2020 is half over.
This year has been monumentally challenging for all of us, especially for the most vulnerable members of our society, from the immunocompromised to our fellow citizens who receive unequal treatment due to the color of their skin. The effects of COVID-19 have not only wreaked havoc on our bodies, they have ravaged the economy and hit several industries, including the arts, especially hard. The pandemic has brought out the best in us as we toil to help one another, but has also escalated political divisions, increased racial prejudices toward Asian Americans, and underscored systemic and structural weaknesses in our country’s policies and administration. The latest police use of excessive and deadly force disproportionately against black citizens has led to another chapter in our country’s long history of racial trauma and the battle for equality, and the outcomes of ongoing protests have been both heartening and, at times frightening. Everyone has experienced these ongoing crises firsthand or knows and loves someone who has been affected.
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.
Joan Cusack Handler
TWO VIRUSES: BOTH LETHAL
Outside the violence continues.
The state of our union (an ironic word given where we are these days) has most of us feeling frightened.
We are not united.
We’re torn apart.
Returned to the Civil War (another ironic choice of words. Is there, was there anything civil about it? Brother against brother, claiming rights that no one has a right to—the right to kill, often in the ‘service’ of protecting the peace, violence against each other, tearing the life from us, our children from us—all in the service of the white person’s “right” to own slaves); today’s version: the white person’s claims of superiority over blacks that runs freely through our present day society despite the overwhelming denial of our citizens and politicians. One cannot know that people are dying from rampant racism and COVID-19 without always looking over a shoulder—
waiting for the next shoe to drop—
knowing we’re next.
One of these poisons will take us.
Sadly, just as one was quieting down, the other blew up.
The second is far worse than the first.
Man-made. Inside of us.
It’s not stalking us from the atmosphere, we’re taking it in like cereal for breakfast. Drinking it. Nourished by it. Drunk with it.
(I say ‘we’ because all of us share some of the responsibility for this travesty either because we are actively racist or because we share in the delusion that it doesn’t exist; we ignore the stories we hear over and over from the black community; we fail to actively protest the reams of evidence we are presented regarding the attitudes of so many police departments and town and city governments, yet we accept the decisions of not guilty when the perpetrators are exonerated as innocent. “Their response was within policy guidelines,” we’re told, and though we may well shake our heads in disgust at the obviously unjust verdicts, that disgust is muted by the many daily issues that confront and distress us).
Meanwhile, in the streets, the exquisite thrill of violence. Superiority.
Whether it be against a person, a group of people, a belief system, an ethnic group, someone who doesn’t look like us, act like us, join us. There isn’t a day that goes by without some horror being exposed after years of cover-up. Another death of a black man at the hands of a rogue policeman whose common vocabulary is hatred, destruction and license to kill. And I do mean rogue—clearly, the overwhelming majority of police are good people who devote their lives to protecting us in times of threat. Yet they too tend to support the killer in their ranks who violates their code and administers their own form of perverted justice.
How does one defend the destroyer?
How does one stand by mute when one of their own smears shit and blood over the people you and they have committed to protect.
Why protect he who would destroy everything
and everyone you believe in?
There’s an insanity about us now.
The walls are torn down and the blood gushes.
Rather than join the peaceful protesters, many people are joining the ranks of the demonstrators under false pretenses; they are the lovers of dissension; now is their chance to shatter peaceful expression with violence and pillaging. Running rampant, they are out to wreck their own neighborhoods—smashing windows, ravaging storefronts, restaurants.
Why would you do that? I imagine asking them.
This is your home, your city, your places of worship.
What is the pleasure in destroying them?
I can’t help but agree with those who say that these enemies of peace are from outside of the neighborhood.
I want to believe this.
It’s so much easier to accept the possibility that the contempt and wish to destroy are perpetrated by outsiders rather than locals. Why destroy what is yours?
On the other hand, we have COVID-19 raging and Trump refusing to wear a mask despite accelerated rates of infection, conducting huge rallies, the latest in a huge confined indoor space with no expectation that attendees would wear masks or maintain social distancing. The most hideous example of his and his campaigners’ inhumanity was the removal of seat signs marked, Do not sit here, to ensure that enough space would separate attendees from each other and thereby avoid contamination. For the Trump campaign, the more people crushed into a space the more votes the campaign could count on.
The danger to the lives of supporters never figured in the equation.
And this is our president.
No wonder the unrelenting terror pounding my chest
I am trying to figure this out.
