During the pandemic my poetry focuses on personal responses to social-distancing, quarantine, masks, disinfecting, handwashing, and the subtle nuances that are changing our behavior and interaction. The poem “Changing Tires” is a response to the necessity of moving ahead with practical demands, balancing new social restraints, as well as coping with the loss of my brother. “Unwrapping a Bar of Soap” is a tribute to his memory. “Gun Smoke and Jack-o-Lanterns,” just published by Sugar House Review, reaches back to the sixties, the day Kennedy was shot, to remind us we’ve been through turmoil before and pulled through.
In the time of Covid19
I am at the Subaru dealer waiting for new tires,
an alignment, an oil change and two recalls,
one on the passenger air bag, one on the rear springs.
I forgot my water bottle. I’m facing a highway
of semis and ambulances, sitting on the concrete steps
of the showroom under the canopy’s shiny Foresters,
Outbacks, Crosstreks and Ascents, all of us tethered
like patient horses. I run my pen over blue lines
with nothing to say, nothing to rev this moment,
not even my car. I listen to the constant hiss of brakes,
the cough and wheeze of traffic on the highway.
Just last month my brother died, and I drove
across Kansas and Iowa, wound through southern Minnesota
and across the Wisconsin cranberry bogs, but I was too late.
Our last conversation was on the phone. His last words
to me between struggling breaths were, I love you,
the first time he’s ever said that, but there were other ways
—teaching me to wrestle, gluing model car parts together,
teaching me to smoke behind the garage, to French inhale.
I followed him everywhere—up big hill, up big tree,
up into the garage rafters, into the clubhouse
that said No Girls Allowed. He reached his arm down
and pulled me in.
Do you have water? I ask the masked receptionist.
She backs away. I believe she will lunge for my ankles
if I don’t back up too, so I do, right out the door.
Lunch today will be hard boiled eggs and carrots. No Chipotle
or Olive Garden. No afternoon break in air conditioning
with guacamole or a fresh salad. Only my thirst
and a long road trip through high prairie—tumbleweed, sage—
on new tires. Perhaps I should have stayed home, kept
my mask on, worn disposable gloves. Perhaps I should’ve said,
I love you, way back when the grass was up to our knees.