Right now, millions of us over the planet are staying behind closed doors in unison, away from our jobs, activities and the people we love. We’re keeping ourselves and one another safe from the reaches of COVID-19. It’s an indefinite pause from our ordinary lives that might bring boredom and loneliness, or it could be the break for togetherness and creativity we’ve been waiting for. Isolation Shorts are pieces of flash prose or poetry describing the global hiatus from our own personal points of view. To submit your own story, use the link below.
The Squiggly on the Pine
Caught between the dread of the unknown and my inability to do anything it about it, I decided to walk in my neighborhood starting with the P-patch nearby. It was early spring. The farmed squares were littered with dead leaves and rotting stems but perched on a driftwood trellis was a ruby-throated hummingbird, with its head poised for a song. Hummingbirds don’t sing as much as buzz with a “t” at the end. I know this now. I have walked each day with the bird in mind. To see the tiniest of birds comfortable at the loftiest of branches quietens my mind. In this silence I have grown accustomed to myself. I am beginning to see what I missed in my past of pretenses and pointless selfies. Now, as I write with 50 other faces on Zoom, I see myself in all of them.
Vimla is a Seattle-based essayist. She writes about women’s silences. She is also interested in exploring the boundaries of home and identity through her essays.
As oceans-full of sky unleash spring storms to wash away drought
it’s difficult to picture this earth parched, now wet with fresh bark
from a pile by the barn. Even the sheep sound unsettled,
their patterned movement between pastures disrupted.
The lambs bleat—a call-and-response—to bridge
the distance. Always after it rains there is a stillness.
We creatures tune in, listening while we shelter: the drip
of oak leaf onto gravel, the swish of a wing. Beaks peek out
from the brush, waiting, for the swoop of insects, seized mid-flight.
Nicole R. Zimmerman is a writer based in Northern California, where she lives on a farm with her wife and leads workshops in the Amherst Writers & Artists (AWA) method. https://www.nicolerzimmerman.com/
East Burke, VT
East Burke, VT
plays the same show daily, and the screening is magic hour o’clock. Golden and intuitive, cars line up horizontally to face the largest screen gunning the horizon
warms up in the first act, and, unorthodox and experimental, we witness both the previews and rehearsal until the main attraction bleeds then splays spectrum showers onto
windshields, and the curtains draw, in the third act, to a dark close. In unison we flick on our headlights which lead us to the EXIT sign. “The Sunset” crescendos at 8:18 PM, but the
post-entertainment decompression and dialogue trickles into the nine o’clock hour. There are no hand-waving, consensually interrupting, impassioned analyses over
a post-movie dinner and drinks, rather a gear shift, tire to gravel, gentle drive, towards home. Solo or alone or with a +1 silent date stunned in seat-belt tow.
Siobhan Bledsoe is a poet, essayist & graduate of TNS (MFA, Poetry, 2020). A New Yorker, she’s seeking refuge in Vermont, where she’s writing under the moniker, The Covid Canary.
My neighbors huddle around a parked car. The middle-aged mother and father are there, the twenty-something sister and brother, too. The mom and daughter wear face masks, the father and son do not. The four are at risk. Still, I envy their closeness. I watch from afar, judging and alone.
Elaine Schear’s daughters live on the west coast. She is in the Northeast. Their COVID-enforced separation and her aloneness are made more layered and heavy by divorce.
Los Angeles, CA
On the first hot day in LA
I poured some coffee
and headed to the deck.
On a chair I propped
my winter legs
and let the sun glare.
The dove and crow
sang their song
in a flourish of elm leaves,
and then a fly lighted
on my knee. A few
others came and went
but this one stayed
rubbing front legs,
hind legs, in ritual —
the green iridescence
the grey web of wings
the touch so delicate.
We are in quarantine
together in the new
warmth on Earth Day.
Do this, the master
whispered. Move lightly,
one body on another.
Emily Fernandez teaches at Pasadena City College. Her poetry chapbook, Procession of Martyrs, was published by Finishing Line Press, and she was selected as a 2020 Moving Arts MADlab playwright.
San Francisco, CA
A Grasshopper Calls a Lawyer
I woke the day before San Francisco’s lockdown flooded with cold panic, a sing-song voice ringing in my head. “La cigale ayant chanté tout l’été . . .”
My 8th grade French teacher had us memorize La Fontaine’s poem, “The Ant and the Grasshopper.” The grasshopper’s pantry is empty when winter comes. My pantry contained just a few useless chutneys received as gifts. Numb with fear and self-blame, I checked my low bank balances. I took a deep breath and started to plan.
That night I couldn’t sleep. What if I got the virus and died? I had no will. At 4 a.m. I started drafting. I finished at 5:30 a.m., as the first threads of dawn emerged.
After I called a lawyer, it only took a week to prepare the documents. When they were done a surge of well-being filled me. I felt safe and prudent, like the ant.
Lisa Poulson is a writer in San Francisco, CA. Her work on grief and self-love has appeared on ManifestStation and has been awarded in the 2019 Soul-Making Keats Literary Competition.
In isolation, my anger flares and wanes. My mind travels to situations that took place years ago, things that no longer matter and never should have. Online, I stalk the people involved late at night. I replay entire scenes in my head. I am always the hero.
In isolation, I thank a God I am only half-sure I still believe in. I am grateful, pregnant. Without this fetus, my demons would win, my entire being sliding back into addiction. This life gives me life. My children have always saved me.
In isolation, things are distorted and I hit metaphorical walls. I am strong: I am weak. I am happy: I lay in bed and cry. I will walk today and wash the sheets: I read two shitty novels and shovel a bag of potato chips in my mouth.
In isolation, I fear for the future. Who will be our hero?
Nikki Boss lives in Rhode Island with her husband, their children, and too many animals. She has published in a few places online and in print.
Melancholia Covidia Isolationia
waking up wanting to cry, to sob but the tears don’t come
showering first thing hoping to scrub the sadness away
repossessing clean underwear from unfolded laundry tangle
missing the five baby wrens on our bedroom deck fledging
participating on Zoom as pre-K granddaughter fledges to Kindergarten
lurching into helplessness and guilt—freezer full of food,
one in five children in America hungry
avoiding words ‘normal” and “new normal” in any context
including body temperature
identifying copperheads—both the literal and the figurative
“drinking Clorox or Lysol” for Covid-19
metaphor for Jim Jones and Trump leadership
sleeping through “Covid dreams” I can’t recall but leave me exhausted remembering Walter Cronkite’s nightly Viet Nam death toll
watching heavily armed white men gather —
if those in Michigan were black instead of white
pretty fucking certain they’d all be dead
“fucking” is no longer a worthy explicative
Eve Hoffman, Georgia, honored by alma mater Smith College as a Remarkable Woman. Memory & Complicity nominated for GA Author of the Year/Poetry.
San Jose, CA
(Inspired by this story from The Washington Post’s Voices from the Pandemic series)
Warning! Do Not Enter blocks his way.