I don’t have the answer
What I know:
Our country has gone crazy
The system in need of repair
more likely a complete overhaul.
We have to work harder to make
a fairer and better place to live.
Today is uncomfortable for most everyone.
We can’t not talk about racism any longer
We need to hear each other’s pain.
What I hear:
Sirens, weeks and months of sirens
the totemic sound of America today
helicopters flying low overhead
chants resounding through the steel
and granite canyons: I Can’t Breathe,
Black Lives Matter, Stop Killing Us
Say his name, George Floyd
Say his name, Ahmaud Arbery
Say her name Breonna Taylor
Say the name, Fill in the blank.
The pop pop pop of flash grenades
The close range bang of rubber bullets
Tear gas snaking through city streets
Wooden batons cracking against bones
I hear America breaking piece by piece
What I see (mostly on tv)
Angered citizens marching
Through streets to call attention
To the murder of an unarmed black man
By the name of George Floyd.
Riot clad police fire close range
tear gas and rubber bullets
at protesters so a bible toting
Villain can pose for a photo op,
Macy’s Herald Square on fire,
Ominous graffiti of rage
The Grand Concourse in shards
of glass and looted merchandise
Fort Greene a daily tinderbox
Smell the brimstone in the air.
Remember when we thought 2016
The worst year ever?
I am so tired of all this winning.
What I feel:
I don’t know, sad, angry, scared, despaired, inspired,
broken-hearted, empathetic, hopeless, hopeful,
words that have no place in a well-written poem.
Is justice anything more than punishment
for those we think have done us wrong?
A younger friend asked me if I think
things will get better after this is over.
I couldn’t give him an answer,
though I believe as soon as this shanda
of a president is removed, we begin to heal.
Deep down I believe things have got to change.
Just don’t tell me your vote doesn’t matter.
The Amazon truck pulls to the curb,
the driver masked. I go for a walk.
Kids on bikes, one parent with them.
Dog walkers. No cats. Do cats ever walk?
Everyone is trying to get away.
New Yorkers escape to the Hamptons.
Others to a cabin in the Adirondacks.
I bake sugar cookies, lemon tarts,
disinfect the counter tops and door knobs.
Will the world live on? The sun rise?
The rhubarb appear in the spring?
My granddaughters, let loose from university,
deliver groceries to me:
onions, flour, mozzarella cheese.
Maggie idles the car, Emma distances herself
six feet from the door.
Won’t come in. I’m reading
The Tales of Boccaccio
for my James Joyce group on Zoom.
Hungry for words, we need more.
Emma says she’s baking focaccia.
I hear Boccaccio.
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.
In Verona Park, some walkers and joggers
have full face masks. They move away as I pass
the empty bocce court, the fenced off playground.
No children swing, no mothers push.
A lone cherry tree is pink, as the L.L. Bean kerchief
I wear. Against a blue sky, the forsythia
boasts its yellow. Dazed by this brightness,
I stroll as if I were not among the old
wrinkled shadows, fingers cold,
hands stained with regret. Death goes
through town with a quiet sound,
a winter cough, but it is spring.
It would be marvelous to run around the park
lake, shouting, “I’m still here!” To stand
on the bridge waving hello not goodbye.
Joseph O. Legaspi
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.
(3) Friday, March 13, was my last trip to Manhattan before sheltering-in-place. On the subway my skin was prickly, my body vigilant. I picked up my running shoes from my office at Columbia University. I figured I’d stay fit and run in the mornings and “be productive” while waiting for the pandemic to stroll on by.
(5) Neighborhoods with the highest number of Covid-19 cases per capita were areas with the lowest median incomes and the largest household size. Meaning: black and brown people. Queens is an immigrant, working-class enclave, most of its residents employed in service industries. The less you earn the more people you serve.
(11) I coughed and I worried. I checked my forehead frequently. Tickle in my throat and it was spring: allergy season. Was having a rash a symptom? Nasal congestion? The cough persisted for a week, two. Wet not dry. My muscles ached. From sleeping too much, from lying down on the couch too long, sleepless till dawn, then up by 11am. Oatmeal, sometimes eggs for lunch.
(12) Add thermometer, acetaminophen, and rubbing alcohol to shopping list.
(13) Peak in New York State crested on April 10: 10,794 new coronavirus cases. (Source: New York Times)
(18) A friend, an ophthalmologist, at Queens Hospital spied on the refrigerated morgue trucks parked near the public lot. There were bodies stacked on top of each other, she said.
