Anniversary, 2021

This series of poems was written during the year 2021, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Epidemics are a stress test for a system…. the issue is how much resilience is built into those systems.”

Dr. Michael J. Ryan, WHO Informal Advisory Group

I forget to water my plants, forget
the salt, I forget
the rhythm my heart’s instinctively
supposed to know, write poems
with a pen belonging to a grandparent I don’t
remember, forget
words as I try to recall them

The pen breaks, the words
dissolve as my mind finds them, my hands
covered in ink
keep reaching
touch nothing

What matters, I tell
myself, is not
time spent grinding teeth at a job
that tears my guts up
drenched in apathetic laptop light

what matters is warm breath,
dog smell, the fuzzy hulk of her
sandwiched between us in bed

and the plants still thriving
even after Hell froze over, the kiss
waiting for me right down the hall.

It doesn’t help. I still can’t sleep. When
have I ever listened to myself?

the first thing
when it’s safe when I’m
vaccinated when
I can see them when
the second dose the next
group opens up the first
thing I’ll do the first
restaurant bar person kiss the first
plane flight home the
first bed not my own once
it’s safe once we’re all
safe to gather to play
Mario Kart on the same
couch when it’s two weeks
after the second dose as
soon as it’s safe as soon
as soon as soon

Sober the next day, my hair
curls quiet in the trash can, sad
snippets, sacrifice
on a paltry altar. 

I always cut my hair in crisis, as if
hewing away the dead length could cure
this meatsack, lump of flesh, bad apple
I was born into. 

Mercifully, the new shape 
around my tired old face distracts
a little from a year 
spent tallying death, and losing time
and hoarding anger.

I don’t sleep. I don’t call it
insomnia because I am
bone-tired and it’s helpful
to pretend the abject weariness
precludes another symptom to resolve; 
insomnia means you’re up
and wired, right? Easier 
to say, “I don’t sleep.”
Easier to say, “I’m just
tired.” Easier to parrot the phrase
all my doctors eventually 
hand me, after
the tests and supplements
and differential diagnoses:
“It’s probably just stress.”
Of course it is. Of course
stress, with everything going on
these days, and 
the news and all of this. 
Of course. I don’t sleep. But
It’s fine, I’m just
tired. It’s easier this way. 
After all it’s only 
stress. Just tired. Not
insomnia, nothing
to worry about. Stress. 
We’re all, of course, I
mean. All this. 
These days. 
You understand. 

My body has grown
accustomed to distance, yards
between my skin & your skin
nourished only by the subtle 
blush of electrons, a pale mirror
of your presence. I’m almost
scared of closeness, now, the full
radiance of you, near
enough to touch, 
near enough
for my body to believe.

Hundreds of miles from here, my family 
bores holes into their screens, glowing 
IV drips of lies and hatred 
framed as questions anyone might ask:
“what if,” “how come,” “let’s just assume.”

I remember one summer we drove back
from the beach, Rush Limbaugh
deafening our car the whole way home. 

He’s dead now, after decades
denying that his own cigars would kill him. 

Maybe my family still
plays his show: reruns, greatest hits!

I don’t know. I stopped asking years ago. His voice
always drowned mine out. 
I spent years hoarse and hopeless
begging them to hear me. 

Even dead, deep in this brutal year
the echos come from far away,
radio where I always picture it
calling from the middle of their kitchen. 

Weeks away from a vaccine
the world feels suddenly
sharper and more awful

Endless waiting was somehow easier
and less acute, a communal weight
keeping us slow and silent

but this triumphal spring feels overbright
I can’t stand the waxing sunlight
new flowers, birdsong, anything—

nothing is happening fast enough
and all too soon. 

first dose

making my muscles riot
every fiber underneath my skin
roiling, in disarray
and me more grateful than I’ve been in months
expecting worse, and more

There are things I’ll miss
when I’m required to come back into the world—

bringing work outside to watch the dog
careen through the wildflowers, 
chasing her endless, imaginary prey

kissing my love because I can
because he’s near, because
I’m bored, or tired of work,
because I want him

lying on the floor mid-meeting
afforded the sweet honesty of anonymity and distance

and every small, full-hearted way
we held each other close, showed up
on front porches bearing gifts,
called at odd hours, played
games from miles away, 
exchanged recipes, our time,
sent mail, sent songs and food
pressed distances as close as we could get
for one long, agonizing year—

relying on that love
to carry us.