But I sat with Birdie just last night.
Tony is sent home. Hospital IT contacts him,
but he’s unable to access FaceTime on his wife’s
old iPhone. Birdie never hears
Tony’s goodbye. She never feels his fingers
holding on or letting go.
Indiana Death toll, one.
alone except for three dogs
who greet him at the door
then stand there confused.
She always took care of everybody else.
He can’t leave his house.
He stares at her clothes in the closet.
He calls their dogs away from the door,
opens up their Alpo and sets down their bowls.
Tony is not allowed to hug anyone.
No one is allowed to hug Tony.
Kirsty MacKay is hunkered down in San Jose, California. Shelter-in-place is a wake up call to us all to recognize the importance of all types of artists in our world cultures.
Where I Lost Him
My son licks his knees and pulls on his hair as he swivels back and forth in front of the computer screen.
“Qué color es la manzana? Qué color es?”
“Tienes manzanas en casa? Sí o no?”
“Tú dices, ‘yo tengo, Maestra’ o ‘no tengo, Maestra.’”
He stares vacantly out the window at the fir and spruce black against the darkening sky.
I had a job. He had a school. We had a routine.
When we still laughed at, looked forward to, got excited about.
I reach out to stop his hand. It falls limp at his side.
Where did I lose him?
Tucked behind the bed pillows. Squeezed between the couch and the wall. Folded into the curtains. Covered with the rug. Crouched in the corner of the closet, crying softly that everything is gone and nothing is the same.
Sarah Seidel has spent the last months with her two children in her small apartment in Austin, Texas. She recently drove north to Michigan.
When evening falls my heart grows
little bird wings and squeezes
out my ribcage sideways
Moira lived on three continents – working as a farmhand, baker, receptionist, and performing artist – before settling in Germany, where she freelances as a translator and copywriter. Instagram @poetbynecessity
Dancing With Shadows
I wake up each morning to another day of dancing alone,
as I pirouette within the walls of my apartment
and try to muster the same vigor
that once coursed through my unfettered body.
Now I notice I am not alone.
My shadow prances alongside me with each leap;
she dips when I dip,
And soars when I soar.
I have never noticed her there before,
a part of myself that matches my movements
with loyalty and grace.
Despite this I am sure she is no stranger;
I have just neglected to notice her as she danced beside me,
while my life buzzed with
Now that the world around me has slowed down,
and the buzzing has faded to a mere whisper,
I want to wrap my arms around her and promise,
“I see you.”
Rowan is a marine biologist who also enjoys writing poetry and fiction in their free time. They also enjoy reading, cooking, and spending time with their pets.
The clock ticks from Mexico, Mayan carvings copied on its face. The world ended a while ago. Yet neighboring dogwood bracts are suddenly sturdy white, the front-yard azalea as pink as flamencos from the San Teodoro lagoon. A single-minded cat, spotted, crouches in the cool, reliable geometry cast by the gable. Every minute the metal hand jumps on the study shelf. Leaf and wing settle at dusk in the towering ash, garbage cans rumble to the curb. I climb sock-footed upstairs, landmark creak in the fourth step from the top mapping the house. Low chatter seeps from my daughter’s room where the flat illusion flashes unchanged. Tap-tap on her door, I draw her out (there is still a child to protect). On the porch swing under my mother’s hand-stitched quilt, the sides of our familiar bodies breathe together. It’s just the two of us now as the moon rises.
Lyall Harris (MFA Book Art and Creative Writing) is a Charlottesville-based poet (The Minnesota Review, The New Guard, and elsewhere) and award-winning artist. Recent activities include climbing the front-yard tree.
El Centro, CA
My open kitchen window takes long deep breaths
Through its mask material then rests
Longing for the next moment
When I will close it off
To shelter in place
Or places hidden now
In broad outside
Skies of blue
Jason R. Montgomery, or JRM, is a Chicano/Indigenous Californian writer, painter, and playwright from El Centro, California.
Richard Matta (3)
San Diego, CA
Lately animals interact
with me differently. I watch
a bee collect nectar—
he attacks; a sparrow
becomes a mask-seeking
missile; geese hiss, assault,
and crows stare me
in the eye as they squawk
from “no parking signs.”
My dog acts up,
like he doesn’t know me.
He’d likely say it’s the mask,
if he could. I wonder about
subtle changes inside me—
this constant threat alertness
animals with amazing senses
detecting, reacting to a different
me, and as I look in the mirror
wanting to be more myself—
I take a deep breath…feel
centered, grounded, then
heading out, put my mask on,
know I’ve changed again.
It’s more than the mask—
which takes me back
to wildlife and my dog—
I’ll wear a red bandana
mask…shout “Ole’, Ole’”
Richard Matta is a San Diego, CA poet who practiced forensic science after attending Notre Dame. He was raised in New York’s Hudson Valley.
New York City, NY
If a tree falls in the forest
And we’re all inside our homes
Does it still count as dying?
The willow on the corner dressed itself in pink
after the sun bathed its buds in white
but my house faces north
and the hands have fallen off all my clocks
It was dark by the time i went outside
I didn’t bother asking where everyone was hiding
I could see the orange light drizzle from their windows
I heard the bricks creaking as they tried to push their way out
I rode my bike down the center lane of first avenue and didn’t signal once
the cabbies didn’t even honk
the drivers didn’t even swear
I would have missed them if i wasn’t pretending to have wings
If a boy falls off his bike
but there’s no one there to see it
does it matter if he dies?
Alex is an emerging writer, living in New York City. He is a mixed race, identical twin who has had the privilege and challenge of being a racially ambiguous young man living in multiple worlds – enabling him to have an insider’s perspective, but an outsider’s mindset across racial and class lines
schedule sadness by the minute: how many minutes can you budget per day, is there room for joy, and if you can squeeze in joy, you have to squeeze in guilt, they’ll talk. organize hours like old photographs, organize weeks like your closet, rehanging them like the work clothes you haven’t worn for months that are now pilling, tired flags. maybe you can use this time to get your tax documents in order, to get your cans of vegetables in order, to get your affairs in order, just in case you have an unscheduled meeting with a virus that has penciled itself in. so, when was the last time you looked at your life insurance policy? when was the last time you looked at your life, your marriage, your career, the Creeping Charlie spreading like a boring nuisance on the corner of your lawn that never gets the sun?
Jean Prokott has poetry published or forthcoming in Arts & Letters, Anomaly, RHINO, and Red Wheelbarrow, among others. She currently lives in Rochester, MN, and online at jeanprokott.com.
A row of seedlings ready for planting. A couple of bushes in need of trimming. A pile of quarantined plants infested by pests. Under the bright Florida sun everywhere I looked I saw potential. Isolation in my garden sounds doable and sane. My father face, half a continent away under a similar sun, flashed in my mind. My fondest memories of him were in the garden. I envisioned fields of tomato plants nestled near the sardine we would bury to provide nutrients. Overgrown lettuce plants, their flowers swaying in the wind pollinating for next year’s crop. Tressed vines being gently guided down the fence. My love of gardening was inspired by him. A man I should contact more often. A man that I share many traits with. Some acceptable and desired while others are my greatest weaknesses. But here as I am isolated from my community, the garden has become part of my family. And I have my father to thank for that.
