street, young boarder,
his wife pregnant back in India. How he puts on his mask
and rubber gloves and shops for our food. How he brings
mangos home, and ice cream. He lectures us about
leaving the house and we mostly comply.
Wearing earbuds, he talks with his wife for hours
and hours. We have no children to fret over us,
he frets and we are grateful. His name is Narendra
which means “lord of men”. 53 days in quarantine and
counting. We have planted lettuce, tomatoes, and useful herbs.
The wind has blown our plastic recycling across the yard,
the youngest girl from next door is picking it up,
placing each piece back in the bin; her name is Hope.
CavanKerry is a community-minded press first and foremost, and our hearts are perpetually out to those who are struggling. We believe, fervently, in the power of words to help people through the toughest parts of their lives, and are privileged to have a community of writers who care deeply for the well-being of our fellow citizens. Several of our authors have written “Dispatches” on the state of the nation and the world and it is our hope that their writing will help navigate and offer some companionship to you during these difficult times.