Tag Archives: covid-19

Morning Rites

Newly added to the ritual:
hanging freshly washed
air-dried masks on
the back of the front door

so it’s easy to grab one on the way out.
You stack them in a certain order: on top
the favorite, then back up to the favorite,
back up to the back up, fancy dress, then last resort.

There they hang, playing their role,
reminding you of a danger
out there that you can’t see coming;
here is armor,

a hook full of cotton prayer. You’ll see them
the second you lift your favorite hat
from the neighboring hook and say to yourself,
“can’t forget this,” and then go on your way.

It’s now as much a part of your ritual
as clipping your knife to a pocket, tucking
pepper gel into a hoodie. Those
also sit close to the door when not in use,

reminding you of where you live
before you get out into it.
The phone, with its camera
and list of emergency contacts.

The car keys with the panic button
and the handy bottle of sanitizer.
The wallet that these days
offers no help at all.


Columbus Again

waking again surprised to be
still alive this far out to sea
so far from the shore
and grounded living

awake same time daily
then fall right back to sleep
upon seeing and feeling
the same old drift

you have to wonder
if this started with Columbus
thirty five days into his voyage
not knowing the next day

would change all forever
you have to wonder how
he expressed his hope
to his men and to himself

that they would land somewhere full of plunder
and how many today
are rolling their hands
over and over against each other

with the same hope
that the new world on
the other side of this long drift
will offer them good luck and fortune

(no matter who else dies for it)
once this rotten ship
scrapes bottom upon
a yet unknown shore



Guidelines For The Summer Of Corona

Admit that we are stopped cold
Say that and acknowledge the pain of cessation

Turn away from one another and into ourselves
Resist the longing to touch and hold

Fall to your knees and demand something from above
Speak as if nothing was needed except a bluff to survive

Run with the smallest beings in pursuit
Act bewildered with the first cough, fever, moment of fear

Ask and ask for certainty from fog
Dismiss fog as a hoax from behind a bitter mask

Hold a gun and imagine it will be enough just to hold it
Put it down to take a shovel and lay an elder to rest

Roll dice any number of times and boast of your glad numbers
Pretend snake eyes are not as powerful as boxcars these days

Remember scenarios with strangers, historical figures, family
Demand of your mirror that it say something unexpected

Stand at the window crying for the ten thousandth time 
Turn from the window and square your shoulders again

Forget and remember and forget and become aged
Spring up new but then again still be your old failed self

Hold your breath
Hold on to your breath for as long as it takes

Loosen your tongue
Loosen your tongue until this hard moment breaks


Getting To Tomorrow From Yesterday

Getting to tomorrow
from where we are now
is like preparing to take
an overseas trip on
a small old ship 
in hurricane season;

we don’t know
a thing about sailing,
it’s been so long since we
had to leave our country
to seek safety
we can’t imagine
it’s more than
an afternoon away,
and we certainly
aren’t dressed
for the journey,
but we’re going anyway

since staying here
in yesterday 
is terrifying 
and impossible

and the only shot at joy
we may left
is, possibly,
over there on 
the storm-crushed
far shore.


A History Of Masks

In many cultures throughout the world, a judge wore a mask to protect him from future recriminations. In this instance, the mask represents a traditionally sanctioned spirit from the past who assumes responsibility for the decision levied on the culprit.

— from an article in the Encyclopedia Britannica
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sunglasses may be worn
by a poker player or peace officer 
to conceal their glances, their tells,
eyes grown wide in pleasure or surprise.

Judges may hide their faces
from the people they judge.
Fear of recrimination, they say, or maybe
it’s performative impartiality;

there’s a reason
Justice is shown blindfolded,
though we assume these days
that Justice has always cheated

and peeked at who is to be judged
before going to verdict; likewise,
riot cop helmets are there
for saving face as much as for 

any other reason. There are reasons
executioners wore hoods.
There are reasons the condemned
wear them too.

Plague doctors strolled,
flower beaked and fantastic,
through the streets of 
cadaver cities into 

popular misunderstanding —
they weren’t medieval,
they weren’t trying to scare
diseases away; they were trying

to save themselves. But 
they look good to us now
as we mask up and creep
our own half-empty streets,

thinking they could
lend some elegance
to the fear
we are wading through,

seeking some spirit from the past
to inform us about the spirit 
threatening us: not only the sickness
but the now-unmasked dangerous men;

the judges,
their rogues,
their hired and self-appointed
killers.