(19) I am not to be scapegoated for the “Chinese flu,” nor the “kung flu,” with its European strain, spewed by a weak fascist with no capacity nor compassion to lead.
(20) Weekly, I Zoom with close friends. They share with David and me their son who is our godson, a real city kid who’s more than happy to stay indoors. For weeks we each curated a virtual mixtape of seven songs that fashioned a personal narrative. Here’s the group’s “7 Songs” playlist.
(21) “Where are you, world? / Window, portal. / Blank page before / me a sieve. / Does the lamp / flicker toward / a doorway? The door / leads to air, / emptiness. On the desk / a photograph. / My mother bronzed, / swelled in sepia, / whisper, the disappeared / in the here and now.” (Video Poem, Queensbound, Onassis Foundation, Queens Museum)
(22) Elmhurst Hospital is .6 miles from my home, about a few minutes’ walk. Ambulance sirens pierce all through the days and nights.
(23) Marlon, a friend, high school teacher, marathoner, fellow Filipino-American my age, was admitted to Elmhurst Hospital with Covid-19. For three days in the emergency room he was attached to a ventilator. When a bed finally opened up upstairs, he was moved to complete his recovery.
(24) During the pandemic, a walk is an awkward dance with strangers, equally afraid and cautious. The art drained from New York streets made for walking and strutting and sashaying. Trust is gone, no urgency but anxiety. We all have nowhere to go.
(27) Through your mask I see you smiling.
(28) My mother calls from suburban California. “I’m bored,” she says. She doesn’t have Netflix or Hulu. She’s lost salary by not working. She is seventy-eight and deathly scared. She boasts taking vitamin C supplements. She won’t even go out in her yard. Her roses fend for themselves.
(29) I sheared off my long hair, electric razor buzzed like a lawnmower. I’m caterpillar eyebrows and sharp cheekbones. Who is that in the mirror? He is familiar so I assume we’ve met before.
(30) I miss eye contact.
(31) The plague has brought out the birds, riotous in the branches and air. The city has been transformed into a country. Flowers shimmer, and the azure sky sparkles.
(35) Yet another killing of a black man has unleashed unrest and anger the pandemic cannot contain.
(36) May 27, 2020. The United States’ coronavirus death toll surpassed 100,000, higher than any other nation.
(38) Please do not eat and blame the pangolin.
(40) David and I stumbled upon a Covid-19 testing site sprouted from a lot amid a shopping mall and car dealerships in Woodside, Queens. A kind South Asian health-care worker swabbed up the most inner recess—corona, if you will—of my nasal passages.
(41) There is a shortage of bicycles. So we leased a Kia Forte for three years, having never owned a car in the city. Restlessness is a disease.
(42) Being a writer, I thought I was built for isolation since inwardness was my cottage industry. Four walls and a low ceiling can trap a person. There is simply the present, inert. Yourself, staring.
(43) I realized what I’m carrying heavily is grief. Incalculable deaths. Yet no collective mourning. As humans, we need the ritual, to perform the rites. This pandemic is persistently lonely.
(45) During the heyday of the Holy Roman Empire, there were incidences of the dancing rage, or choreomania, a social phenomenon where groups of people, sometimes in the thousands, danced erratically until they collapsed in exhaustion. It was said to be the byproduct of the Black Plague, or long periods of isolation due to contagion.
(47) June 20, 2020. New York State. Total cases: 392,037. Deaths: 30,839. (Source: New York Times)
(48) The summer solstice was at 5:43pm edt, Saturday, in the northern hemisphere. The sun rose at its highest peak. The day showered with flagrant sunlight.
Lessons of 28,140 Masks
Since March 21, I have been helping make fabric masks to help reduce the spread of the Coronavirus. Early on, I joined the SOMa Sewing Volunteers, a Facebook group named for South Orange and Maplewood, NJ, where I live. More than 500 of us have collected cotton and flannel fabric and elastic, cut it to size, put together kits, delivered them, sewn them, returned them back to my front porch, quarantined them and distributed them, several hundred at a time, to hospitals, food pantries, homeless shelters, mental health associations, health departments, nursing homes, and the Navajo nation.
As of July 1, we have delivered 28,140.
Over time, we divided duties. Jean found reliable contacts at hospitals, boxed up the masks and mailed or delivered them. Alba somehow managed to cut a giant box of sets of 40 rectangles, in half plain, half solid, even though she has a kindergartener and a second grader to teach at home, while working part-time.