Atlanta Boeri is a 39-year-old mom of two teenage boys. She grew up in Italy and spent her teens and twenties in Atlanta, Georgia. She is currently living in south Florida. She enjoys working out, reading, writing, traveling, spending time with her kids and of course gardening!
Greetings We Will Soon Forget
or two hands
two wet lips
on two wet cheeks
Abby Wolpert is a senior at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia. Her work has been published in Pwatem Literary Journal, The Cardiff Review, and Levee Magazine.
My voice is softer without the edges of the world to crash into
Here, let me take you to the corners of my mind where I am dusting. The light catches particles dance in open space. I move a clean cloth across the floorboards behind my eyes, listen to the sound of my whisper echo over the grains of wood. In this new normal, I’m keeping up on the dirty work of organizing, of decluttering. I’m getting paper cuts from files called grief and loss and love. In this new normal, I flex the muscles of my throat against the vibrating of the world, call it healing, call it healed. Through an expanse which is yellow and purple at the center, I am testing my own call for help, hoping no one hears it but myself.
Olivia Kingery grows plants and words in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. When not writing, she is in the woods with her Chihuahua and Saint Bernard.
Cynthia Robinson Young
Cynthia Robinson Young
“We are parted from each other, but at night I see them.” -The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates
When I said I’d agree to two weeks,
I meant it in the same way
I agree to forty weeks
of pregnancy, give or take a week or two.
This isolation is not what
I signed the highlighted box for–
separation from my family
who lives right here in this city,
some only two
On Easter, I saw them
in little boxes projected
on the television screen–
my grown children unhuggable, my grandbabies
They’ve made commercials
that I now view as propaganda,
of happy people willingly imprisoned
in their homes if they have one,
if they have not been evicted
by lawless landlords,
if they have not been tossed out by tornadoes
that destroyed our homes on Easter night in Tennessee
while we obediently sheltered-in-place
Cynthia Robinson Young lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee where she writes and teaches Exceptional Education at a college in Lookout Mountain, Georgia. Photo credit, Reid Schick.
Upstate New York
No trays of food in my Room. Not today
Today, I had dinner with my family. They gathered around the table. I sat in the kitchen, behind the counter, MORE than six feet apart.
They ate Pasta. I swallowed my fear
Hope crouched in the cups, waiting to be filled.
Rana Bitar is a Syrian American physician. She holds a Master’s in English. She is the author of “A Loaf Of Bread,’ chapbook: “Unsolicited Press.”
Dear Mr. President,
I’m in receipt of your stimulus check in the amount of $1,200.
Lady Liberty looks stoic.
Same Plain-Jane she always was and always will be.
Same look has on my tax-refund ever year.
Looking away from the sum of money written
in both words and numbers-she’s non-judgmental.
But, I could not help but notice the memo.
I see your name-
In all its glory perpendicular to Liberty’s backside.
My question is: Whose ego are you trying to stroke?
I happen to be among-
the lucky who still has a job.
I appreciate the funds, but-
to be honest I reckon-
the unemployed would rather work
than see your designation.
That would be more of an ego booster.
In any case,
I’ll endorse the check,
But please know not all is dollars and sense.
Anthony Chesterfield is a social worker who specializes in end-of-life care and hospice. He is currently pursuing an MFA at Manhattanville College and lives in NY.
Ways of Praying
i am overeating and cooking and worrying until my stomach is queasy. i am writing then deleting long email drafts to the high school teacher who taught me how to pray; i am listening to gospel in my room and doing laps in worship, whispering “You are” to I AM. i am marking the days on a five-gallon jug of cheese balls. i am sitting in a red chair that is older than i am and annotating my Bible to the point of sacrilege. i am hypocritical. i watch videos of lockdown protesters with guns and am alight with fury. i’m feverish, at least until the pain gives way and i realize it is only exhaustion. i am worrying far too much and going outside far too little and staying up far too late.
i am asking my friends the same question: “What are you doing to survive?”
Joel Lee is an undergraduate hermit crab learning to leave his shell. He lives in Tampa, Florida.
Broken Clocks and Reworked Schedules
My weeks work like clockwork. Eight-hour shifts at the shop. Weave threads, sew denim, secure buttons. Seven AM sharp. Thirty-minute lunch breaks. Tuna on toast on Mondays. Cheese on rye thereafter. Four-hour stints riverside. Clean fish – trout, flounder, too. When the work shows. Five days a week. Except for Tuesdays. Secure afternoons off and head for the rails – travel by train – and then bus – always late – to make the four PM slot – always early – to visit my boy. A good man with a streak for bad luck. Thirty-minute visits. After clearance and searches. Never speak of those. Clean on Saturdays. Church on Sundays. On repeat. A proper civil servant riding a well-greased wheel. Wobbly. Until the wheel stopped turning. All visits banned for fear of disease. Ouch. That hurts. Real bad. I think I’m gonna be sick.
Jen Schneider is an educator, attorney, and writer. She lives, writes, and works in small spaces throughout Philadelphia.
Holly Threm Goslin
Holly Threm Goslin
When our college transitioned to remote learning, faculty mourned the loss of face-to-face interaction. Still, the virtual classroom offers unique opportunities to connect with students who wouldn’t comment in class or seek me out in person.
Oddly enough, self-isolation has mitigated my anxiety. Re-watching favorite TV shows and movies is a source of familiarity and comfort. I’m not pressed for time or frustrated by traffic on my commute; I’m not forcing productivity or demanding efficiency.
Through my home office window, I watch blue jays hopscotch through an oak’s root system. I wear leggings and a Canvas brand t-shirt. I enjoy sunlight, greenery, and floral-smelling breezes (even as I sneeze). I’m fostering seven puppies with chubby bellies and puppy breath.
During this time of reflection, these are my take-aways: to lighten up, to reinvest in nature, to do good whenever possible.
Holly Threm Goslin holds an M.A. in English and works as a full-time faculty member. She lives in Arkansas with her husband, resident dogs, and (far too many) foster dogs.
Greenville, South Carolina
I put my finger on the “stop” button,
but I didn’t push it.
Immediately, I questioned why I would press it.
What am I going to do with those extra 13 seconds?
My night will be the same regardless.
The same as last night, the night before that, and every night for the past month.
I remove my hand from the “stop” button.
If nothing else is changing, at least the numbers are.
It keeps my mind busy.
The beep comes!
What hysterical monotonous music!
The same melody sung last night, the night before that, and every night for the past month.
I take the mug and
walk down the hallway.
Past my dad snoring and my brother playing video games.
I place the teabag in the hot water and watch the liquid turn an exciting brownish color.
Camille Hoover is studying Creative Writing and Religious Studies in her second year at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida. Right now, she is at her parent’s home in Greenville, SC.