Waking In The Dark In These Challenging Times

It’s not from a fear
of death; I’ve been in love
with the line between 
for decades now and 
to finally step over would be 
a relaxation more than
a terror. 

It’s not from
a fear of the dark itself
as I know there’s light
beyond it, even if I never
see it again myself. 

It’s not from something
bodied within, no clock
or silent alarm
that burns through me
till I sit upright in the night. 

I can’t name what awakens me
in the dark almost every night,
but it feels new and ancient at once;

the scent of a tomb
that has just been opened;

that old stench
on a new wind.


Everything Not Here

Can’t explain
what we long for
beyond the shrug that says, 
“Everything not here.” 

The presence of 
having company and of how
we used to long for them
to go home.

The joy of going out to eat
and saying afterward,
“next time, let’s just
stay home.”

Frenzied sex followed by
falling asleep, waking up
late for work, deciding to be
naughty and stay right there
in bed all day at home.

Home sick, home
with a sick child, home
exhausted after a road trip,
boring Sunday afternoon
at home. 

Can’t describe it completely —
for some it was hell,
for some it was peace, 
for some it was just a place
to sleep, to eat, to fuck or yearn to fuck;
a laundry room, a tub and shower,
a toilet bowl wobbling on a bad floor;
landlord making false promises,
off-street parking, garage, good yard,
curb appeal, transient housing
on the path to a dream palace.

What we long for:
pastel light in bay window home;
view of the ocean mountain desert home;
proximity to the hot new neighborhood home;
childhood rhyme home — 
home again home again jiggetty-jig.

Home is where you end up,
that place to stay that feels like home
after you are done being elsewhere;
anywhere but here because
call here whatever you like but

we’re done with here.


Casual Friday

Started out as Friday
but became a Monday
and thus the weekend
became confusing. I baked
a flourless cake and wept
over a Sunday dinner 
that felt more like Tuesday’s
leftovers, like the whole
leftover menu from the whole
week. Why do we bother naming
the days anyway — it reminds us
we once had schedules and places
to go on specific days.
I used to put on someone else’s
Sunday best, someone else’s
casual Friday wardrobe. Who
that person was I am not sure
I ever knew. Even the language
is missing its marks, drifting
from its targets, not achieving
its objectives. We used to talk 
of safety and job security and 
professionals and expertise
and those things meant something.
Maybe they will again, on some
future Monday that finally feels like
a Monday, a day on which
to resume our sacred hatred
of routines and dress codes
and learn to walk in lockstep
once again. I cannot wait
to see who it was
who used to wear these clothes.


Incident At Price Chopper

He’s standing in the dead middle
of the meat section at Price Chopper
screaming “HOW CAN THERE NOT BE
ANY FUCKING STEAK?” 

Someone comes out bearing chicken
from behind the steel clad gates
of the backroom where they cut meat
and stage the cases.

“Hey, you got any steak back there?”
“Steak? No sir. None.”
“How is that fucking even possible?”
“Sorry, sir.”

Both men talking and everyone watching
has a mask on, at least; everybody’s standing
two carts apart. Looks like the last scene
of a spaghetti western right before the last shootout.

The man with no steak turns his back on
the man with no name in a black mask
to start putting out the chicken. Spell’s broken —
it would never happen that way in a movie,

after all; no one would turn their backs
on anyone else, then all would pull
their stoic triggers, just business really, and 
someone would fall. That’s the way

it goes. No one would get any steak, of course,
but the steak is beside the point
in those films. What matters there is
the satisfaction of killing, of existential affirmation

through virtual elimination. It’s all
just a reason for the squint, for the stone
shine of focused gaze. For art, not for life  —
for now at least; but maybe tomorrow…

“How is that even fucking 
possible?”  “Sorry, sir.
There’s nothing. No sir, none.”
“I don’t believe you.

Liar.
Fake news.”
Then, gun.
Then, done. 


Where The Great Work Begins

We were all bone-tired
before this
exaltation of humility
came upon us.

We may have looked
more madcap, more animated
from a distance, but
if you’d looked into 
our eyes, you would have seen
years of restless sleep

and no true relaxation,
regardless of what 
yoga magazines told us
we’d gained.

Scoff as you want.
Had we been truly mindful,
we would have forsaken
our lifestyles of abandon
decades ago.

Now, we have 
deep dreams 
in our sleep and they
drive us mad. Now,
we sit at home all day
chafing behind the ears
and in the center of our chests.
Now, we try to see a way forward
back to
that manic past

when half of us 
walked around pretending
we weren’t waiting
for a crash into hell

and the other half
walked around pretending
this was just the ramp up
to some temple of gold where,
at last, we’d truly
get a chance to rest.