Our number included Anne, 79, who is living 600 miles from all her fabric and her sewing machine. We were able to set her up with a loaner machine, plus delivery person. The lender even agreed to wipe her machine down with disinfectant. It all fell together like seamlessly, through messages and texts.
Early on, a stranger wrote on our community’s Facebook page, “My prayers are with all of you Sewing Angels! May your fingers be nimble, your needles be sharp, and your thread stay untangled.” Were we really angels? Mostly, we felt lucky that we’d paid attention when our mothers or home-ec teachers taught us how to thread a machine.
But maybe the joining of so many helpers brought some mystical power with it. The mask mavens had a way of anticipating needs. One day, when I was mailing 150 masks to Covenant House in Newark, a shelter for homeless young people, the mailwoman arrived five hours early. I was in a panic, and mad at myself for not having gotten the package together sooner. Sure enough, the second person to pull up to my porch could take the package to her stoop, where the mailman hadn’t come yet. She also recruited a troop of Boy Scouts to cut 1,317 masks’ worth of fabric, at last count.
When all the residents of the shelter were tested weeks later, no one had COVID-19.
Some of our volunteers have had the coronavirus. One lost her young husband to it. Our small towns have lost a total of about 30 residents. Our piano teacher was laid low by it; a friend’s husband has been hospitalized for months. I look at my garden and wonder, which sick friend will get the next flowers in bud now?
But I’ve been comforted to watch the mask makers fight sadness and worry with a potent weapon – abundance. The bin on my front porch frequently overflows with donated sheets, masks, elastic, and bolts of quilting cotton.
My knitting taught me that generosity is painless. Generosity is actually less painful than its opposite, because you don’t lose sleep if you’ve given away the kindest gift, and you do if you don’t. It reminds me of the basic command of most religions – love, and love wastefully.
So when I fell in with this group of sewers, I understood the mentality. People needed masks, and we had the power to make them, and we would. There wasn’t much ambiguity in the decision.
I remember when I sewed my first masks, I felt so calmly certain I was doing the right thing. I felt relief in having agency. Simple verbs, cut, put right sides together, pin, attach elastic, make seams. Turn it all inside out, tug on elastic, pin the tucks, sew twice around. There it is, a mask that could make a nurse’s N-95 mask last longer. A mask for a postal worker, an elderly neighbor, a home health aide, a foster family.
Here is what the virus has taught me so far: That healthy lungs have the consistency of whipped cream, while COVID-wracked lungs feel like stale marshmallows. I learned that I am super speedy, to a fault, and have a sense of urgency that can irk my colleagues – I would rather get a bag of masks to the nearby nursing home, rather than wait a few days til they could be delivered to a hospital, where the need might be greater.
“You’re saving lives,” my husband said, which didn’t feel quite true until we delivered our 10,000th mask.
Over the past weeks, I have been floored by gratitude for the group. The porch and garage have given me a concrete reason to get up each morning – the sewers were coming! I would open up the bins from quarantine and marvel at the generosity of four days ago. I didn’t feel “I have to go do these chores,” rather, “I get to do them.” If someone else had been in charge of setting out the materials each day, I realized I would’ve been jealous.
Others have posted that the group has helped them deal with great anxiety and uncertainty. “I had no idea the mask-making process would provide such a welcome soothing distraction,” Joy posted. Marietta wrote, “I wanted to take a minute to say thank you to this community for holding me together stitch by stitch.” Elyse said, after thank-you notes from the high school field hockey team made her cry, “I have a renewed sense of hope for our world.”
Somehow, in three months’ time, the sewing volunteers have evolved into a communion, sharing the goal of protecting strangers. We have kept each other going in dark times. And we have already planned a detailed menu for when we can break bread together, in person. We can’t wait.
the forbidden fruit
and my skin bears scarlet marks
but tell me
who painted the roses
accented eyes amber,
where’s this land of the free,
the one you spoke of
the one flowing
with milk and honey?
she’s infested with hypocrites
and on Sundays she waits upon
the resurrection of slurs
haram is dog spit and alcohol
soaked rags in a bucket
to baptize the liars.
do they taste the blood of the lamb,
when satin curses roll off
their pitch-forked tongues?
they scorn upon the crescent
as each chant strikes
the veils of hijabs
signs that read,
“I’m not of color”
upon foreheads painted sulphur.
clothed in rubies
stripped to the core,
negaraku, on gravel
tainted with my blood.
