19 ways of looking at a virus

Pandemic Poetry

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is this world a stage
or a medical lab,
the sun replaced
with white fluorescent,
a pale illumination of flesh,
scents of latex and isopropyl
breath filtered through
woven paper and cotton?


a liar does
what comes naturally,
coughs on a dollar bill
and passes it through the window
to a teller in a hazmat suit
who asks, did you just infect me?
and the liar says
no, I just saved your life.


the first confirmed cases
have appeared
in the county
where I live,
all the bleach has disappeared
from the shelves
in the surrounding stores,
the flocks of birds
returning for the spring
see no reason to panic.


it’s so strange
to see my friends
posting online
about catching a cold,
and having to wonder
if they’re going to die —
there is no vaccine
for worry.


everyone is a passenger
aboard a train
loaded with strangers
wearing masks,
as their faces
begin to itch.


they are advising you
to work from home,
they are advising
a self-quarantine,
surround yourself
with gallons of water,
chicken broth, and sanitizer,
tell your family
that love exists.


a viral video spreads
of two women fighting
over the last package
on the shelf,
a 24-pack of toilet paper,
now more valuable
than dignity.


there is no reason to panic,
the priest offers up his faith
on spindly spider arms,
his white robe like a lipid layer
casing, in which his lungs
work like tiny fires
producing coughs,
thin wafers
he presses to the tongues
of his congregation.


there is no reason to panic,
a virus cannot survive
more than ten minutes
without its body,
unlike the Earth
where an earthquake
is a sneeze
trying to shake loose the ants
who continue to exhale,
400 parts per million.


symptoms may include:
shortness of breath
a sensation like drowning
being visited by ghosts
thinking about ex-girlfriends
the future like a manifestation
of carpal tunnel syndrome
for the heart
an unwillingness to change


a politician in a gas mask
reminds the public
there is no reason to panic
until you’ve shaken hands
with a hospital bed
and been told
the scent of sour laundry
is distracting
from the drama.


the politician visits the CDC
and insults our various states
of emergency,
poses with a photograph
blue and yellow,
his head covered
with blood,
everything is under control,
just don’t allow yourself
to ever get old.


oscillate between a scream
and the opposite of a scream,
shrug your shoulders
until your head falls off,
wash your hands
wash your hands
wash your hands,
but don’t forget
to hum the alphabet.


there is no school today,
there is no school tomorrow,
the heat of the summer
is simmering like sausage grease
in a pan that waits
to kill every germ.


30 people dead in a week,
all of them
someone’s father, mother,
grand relative
who once collected dolls,
shirts, different world currencies,
who once struggled
to keep pudding on a spoon,
who once called and left voicemails
about late husbands
or wars being waged
in abdomens
shivering with the effort
of breath.


I once saw a video
of a gorilla in a cage
signing to the patrons
that he was not allowed
to accept their food.


The WHO warns the public
it’s not a question of if, but when
this thing will be labelled a pandemic,
keep one meter
between yourself and all strangers
at all times,
avoid touching your mouth,
your eyes, your nose,
avoid feeling empathy
for those enclosed
in buildings poised to collapse.


There is no need to panic.
Nothing can stop what is coming.
There is no need to panic.
For fourteen days
you’ve been licking the shrines.


smoke drifts down
from the chimney,
clings to the roof like fog,
floats past my window,
and I wonder if my house
is on fire
and if it was
would I even want
to run.

Written by

Provocative truth teller, author of 14 poetry collections. Cat dad. Dog dad. Currently working from Portland, Oregon. Learn more at: Jaysizemore.com.

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