Meanwhile,
nature
(or something like it)
made other plans.

Once upon a time,
before this real exhaustion
set in, we were all bone-tired
but we invented a phrase
to cover it up: “and they lived happily
ever after.” Something
to which we aspired. Something
that kept these dreams at bay.

A phrase where every word
now needs to be redefined.

Get some rest.
This is where
our Great Work begins.


The Grand Mask

Some say we must mask ourselves
to save ourselves and others

Others say we must unmask
to save America

and as for the world
beyond America

it can kiss 
our collective unmasked ass

Then again 
the face we know of 

America itself has
always been a mask

covering hypocrisy
with good intentions

Contradiction
is how it stays on

Putting a mask on a mask
like putting a hat on a hat

is as American as
viral pie

Ask anyone 
Ask Batman or

his predecessor in that
all-American myth of

the wealthy fighting oppression
Zorro

Ask the bleached out
Lone Ranger

They’ll sing you
the Star-Spangled Banner

through the blood
clotting in their mouths

and so many people 
masked or unmasked

will likely stand up
and sing along

as the Blue Angels
fly over trailing 

the ties for the grand mask
behind them


We Are All In This Together

but not in the way 
some folks mean it
with all color slipping off of others
and all sexuality of others draining away
All accents homogenized
All devolving into shapeless 
and nameless love targets to shoot at
and miss and miss again
because they have become
invisible 

We are all in this together

but not in the way 
some folks mean it
with a nod and a banged up
pot and spoon put to use every night
promptly at the same time to turn the heads
of the weary endangered folks
dying in droves to keep 
some folks
from dying in hordes

All in this together

though there are some folks who want
more of us together than seems reasonable right now
but they’ve got the right skin to make them
more audible and the perfect copper-jacketed
megaphones to amplify themselves in front of
the perfect places to be heard that some other folks
can’t even get near on a good day

and these are not good days

I don’t know who this “we” is
that is supposed to be in this together
No “we” I’ve ever seen 
No “we” I know of that is different from
the “we” someone has always insisted “we”
need to think of
whenever “they”
need us


3:30 PM

slippery
as a day getting away
from you

you look up and
it’s 3:30 PM

how did this happen
when there’s so much time available
just to watch the clock

it is possible that
the clock is dreaming you
and it’s the same time all the time

always 3:30 PM
and the day isn’t slippery at all
instead it sticks

is stuck and 
that means no one’s
getting away with anything

except for memory
which is sliding down
the road away from you

all you’re going to recall
of this is how 3:30 PM
keeps trying to kill you

staking you to a dull moment
and making you believe
there will be a tomorrow

different from today
less sticky 
you’ll seize that moment

and though it will wriggle
like an eel to escape
you will win and 3:30 PM

will do your bidding evermore
never again sneak up on you
never again offer such dread

you swear you will never be unproductive
at 3:30 PM ever again
once you get past today


Now That It Has Stopped Mattering I Have Begun To Care

I command my mind
to dream me into a country
where I can love
and be loved
less casually than people
typically do in America,
land of the quick in and out;

a place of no backstories needed,
a place where I could walk barefoot
in good soil or even mud and anyone
who finds the tracks will know
who has passed by.

In daylight my reputation’s
like a story tied to my heels,
trailing in the dirt behind me
to change my actual tracks
to indistinct traces, leaves
all passers-by asking 
if I’ve been here or not. 

You know I have a tale for them 
if it comes up, a tale for everything 
that might come up.

If someone could love me
as I want to be loved,
I wouldn’t need all these fables…
now that it has 
stopped mattering, though,
strangely I’ve begun to care
about the difference between
dreaming and not dreaming, 
or about my stories 
versus my truths;

I command myself to weld them
together, now that all has stopped;
to give me a dream and a life beyond 
the American one, the quick in and out,
the get it and be on your way — after all,

there’s nowhere to go.


The Sitcom

It’s like the whole country 
is at a sitcom
eighth grade dance. 

We’ve reached the moment
when the music goes
from fast to slow

and we have to try to adapt
to less of what
we’ve been used to,

except instead 
of sudden, awkward proximity
and clumsy touch,

we have to twirl 
independently of 
one another,

seeking intimacy
while praying
like mad that

music, lights,
and screen itself
do not fade into the credits.