The Questions I'm a Moderna like my parents. Sarah Moderna! My husband will be a Pfizer soon. David Pfizer! I know some Johnson & Johnson's. One and done. The questions we ask each other now: Which shot? How'd you book it? Any side effects? How long was the needle and did you look? When's your second dose? (if applicable) This time last year It was all beginning-- The two week lockdown That turned into months of wondering: When will this be over? We still don't know But we're starting to ask questions We've waited so long to ask: When can I see you? When can I hug you? When can I put my face next to your face and breathe? That may be a while.
This is how I wash my masks In the kitchen sink Under warm running water Two at a time. Squeeze a dollop of soap On one mask Rub it against the other. Little soapy bubbles Squish squish squish Through three layers of fabric. Rinse and rinse Till water runs clear. Hang to dry On a sun soaked rack.
The Hate Look Two old men walk into A local market and stop At the dessert case near the door. "We're too late," they say together, "All the peanut butter cookies are gone." They come here every day. One man wears a mask on his face, The other on his wrist. They keep chattering on While the rest of the customers (the limit is 5) Look at them aghast. The cashier intervenes. The wrist masked man realizes his error. "So that's why you're all giving me the hate look."
Subject: 100,000 Deaths Just a quick update To let you know The grim projections I discussed In my poem last month Have been realized. 100,000 more COVID deaths, 400,000 to 500,000 in the space Of a little over a month. I write to you this way Because I have more experience Composing sensitive emails Than I do writing poetry. No need to reply.
Almost Booked It The way my Dad described it Was for a brief amount of time He believed he might book a vaccine appointment. There was an open slot. He woke my Mom at 1am, "Let's Book!" By time they filled in the questionnaire And hit submit, though, it was gone. They've stumbled on a bit of luck since then: A friend who knew of some openings at a pharmacy. Again, false starts--unrecognized submissions But eventually they triumphed. My Aunts were not so fortunate. Tomorrow they'll roll the dice again, Play all the sites, Refresh...refresh...refresh, Until they hit the jackpot: A little box that says 4:40pm.
Spam Risk It's not enough that my parents Can't find an open vaccine appointment Now that they're eligible. They also have to deal with me, Their oldest daughter, Phoning and texting them at all hours Asking if they've booked anything yet. My mom didn't answer my call today Probably because her phone company's Started labelling me 'Spam Risk.'
Happy Groundhog Day! I couldn't sleep last night. I woke up at 2am Ready to defend the world against coronavirus Feeling responsible for everyone, A heavy burden to bear in the dark For someone as powerless as me. Last week I woke up one day before 6am And opened up my email in bed-- Like I shouldn't. I swear the front page headlines Appearing in my daily news email Were the same as the day before. I thought I must be caught in a Groundhog Day scenario. Time has moved forward since then To today, which is Groundhog Day, Thankfully.
All of me is clinging toward an ending-- The return of things I love: Travel, family visits, theater crowds, Standing close talking with someone new, Wondering can we be friends? Zooming for convenience instead of by mandate. Grocery shopping on a Tuesday afternoon just because. Meals inside a noisy restaurant Where dinner voices echo off the walls, "There's too much salt in this." I'd say late night bar crowds, But I'll probably have aged out of all that By time this is over. Hopping on a rower after someone else During a relay race at the gym. Taking off from the starting line with a Thousand other runners corralled in groups A, B, C, D, E. Leading big tours at the cemetery. Performing improv in front of a crowd. Hugging an old friend tight. I will, however, miss the masks.
100,000 Projected to Die I can't get over this feeling-- Surpassing 400,000 US COVID deaths. 500,000 projected by the end of February, The month that follows the one we're in now. 100,000 more people who might die Who haven't yet. A forecasted wave of tragedy Ready to befall us.
I fell away from writing my weekly Corona poems. It happened around the time that Trump was diagnosed with COVID and continued through both election cycles, the presidential in November and our special election here in Georgia in January. I’ve been beating myself up a bit for falling out of the routine because I wanted to use the poems as a way to document this time period. But what’s done is done, and as much as I wish the pandemic was already over, it’s not. So I’m starting up again with the aim of posting weekly on Tuesdays.
This week I’m sharing original flash fiction (ideally 500 words or less, this one’s longer) inspired by some of my favorite sad Christmas songs. Here’s one based on I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.
Jacob’s knees ached from being pressed so long to the wooden kneeler. He prayed his Hail Mary’s and Our Father’s aloud, no priest on the other side of the grating of the confessional booth to hear him. He kept mixing up the wording, and then even worse, forgetting what number he was on, so he’d have to start over. Outside the church, the sun was setting, sinking the cold Christmas Day into night. There was no power in the church so the confessional grew dimmer until everything faded into shadow.
He’d been assigned this penance long ago by Fr. Ruiz, twenty Our Father’s and thirty Hail Mary’s for calling his mom a ho. He hadn’t even known what the word meant then—just that it seemed to capture how angry he was at her for giving him a used Atari for Christmas when he’d asked for a Nintendo.
Like the other boys in his class, he hadn’t taken Reconciliation seriously, eavesdropping on the confessor stationed in the box on the other side of Fr. Ruiz, a girl who’d punched her sister, rather than completing his own sentence. But time was running out to find his way back into God’s good graces in this locale. St. Paul’s was due to be demolished the day after New Year’s.
His penance complete, Jacob emerged from the confessional booth into the dark church. There were no prayer candles to light, he’d checked when he snuck in, so he switched on his phone flashlight and aimed it at the sanctuary where a giant crucifix had once hung and where he’d served as an altar boy, watching from behind the scenes as Fr. Ruiz turned bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.
Along with the crucifix, the church had been stripped of its statuary, baptismal font, polished pews, padded kneelers, altar, old pipe organ, and steeple bells—everything of value sold off to keep the diocese out of debt. Even the stained glass windows were gone with wooden boards sealed over the gaps left by their absence. Aside from the ceiling and walls, the only thing that remained was the scent of incense, accumulated over a hundred years of burning.
Jacob approached the five marble steps that separated the sanctuary from the main part of the church. It was on those steps nearly forty years ago he’d performed in a Christmas pageant his mom had directed. He thought he’d be a shoo-in for Joseph, but she assigned him a roll as one of the three kings. When he’d complained, she told him he wasn’t the Joseph type—like the three kings, he’d always be roaming.
She was right about that. He’d been on the other side of the country in California when the church had closed three years ago. It’d sat vacant since then except for the occasional funeral, his mom’s this past October being one of them. When she’d fallen sick, the demolition of the church had already been announced, and it seemed to Jacob his mom had hastened her own demise, refusing certain therapeutics, with the hope that her funeral mass could be performed at St. Paul’s.
On the steps, Jacob stared out at the dark chamber where the congregation had once gathered. The year he’d played a king, the one who brings the myrrh, his last line had been a cue for the choir to erupt in Angels We Have Heard On High and for the church bells to be rung.
Surely today our Savior is born, he shouted, trying the line again now.
His words echoed off the empty walls but only silence followed.