Galisteo, New Mexico
As I walk my dog up our dirt road, I see four people ahead talking to each other, their bodies frozen in a socially distant orbit. I stand and watch, though I don’t know any of them.
Suddenly, I recall pre-COVID trips to a cafe downtown to read or write, or enjoy a tea and a scone in between errands. I never thought about why I looked forward to sitting among people I neither knew nor engaged in conversation. Yet, like the group on my street, I had a need to be near them, to hear their voices, see their faces, be part of that chaotic intersection of lives butting haphazardly against each other.
That is what I miss…that membrane, thin and delicate, wrapping itself around us and forming the community of humanity we have resisted, even scorned, yet instinctively seek.
Joe Cappello lives in Galisteo, New Mexico. Recent work includes “Beginning at the End,” “Desiree,” and “The Anointing of Mary Ballard,” published in the Village Square online magazine, April 2020.
Two a.m. Abruptly I wake. Reach for the phone. Read the virus updates. Death statistics.
Three a.m. Squint at the page of my Kindle. Depressing book about an abandoned child.
Four a.m. Slivers of light through the drape where I haven’t pulled it shut. What day is it? What month is it?
Five a.m. Take an online quiz – which celebrity are you most like? Get half way through and freak out about web traps.
Six a.m. Comforting steam of the kettle. First cup of hot tea which I take back to bed. Read the virus updates.
Seven a.m. No sleep. Eiderdown heavy. Eyes heavy. Heart heavy.
Briony Bax is a poet based in Norfolk, UK. Her book ‘Lament’ is published by Rough Trade Books. She is the Editor of Ambit and Poetry Editor of The New European.
Before the distance
Where did you go?
It was winter
Before the distance.
Why is a lonely spring already here?
Some may not miss you
But me — I do.
Winter’s end is
My favorite time.
Like a lost lover
Full of surprise.
False starts and wild blooms
All knuckle balls and chances.
I want winter again!
Before the distance
With a true winter’s end
Without the distance.
Just the wonder and glory of a
Where did you go winter?
Pasquale Trozzolo is an entrepreneur and founder of Trozzolo Communications Group, one of the leading advertising and public relations firms in the Midwest. In addition to building his business he also spent time as a racecar driver, grad school professor and magazine publisher. Now with too much time on his hands, he continues to complicate his life by living out as many retirement clichés as possible. He’s up to the Ps.
For Sawyer and Eden
watching pancakes bubble
with life on the griddle. We are
running laps around the block,
checking our times to see
if we are faster. We are
watching two bison procreate
on grassy plains. We are
building towers out of Legos
and testing their structural integrity
with lightsabers. We are
watching the dough bubble
with life as it sits patiently
in a bowl. We are
throwing sticks into the river
and mapping where they will
wash ashore. We are
watching a wolf snare an elk
by the neck and bring it down
into the dirt. We are
writing letters to friends
and tucking drawings inside
the envelopes. We are
watching the pool bubble
with life as we dive
deep down inside. We are
making this all up
as we go, but we are
learning. All the time we are
Based in Modesto, California, Matthew Andrews is a private investigator and writer whose poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in pacificREVIEW, Deep Wild Journal, and Eunonia Review, among others.
Bay Area, CA
The Corona Cat
When the apocalypse began, I resisted it like a cat faced with a filled bathtub: my claws out, my back arched, I hissed at the draconian order to shelter in place with all of my feline stubbornness. I climbed out of the windows to drive to tennis courts and sang Leslie Gore’s classic: “I’m free and I love to be free…” And then my friend got sick and coughed in my face. It was a common flu, but the world suddenly became treacherous. Like radiation, — invisible and intangible, — the corona virus was soaring in the air, forcing me to evacuate the outside world and surrender my life for indefinite periods. No longer invincible, no longer free, I wait for the light at the end of the tunnel, rediscovering the pleasure of hot baths.
Nina Rodenko is a student in Creative Writing and Public Speaking at College of Marin, California. She also has BA in linguistics and is currently working on her first novel.
Womb of a Grill
I watch Mama Squirrel clench five leaves
in her mouth and
deliver earth to her womb
a womb of cast iron grates
-open fingers being webbed together
with warm sheets of leaves-
their veins carrying anticipation for new life
members of this compacted home unaware of
the high oak tree’s grudge with a plastic bag-
handle knotted around arthritic branch
unaware of the dormant propane tank below
unaware of the plastic, cotton, and yarn
knotted around the ears of a retreating pedestrian,
covering the communal mouth
-breath of humanity-
BellaBianca Lynn, a yogini-belly dancer, currently hides in Massachusetts. Lynn’s work has appeared/ is forthcoming in Adelaide Magazine and East by Northeast. Visit her at https://bellabiancalynn.com/
April Is a Thing that Might Happen
April is a convoy of motorized street sweepers stroking the bike path
April is a granite & steel labyrinth with a single path to the center
April flies past a Bierstadt landscape, reaching for your hand
April is a white porcelain horse with one broken leg
April is an Olympic-size pool full of lake water
I float on the surface.
April is a walk downtown with snow in my neck
April is wolves scampering in the distance
April is an ad for fresh oranges
April washes off with soap
April remembers Paris
Pull me in.
Diane Martini of Minneapolis, MN has poems in Coffin Bell, Not Very Quiet, Spillway, 45th Parallel… She has a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Minnesota.
APRIL 4, 2020
i live on
Kevin McLellan is the author of Hemispheres, Ornitheology, [box], Tributary, and Round Trip. His poems appear in numerous literary journals. Kevin lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. https://kevmclellan.com/
San Diego, CA
After a week of rain, quarantined inside,
we wake to sun. For our daily walk
now, we tie masks on. Our youngest,
at eight, hesitates—doesn’t want to wear
one, the strings keep slipping down
her silky hair, until the whole thing
sits below her chin. We tie it again.
Bed sheets once, the soft blue material
makes us look like a family of doctors
on our daily rounds. We stick close
as others approach. Moving off sidewalks
and into roads. Four corners of a moving
bed—each post holding us together.
Our sheet, fitted. Our edges tucked in.
Katie Kemple writes poetry and is a media consultant. She lives in California.
Stacy Nathaniel Jackson
Stacy Nathaniel Jackson
Walkers walk like pin balls. Bounce six feet apart. Unidentified female person powder blue surgically-masked. Observe her clock your rate of pace against her own approach. A black man: she thinks she sees. Your leashed black & white dog. The blue masked-one senses your dog’s fealty. Calculates odds. White crosswalk border paint (ignored). She jets diagonally away. Her cross: is it an act of self-care? Kindness? You say it’s unconscious bias any other day but today.
We create our own electrified rails like goats contained to graze the Oakland hills. The firestorm is coming (they warn). Unlike the goats. We fear eating weeds. Panic buys. Calamity looms. Virus detritus: used N95’s and condoms along with cigarette butts on the street. Virtual caution sign staked in the ground: Do not feed. Area closed.