I stand with the victims.
every time i glance back
i turn into a pillar of salt
so go ahead and glare
as i ride to hell and back
reeking of Clorox
elbows scorched crimson
as my lungs unfold
to scream the azan
as dictated by commoners
truly, we are born of dirt,
i’ve cleaned my hands,
I drove up to the front door of the Dachshund Rescue and
stood there. Silent, for a moment. When I knocked,
as the sign told me to, the thunderous yaps
of a lot of dogs filled the air. Immediately
nine or ten small dogs swept
around the corner from the kitchen, none of them
so sick as to be silent. I could see them
as I opened the door, like a herd of cattle
in the desert of a western movie flyaway shot,
a sweep of dogs passing, gone.
Until it was just Petie, our old and sometime
convalescent dog edging between my feet
and the cabinet door, hoping something might
fall his way, his bright eyes focused
on my hands and mouth.
On the stove a pot of dark pinto
beans bubbled and simmered for chile.
I couldn’t tell, for a moment, if the world
were growing smaller, details changing
like the landscape, or whether the virus
had altered our focus, everything more distant,
a new pair of glasses found on the dresser,
and the day come back into its size,
everything changing, mornings of memory.
We have enough food in the house to last
a couple of months anyway, and even
with all the deaths, which blessedly
have not claimed anyone I know, till now,
we, too, will survive one more day.
We have no children hostage to the future,
and, as Yo-Yo Ma says, this is “not
our first Goat Rodeo.”
A Japanese Maple
Spring is moving more slowly this year, the leaves
which had remained on the Japanese maple
all winter were still hanging on until Tuesday,
when the last dead ones finally fell off
and the new were pushing forth the season–
so lovely, as if we’d died and awakened
in paradise, its leaves red in the late sun,
fire-engine red, a catalog would call it.
I looked and could see trees in other yards
that exact color, each an offspring
of the same helicopter seed.
Everyone hopes they will be okay,
but still, we are making promises
to be good in the dark, oh yes I will,
if I do not die. My sister,
whom I telephoned yesterday
to see if she were all right, fears for her life—
I can hear it in her voice–
that she will catch the disease. She’s sixty-eight,
I add up, so it must have crossed her mind.
Perhaps it’s that she wants to feel
ready, something like that, and does not.
Today I like the idea of my dementia,
that I can count on it to forget gradually
that each day might fade away into the last.
I tell myself, I like waking up each morning
too much, the way some people like candy,
or scotch. I want to know
when it’s the last one, so I will not fear it,
not find myself one more time in the basement
of my flattened heart, but walk out
into the pale, late sunlight along the streets.
I tell myself that the last good kiss I had
was from you, that I am sorry for a friend who lives
above a park and cannot see the leaves as they sprout.
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.
In this time, Black people died of the virus at higher rates than white people, which had to do with location, which had to do with jobs, which had to do with racism and access to health care. I put a Black Lives Matter sign in my yard which probably signaled that I was in fact not Black. The UPS man, who was Black, gave me a thumbs up and a smile from under his mask when he delivered a box. This made me happy and I worried about it a great deal.
In the time of the virus I spent a lot of time thinking about the pronoun “we.” What I meant when I said it. The groups of which I was a member. I was not part of the We who scanned groceries in the time of the virus. I was not a part of the We who went to work to fix the teeth that broke during the virus. I was not a part of the We who drove cars to deliver meals. But we were all connected by the flow of air that swept the virus particles around the state, the continent, the globe. With a single breath, the We who were healthy would become part of the We who were not. Every decision to interact with anyone else was complicated. We spoke of “contact tracing” but what we meant was whose air did you breathe?
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.
Thoughts Informed by Disinfectant, May 2020
A distinctive aroma drifts across my desk
toward the cat squinting at a tall,
cheerful, blue-green cylinder:
Fresh Scented, but not the same fresh scent
as my hand soap—each more sweet and complex
than fresh to my homebound nose.
Kills Flu Virus were the urgent words that like
divine intervention brought wipes into my life
from an almost empty shelf at the market.
ONE TO A CUSTOMER! I’ve never owned
a wipe like these, but like Dutch traders
possessed of tulip mania in 1636
I am now manic, stocking up, paying more
than items are worth—though more from terror
than greed—in hopes each new treasure
might save me from a choking death.
