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 Miracle 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.