Stacy Nathaniel Jackson is an African American transgender poet based in Oakland, CA. His work has been published in the Lodestar Quarterly, New American Writing, and Foglifter, among others.
I am a not-so-jolly
Skeleton these days
My parts jangle
Scare me I can’t put on weight
In my heart
Because my organs have upped and left
There is too much beauty in my neighborhood
The roses trip over themselves:
“I’m fucking perfect what more do you want”
But I swear I smell
Ash mixed in with the
Selena was once a creative soul who’s trying to find her way back. She is SIPing in Sebastopol, California
San Francisco, CA
The geese called out so loud this evening,
Their guttural commands carried a whiff of anger.
(Angry to be allowed again, after so much resistance,
Back into their rightful skies?)
The flock that grazed my roof
Cried out in unison – brothers in arms, in feathers –
Their jubilation, a sharp reminder, the jagged edge of our retreat.
I opened up my window wide,
A candle flickering on a windowsill,
And followed them in heart long after
They dissolved into the whites of city skies.
Does flying over oceans and continents
Make you an immigrant?
Or is that a border that only words can summon into life?
My flock is lost to me right now,
And even if they weren’t, I still suspect
That I was last one of my kind.
Camelia Gendreau is a native Romanian and lives in San Francisco with her young son.
Shana Rachael Diot
Shana Rachael Diot
I turn the stroller to avoid the playground. She’ll cry if she sees another slide she cannot go down. Another kid her arms cannot wrap around. I am relieved when an early childhood education center spot opens. And I sink when informed: no parents allowed. I imagine my toddler walking a long hallway, where she’s never been, holding a stranger’s hand. I come home; purse drops to the floor. I mention the school to her. “Shoes!” she says, both gleeful and desperate. “Car! Let’s go mommy,” she whines, putting on her butterfly backpack. Her excitement visible through vibrating antennas. Unplanned, we go just then. Looking ahead, I see a fence. She sees a playground. “Green slide!” she says as though she’s discovered a new planet. “New school! New friends!” she exclaims, dashing up and down the sidewalk. Butterfly backpack on, she spins around and bangs on the door, trying to get inside.
Shana Rachael Diot works full-time for a health system on COVID-19 response. She lives in Denver and has participated in Lighthouse Writers Workshop. Before isolation, she enjoyed travel and tango. Her website is Shana-rachael-diot.com. Photo credit Ana Carolina Torres.
The Trauma of Take Out
Recently, I sat in my car in a café’s parking lot awaiting a food order. A couple drove up in a green Subaru and a well-dressed man exited on the driver’s side. In his right hand, he held a hammer; in his left, a tire iron. A panicked confusion began to blip in my chest. A stylish repairman? An otherwise civilized soul pushed into madness by relentless, co-vidious restrictions? The man approached the café and paused, scanning the completed orders that sat in marked brown bags on racks outside the café’s front door. Then, holding the hammer end at arm’s length, he hooked its head under one bag’s handles and returned – arm, hammer and bag held stiffly before him – to his car. The tire iron? Perhaps he was expecting a second bag.
Jan Bartelli lives in a tiny town in upstate New York. She is a (maybe) retired attorney, a former, published journalist, and the persistent writer of creative non-fiction.
Jogging in a City Park During a Pandemic
At home, alone. Too long. The clock on his coffee
table starts to pound. Time. Time. He goes outdoors,
against orders. He jogs to the park up the street. On a
wave of grass, time feels more like an ocean than a
ticking sound. A feather falling from above. The bird’s
old body obeys its own version of a clock. Twisting.
He stops to honor the moment—a visit from the god
Chronos. He turns into a statue of himself. Then he
becomes an archive, finally, a museum meant to
remember the year. Sightseers no longer recall the age
of the virus, but they marvel at his expression.
Chad Hanson lives in Wyoming with his wife Lynn and their two cats: Skye and Sherpa. His nonfiction titles include, Swimming with Trout and Trout Streams of the Heart. He is also the author of two collections of poems: Patches of Light and This Human Shape. His recent awards include the Meadowhawk Prize in Poetry and a Creative Writing Fellowship from the Wyoming Arts Council, made possible through funding from the National Endowment for the Arts. For more information, visit: www.chadhanson.org.
Vanessa A. Judicpa
Vanessa A. Judicpa
the social distancing era
i am the stranger at the store with a shopping list of a hustler
standing on the arrows along the floor as signs of one item per customer
are constant reminders to be mindful of others
a message to be kinder than the mass hoarders
i grab veggies and fruits and pause before the next task
as i inhale my exhaled CO2. trapped inside my surgical mask
it is easy to self-talk no one sees my mouth
dropping as i walk at the above market price amount
waiting behind the clear glass wall i debate whether to use cash or card as the cashier waits for my call my eyes apologizing for making it hard
i thank her for her service as i walk out of the store in one piece
the lack of oxygen made me nervous as anxieties are nearly ceased
in the car i can finally breathe in a safe enclosed space
in the mirror i feel a sense of relief recognizing my almost forgotten face
Vanessa A. Judicpa is a COVID-19 survivor who lives in Guam. Here is the link to her published letter, To travel or not to travel: the new normal.
James Alexander Atherton
James Alexander Atherton
Enclosed within a house shaped prison.
What I take for granted, this palace, this abode I inhabit.
Creativity Stifled, Emotions stir.
Boredom encroaches, contempt rises.
An invisible enemy, barricade us, arrest us.
A collectivism in crisis, individualism is corrupted.
James Atherton is a writer, who lives in Melbourne, Australia. He is currently training to become an Early Childhood Educator. He is passionate about Literature and Ancient History.
Sheltering with House Sparrows
I’m supposed to say that sheltering in place is like
house arrest, confining me to one house, one neighborhood,
one city, one country when I often move between many.
I’m supposed to say This sucks, that I hate
restriction and limitations. And I do.
But right now,
I love the quiet mornings, nowhere specific
to be except here, listening to house sparrows
call to one another outside my window.
Cardinals and blue jays eat eagerly at the bird feeders,
spilling seed that’s then nibbled up by common
doves who waddle between the liriope.
When did I ever spend mornings at my window
watching birds? I can barely believe that it’s
me writing this, living this.
Is this really me? Sitting so still? Noticing birds
and attentive to azalea buds as they reveal
a tiny bit more magenta each day.
Christy Wise is a poet, essayist and author. She is sheltering in place in Washington DC with its eye-popping colorful spring, and misses her native California.
Erich von Hungen
Erich von Hungen
San Francisco, CA
We got tired of crying,
but that didn’t change a thing.
The reasons just kept coming,
tired or not,
tears or not.
We weren’t the point.
And that is what it was saying,
if indeed it had anything to say.
It wasn’t about our will or strength.
It was there,
and that was it —
tired or not.
We needed to be facing it:
so many names.
We forget. We forget.
But now we must face it —
face who and what we really are,
and in spite, keep looking up,
tired or not,
strong enough or not
and make our insignificance matter.