Wipe, noun: in the 1640s, act of wiping,
in 1708 something used in wiping,
in 1971 disposable absorbent tissue,
in 2020 essential tool to kill flu virus,
A noun, plural, on everyone’s tongue,
and hands, mail, doorknobs, bottles…
I want and cannot have a vaccine, or a test,
or air simply scented with spring hyacinth.
The leaves in Jersey barely twitch.
Boarded up faces explore
ransacked shelves. Fingers
shrink back as if most things
are shrouded with broken glass.
The air itself becomes a threat.
Friends, parents compressed to data,
hugs untranslatable through the wires.
Tropical oceans drink the sun.
Cars are garaged.
Planes roost and rust.
Tides exhale heat, darken skies.
Numbers climb in spikes: Living rooms
by the millions turned to sick bays,
Humidity rises to a storm.
9-1-1 weaponized, breathing
not a right unless you’re white. Black bodies
like sandbags before a surge.
Clouds start to spin, churn, and overflow,
tendrils electric with salt.
We gather like thunderheads, charged
and shouting, demanding equal treatment, accountability.
The system begins to move.
No justice, no peace. Riot shields and pepper spray.
The ocean thrashes the shore like it’s pinned.
Storefronts shatter. Cop cars meet flesh, highspeed.
Body cams turned off. Game time.
Palm trees bend and snap. Rivers vomit.
Rubber bullets. Newsmen blinded.
Tornadoes eviscerate the land;
the country strangled by the climate.
Does the wind lash your windows like a nightstick?
Do you understand our galeforce strength?
Will you meet us in the eye and help us ride this out?
Can we rebuild something stronger, better together?
Until we do, the rain pounds with the sound of their names:
George Floyd Ezell Ford Freddie Gray
Sandra Bland Pamela Turner Tanisha Anderson
Alton Sterling Michael Brown Tamir Rice
Breonna Taylor Laquan McDonald Michelle Cusseaux
Ahmaud Arbery Janet WIlson Joseph Mann
Philando Castille Eric Garner Elijah McClain
Do you hear it?
It will rain for days and days.
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.
Sebby (7) & Grammy (72) Hold Art-Class-at-Home during Covid-19
A woman dressed in a hooded white tunic
leans over the balcony
of her medieval castle.
She looks straight at me.
It’s August. I’ve been alone
inside this house since March.
Before Covid I’d never think of wasting time
doing a jigsaw puzzle.
Better to make something useful–
a pair of mittens, a pot of soup.
Now, week after week, I spend hours
sitting at this table sorting through
cut-out pieces of cardboard
looking for a fit. The midnight sky
is slowly taking shape behind her.
The moon appears.
Days before my friend Susan died
a small group of us gathered in her living room
for our yearly Christmas tea.
Thin, one eye half closed, Susan sat
between Brooke and me on the long sofa,
propped by a pillow,
her favorite chartreuse sweater
over her white nightgown.
On the low glass table in front of us,
a vase of lilies, a small Calyx were ware plate
with her scone, untouched.
“This is so bizarre,” she whispered,
“Yes,” I said, knowing what she meant.
Now we all agreed it’s good
Susan didn’t have to live through this.
So much death.
The world is tired, sick.
I wish I could Call her on the phone.
The walls of the castle are made of stars.
Mostly greens, yellows, amber,
red– like Susan’s hair when she was young.
Alike, but not identical, these stars
are what make this puzzle difficult.
Susan loved her home on the river, her gardens.
She also loved oatmeal. I swear
that woman ate McCann’s Irish Oatmeal
with blueberries, whole milk and maple syrup
every day of her life. One morning
toward the end, when a thin version of it
was all she could keep down,
She said, “Thank God for oatmeal!”
And I said, “T.G.F.O.”
And we laughed and agreed
it should be inscribed on her tombstone.
I wonder when we’ll bury her ashes
next to Bob’s in the small cemetery
with Judith, Sarah, Ethan, Greg, others,
where my ashes, too, will go when it’s time.
At first winter interfered–the ground, snow-covered, frozen.
Now this pandemic keeps us from gathering.
The closer I come to finishing–a few stars needed
to fill in the upper right corner–the faster I go,
surprised and a little perplexed by sadness
at the thought of placing the last piece,
only to break it all apart.
How silly to be attached to a jigsaw puzzle,
but these are strange times.
When A Roadside Altar Speaks
(winner of the Moving Words 2020 Poetry & Animation Contest)
From the Staff and Authors of CavanKerry Press:
Black Lives Matter. We are all in this together.