Erich von Hungen is from San Francisco. As a poet, his primary thrust has been an examination of the human heart. You can find him on his YouTube channel PoetryForce.
Santa Rosa, CA
Searching for a Sign
The first spring after the North Bay fires new birdsongs filled the treetops of my neighborhood. Numerous birds darted from redwood trees to the sycamore that leans over my bedroom window. Presumably, they had moved west, to my side of the tracks, after hundreds of square miles of their habitats were torched. I hear the birds again; every morning, every afternoon, every evening, as the passing days and daily death tolls mark my survival. I worry about California’s next fire season, about an uncertain future with this pandemic. How will we evacuate under shelter in place orders? How will we survive? I search for a sense of peace with the changing world, evaluate my place in it. Last week, I finally saw the doves, slender and gray, cooing outside my window. I think of how they symbolize peace and mourning and convince myself they’re a sign.
Dani Burlison is a writer and teacher based in Santa Rosa, Ca. www.daniburlison.com
I tend to my calendar
Hanging crooked in the closet
Opposite woolen winter coats
Set up routines, I read somewhere
When the shelter in place began Lessonplangardenwalkthedogreadworkonyourabsmakedinnercleanhouse
Or all your days will bleed together
I heed the advice
Under April’s gaze
Each date inked with my hopeful to do’s
Boxes waiting- gratification
After the evening reckoning
“Work on abs”
I scroll through social media
The “Mother’s Challenge” filling my feed
Look how big she’s gotten
I lean over, to show my husband
Tucked into his corner
Of the couch
Mmmm he says
Words with Friends
Sleep comes slowly
the spaces of night
Blossoming with doubt
I think of my calendar
Full of paper promises
one of the to dos
I should have listed
All those years
Allie Brown lives in an old farmhouse in Petaluma, California with her husband, two dogs, sheep, and chickens. She is currently working on her first memoir.
Richard Matta (2)
San Diego, CA
The Wind Vane
I see a happy face
upon a red kayak—
into the wind, its
tireless arms rotate
backward to the breeze.
How I want to know
where he’s going,
How I want to ask about
life as a rear view
mirror, as he looks upon
moored boats unsteadied
like bathtub toys, hears
halyards scream for raises
and birds argue
for a sardine,
while he is fixed
above it all
I want to know
can you fit one more?
Richard Matta is a San Diego, CA poet who practiced forensic scientist after attending Notre Dame. He was raised in New York’s Hudson Valley.
Here We Are
I hugged my friend.
We high five 6 feet apart.
Here we are.
I drove South on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
I turned my car around.
Here we are.
I enjoyed dining in my favorite restaurant.
I order curbside pickup.
Here we are.
In weeks past,
I worked in close physical contact with folks.
I use Zoom.
Here we are.
There was a time
When the animals hid.
They have come back to the parks.
Here we are.
Masks used to be optional… metaphorical,
worn to hide.
In this time, they are necessary… required,
worn to protect.
Here we are.
I do not have the answers,
Yesterday is gone.
I sit with the questions,
It is today.
Here we are.
Jeri Senor, M.A., LMBT, E-RYT 500 has been writing for a while now. She lives in the beautiful mountains of Asheville, NC teaching yoga and livin’ the good life.
Nanette Fondas (2)
Bay Area, CA
Their numbers are rising, frighteningly so in cities like New York. But here in California it’s quiet outside when a large, wild turkey arrives, strutting back and forth in the backyard. It yelps, then gobbles up some flowers. White-crowned swallows dive-bomb between the roof and the swaying eucalyptus trees above. Mourning doves perch somewhere out of sight, calling “woo woo.” A fat white rabbit scampers across the lawn; a trilling owl sounds like a horse is living in the tree! Later, a young bobcat saunters across the patio and lounges in the driveway, perhaps listening to the chirping tree crickets fill the evening air. Their numbers rising, earth’s creatures are coming out, while we stay inside.
Nanette Fondas is a writer, mother, and former professor. She’s working on a memoir about her 24 years of mothering.
Jen Burke Anderson (2)
Jen Burke Anderson
I have four windows
upright, painted white,
to where the Danube
Crawl under the duvet.
Watch the rooftops
Surrender to your leaden
left side and suddenly,
the day’s spray of pepper clouds
coffeed up even,
ready to dish.
These clouds recall
frozen mud roads spiked
with pestilence and starvation.
I tell them about the soup aisle
at Liedl, and the Desert Island Discs
archives on the BBC website
These clouds have been
nostalgic lately, what with the
the louder birdsong
the dead tailpipes
the bursting moss.
We’re scared, I tell them.
We want this
to be over.
Now they fold into silence:
old friends who suddenly
need to talk amongst themselves.
Jen Burke Anderson is a San Francisco writer currently sheltering in Passau, Germany. Her work last appeared in The Dewdrop and Australia’s Womankind magazine, and her short story “Soul Survivor” won the 2018 Sue Granzella Humor Prize in the Soul-Making Keats Literary Competition.
St. Louis, MO
We were so close to being able to live a normal life. A flower beginning to bud, killed by a late frost. My daughter, nearly 18 months and ready to join the land of the living, the truly living, may now never get the chance.
I used to think about what I was missing. Work, nights out, playgroups with other parents and babies. Now I think about the small things I had and took for granted. A cup of coffee from the cafe where I could dash in and out without exposing my daughter to germs too overwhelming for her poor lungs. Walks in the botanic gardens, where my constant footsteps wore tracks in the dirt. My old, odd bits of respite from constant caretaking, taken for granted.
We stay inside and hope the day comes that we can emerge. Because now we know it’s the virus or us.
Isabelle is a global nomad currently living in St. Louis, Missouri with her husband and young daughter.
The present moment is another planet.
A pile of cells called “me” is here vacated by a mind lost in viral hours, unbent curves, intubated innocents. Consciousness is folded into itself — a fear origami — far from breath and blossoms. Window splendors fail to gather senses stolen by ambulances screaming northward past the nursing home with 55 less residents.
My eyes return from imagined horrors and grasp the garden fence. Its sturdy faded planks become crutches for rising to the now. I trace my breath along each length of pine through knotholes and kudzu, attention pulled along like a crying child. Planks serve as spine, dogwood breezes as breath. A sparrow loans me her face.
Lilac tresses dangle above my cherry tree arms with flower-fluffy sleeves, tulip feet, buttercup toes. Birdsong enlivens a distant siren lament. Breathing among last gasps, I’m a human garden.
Dallas Itzen is a Brooklyn writer. Her essay Rittiman Road Exit is in Steel House Review. Her essay We are Here for You will appear in American Writer’s Review.
Amy Elizabeth Robinson
Amy Elizabeth Robinson
Sonoma County, CA
Day whatever. Gray day. Drips intermittent on the cobwebbed skylight. Bread running low, coffee running so-so, air quality satisfactory for our purposes. Survival. In this moment, how many things are sufficient unto themselves? Relief to know—or rather, assume—they will go on without me, without us. Perhaps they’ve been waiting. Limbs stretch against the vague sky. Fog descending, I dive under blankets with my ten-year-old son. The missing sun plays a more meaningful game than us. More at stake. How many viral particles can it kill in one day? How much vitamin D can we garner and barter for our ongoing resistance? We make ghostly sounds and try to fool the cat, then his dad, my partner in this weather, drowsy over his cup of what remains. Perhaps the spirits of discernment will not notice us. When we emerge, the day is brighter than before. Whatever.
Amy is a writer, mother, historian, and Zen student living in the hills of Sonoma County, CA. She has a crazy quilt kind of life. She blogs at www.turningplanet.org.
Pretty Little Pests
I brush my teeth,
the electric buzz
vibrates in my jaw.
See a dead ladybug
belly-up on the
side of the sink.
they don’t know
(even when alive)
about Covid19 –
don’t know the risk
of hanging out
where someone else’s
spittle might kill them.
They live short lives
anyway, and only one.
I flick the carcass
off the white porcelain
with my middle finger
and opposable thumb
into the trash;
it flies, drops, score!
Pretty little pests,
but they’re everywhere.
Mary Downes is a New Hampshire native and lives on a very old farm near the ocean with fabulous views of the sunrise. She loves to write.
A boy is dragging his sled down the street, totally loaded with red gas cans, three different sizes, all lined up and sloshing a little into the sled as he pulls it with a fraying rope, each too full to wave, him too tired to stop.
I’m counting seeds spilled into a jar lid, trying to remember my grandmother’s rules of thumb: a half-inch to the finger’s first bend, two seeds to each poke, and each poke spread by the width of two fingers, the first two, in the sign we see as peace.
My neighbors take turns dragging their engines to the gas station, blue smoke chasing old gas from lawn mowers, dirt bikes, golf carts, fuel for other days. Our vehicles, smaller: for Valentine’s, my love bought us each a calendar.
In this county, we keep on hoarding today into all the small rooms of tomorrow.
Avery Gregurich, is a writer and grocery store worker living in Marengo, Iowa. Avery was raised next to the Mississippi River, and has never strayed too far from it.
At the moment, I do nothing when it comes to fighting the pandemic, I do so to the level that any Buddhist monk would envy my capacity for non-doing.
Non-doing elucidates that something has presence. Life has presence. The Latin word prae-esse literally means “to be in front of.” After 37 days (and counting) of imprisonment, I feel like standing more directly in front of life. It’s within reach; I can touch it, smell it—and, at the same time, I am also just being a witness to a crucial part of life, to the doctors, nurses, garbage collectors, and supermarket employees who are doing what the government calls essential work.
Am I just a witness? After all, being a writer is not an essential job.
Yet, I know that the stories being written now will have another rhythm. A rhythm of a past that didn’t really exist. Pure presence.
Finn Janning, PhD, is a Danish father, novelist and philosopher. His most recent publication is A Philosophy of Mindfulness. He lives in Barcelona, Spain with his wife and their three children.
Heather M.F. Lyke
Heather M.F. Lyke
Dead Poets Struggle
I want to cover
my students’ eyes.
like Keating, I want
to spin them
into a new reality.
escape this pandemic
we shall sound
our barbaric yawps
each our own
stuck under the same blanket—
a disease so small
it leaves our feet cold.
but it will never be enough.
fear floats beside us:
It will never be enough.
there is no covering
the eyes of my students—
no inspirational spinning
into a new world—
not while schools wilt
Inspiration on pause
as we remain
more than six feet apart.
Heather M. F. Lyke teaches Creative Writing and American Literature in Rochester, MN. During evenings and weekends, she creates—most often with words.
Walking during a Pandemic
Sunday I walk to the cemetery. Phlox covers the ground between stones. Markers date back to 1744. Hello, Mr. Porter.
I pause at the grave of a baby boy named Jerry who lived for thirty-four days in 1944. Two Matchbox cars have been left for him. I read the names of people who grew up in the same valley that I have. How heavy the weight of words: mother, father, son and daughter, when chiseled by the monument maker.
When dark clouds fill the sky I head home. I walk along the narrow shoulder, stepping into the weeds when cars whizz by. Does everyone always need groceries?
At the edge of our driveway I hear the bounce of a ball and a swoosh through the net. My teenage son, who is shooting hoops in flip-flops, asks me where I’ve been.
April Nance is a native of Asheville, NC. She is the lead docent for the fresco at Haywood Street Congregation, an urban ministry in downtown Asheville.
i was not expecting the mask
to arrive today from florida
with a cheerful sticker
of an owl and a sweet note
all packaged in manilla
and the laundry detergent
from my grandmother’s house.
i was not expecting
when I tested the fit
to spend half an hour
breathing it in
til the scent dispersed
and I returned six
thousand and five
hundred miles to here,
in this flat,
in this room
on this floor
with this rug
Alex Penland is an American author studying for an MSc in Creative Writing at the University of Edinburgh.
Santa Rosa, CA
How like having a newborn it feels. Desperate to be just the three of us together, cuddled and peaceful in our own world; for just one minute to myself; for friendship and company and loud chatter and laughter and too much noise in a public place. For all of it at once. Now, like then, my world has shrunken down – to noticing the softness of new oak leaves, finding ladybugs in the vetch vines that twine and grow purple hearted flowers, following light as it traces patterns on our walls as the sun shifts its position but we stay put. I want exotic and exciting foods prepared for me, but I eat whatever presents itself – crumbs, crackers, remnants, strange combinations. I sleep too much, but am tired all the time, body sore from a scrambled exertion intermittent with collapsed recovery from demands that aren’t my own.
Jessamyn Harris is a professional photographer finding her feet as a writer. She lives and works in Santa Rosa, California, with her 10 year old daughter, husband, cats, and cameras.
I Used to Love My House
I used to love my house. The second house in a cul-de-sac full of families, it has floor to ceiling windows letting in plenty of natural light and an office where I like to spend my weekend mornings writing.
I used to love my house, but it’s not the same anymore.
The cul-de-sac sits empty now. The baseball diamond spray painted in the middle is
starting to fade and chip. There’s no reason to fix it right now. The windows I love to sit near now taunt me with views of the world I can no longer explore. The office I am now forced to work from, both anger and disappoint me as I teach from a computer instead of in my classroom.
I used to love my house. But not anymore. Not right now.
Kathleen Kempert holds a masters degree in Professional Writing from Towson University and has been published in Literary Yard. She can be found social distancing at her home in Maryland.
Lime Green or Black?
The good old days ended three weeks ago. Our small business shut down, all employees furloughed, including my son. The two-week notice became a month, then another month, still no one was sure what would slow this COVID-19 massacre down. There would be a re-organization of our world that I cannot quite picture just yet.
I made myself busy: cleaned, organized, painted three frames, touched up scratches, planned a victory garden, egg cartons for seeds, drove to Home Depot for soil. The parking lot full, watched behind the glass of my car window and wondered if it was worth it. I almost saw a death wind swirling through the swarm of people, some wearing masks, others unable to manage six feet apart. Is this essential? That has become my new mantra.
I drove back home to a single chair that needs paint. Lime green or black?
J.K. Hayward-Trout, from Northern California, used to be a secret scribbling scriber, and currently, has a few short pieces published in: Perspectives Magazine, 101 Words, and One Book, One Town.
Insta, Food, and Solidarity
I stared at the pile of canned tomatoes, beans, and gluten-free pasta.
Three weeks before I was thankful that people hadn’t emptied the gluten-free section; now I was wishing otherwise.
I craved fried chicken, beef burritos, burgers. My desires were odd considering my family is vegetarian.
Dandelion greens, weeds to all except my mother, were sautéing on the stove. The mere thought of bitter greens churned my stomach.
As I peered at the larder my mood dampened. Why couldn’t people be more considerate and not take all the instant ramen?
My phone chimed, another post. I looked through my feed. No social distancing, but at least they’re wearing masks.
Days of lying in my dark room doing nothing; funny to think, in the beginning I was ecstatic that school was shut, and now I look forward to receiving snapchats of mostly walls.
Ava Galbraith dives deep into characters’ psyches and uses stream of consciousness to tell stories. When not developing intriguing short-shorts, she competes in equestrian jumping. Ava lives in Tucson, Arizona.
Lisa K. Harris
Lisa K. Harris
Lemon meringue pie, herb-rubbed chicken, sweet potato mushroom stir-fry, Spanish frittata, beans with kale and artichoke hearts, goat-cheese tomato tart.
“Challah!” teenage Ava says. “Did you see Lyda’s pic? Unbelievable!”
“Your sister’s got twisting down.”
“I’m not talking about braiding. Where’d she find yeast?”
Fish and chips (Ava’s choice), chicken soup, roasted beets with orange vinaigrette, chocolate-chip cookies, sautéed cabbage with apples and caraway seeds (Grandmother’s forgotten recipe), rice topped with tamarind chutney and spicy green goo.
“WTF!” Ava holds fork midair.
“Puréed mustard greens with onions, garlic, and ginger.”
“They were in the farmers’ market box and I can’t trade now. I would’ve traded. But we can’t. So we eat what’s in the box. Especially if it’s good for you.”
“Why was I stuck with a farmers’-market-shopping, non-GMO, gluten-free mother?”
Risotto with trumpet mushrooms (Yum! Ava says), cabbage-apple slaw, wild rice with dandelion greens.
Lisa K. Harris writes about coping with speed bumps. She lives in Tucson, with one daughter four cats, nine desert tortoises, and two dogs. For a publication list, see lisakharris.com.
This Halcyon to Which I Return
I have come to terms
the loss will not go away
or at least come to terms
I will always be coming to terms
with it. Relocating to the Southwest
being welcomed by a quarantine
this transition to a new home is harder now, lonely.
I have learned strange things in-between
work at the eastern corner of the dinner table
and school at the west and fixing the overburdened plumbing
in the kitchen sink from all this cooking at home, cornbread
and casserole, and Cassiopeia is a constellation, not a cuisine
if constellation and consternation sound similar perhaps
I turn to stars, there is only time to think
coffee company to my conscience
I visited Mexico yesterday in my mind
and today it was Lawrence
A map of memory a meanderer got lost in
and found the happiest of Thanksgivings
playing board games with a family that was mine for an afternoon
I was eating a green bean trying to grasp it, knowing
it would slip away
No one yelled in that home
a voice never rose, or a hand
Campfires. I remembered
in Hindu mythology, communicate to the heaven
wisping wishes in smoke. I whispered
into the auburn tongues asking never
for nothing more—
the coffee cup passed slowly
into the memory of a touch,
shattered sharply on the tile.
Divya currently lives in Tucson, Arizona, but she has called many places home. She often cautions that she is not the “I” in her poems–except for this time. You can write Divya at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @DivyaRamesh11
When I’m Thinking of You
My alarm doesn’t ring,
My hours, my own,
No contact outside,
Using only my phone.
I tidy my closet,
My shoes get a brush,
Sew on buttons, mend holes,
No reason to rush,
I think of you.
I drink coffee alone,
Order groceries online,
My mealtimes chaotic,
Drinking far too much wine.
Play music too loud,
My fitness I stream,
Afternoons are for sleeping,
Cat napping and dreams,
I think of you.
The stores are all empty,
The faces are scared,
Standing six feet apart,
We stood as a nation,
All clapping at eight,
Feeling helpless and lost,
Have we left it too late?
I thought of you.
My days are a blur,
My mind is a riot,
My voice is no longer,
There is only quiet.
I cling to a thought,
It’s all I can do,
It keeps me alive,
When I’m thinking of you.
Kim Able is a full time recruitment consultant, part time runway stylist and, for all time, mother of four and grandmama of two, Lyra and Barnaby, who she thinks of always.
Bay Area, CA
Friday, 7 pm. Kitchen all cleaned up. Saturday morning: huge mess already. (Sigh. But not surprised.) Daughter starts to load the dishwasher. Other family members make brunch for themselves and each other. Skirting around. Chattering. Family together. (Crowded in here.) Youngest cracks an egg hard on the counter; it drips down the cabinet and onto the floor. Son starts salad: now lettuce and water on the floor too. (Overrated: Teaching cooking during a quarantine.) Husband sits calmly, enjoying his food; everyone else cooking, serving, or tidying. (Feminism unfinished.) More dirty plates and pans for the dish washer. “It never ends,” she says. (Sisterhood of the kitchen drudgery begins.) Resolved: Don’t clean up after everyone. (Make invisible labor visible.)
Nanette Fondas is a writer, mother, and former professor. She’s working on a memoir about her 24 years (and counting) of mothering and reading.
Josephine F. Chaparro
Josephine F. Chaparro
Without Your Hugs
I will not know when to sing about Spring
I will not know what life will even bring.
The Snowdrops have come and gone you see
They properly did say “Goodbye” to me.
I want to look up and see the sprouting on the trees
I want all the little tulips to say “Hello” to me.
I don’t care how all this began
Just tell me when can we all hug again.
Josephine F. Chaparro is just learning how to write poems and stories. All of her life, she has worked in corporate America and in the real estate business. She was raised in southern Missouri in the Ozark Mountains and has lived in Chicago for over 50 years. She has one wonderful son and two grandchildren and the most beautiful daughter-in-law in the world.
San Roque, Spain
Down the Road
The rain rolls in and soaks the southern coast of Spain. Inside our small apartment, we read books that have been on shelves for years. We make new dishes in the kitchen, get through laundry that has been piling up, and clean the floors. Our children go to school through the windows of a computer screen. Down the road, doctors, nurses, administrators, and other health workers climb in their cars and drive towards uncertainty. They will pull latex gloves over their hands and masks across their faces and hope the number of patients do not exceed the number of ventilators. They will hope the decisions of who will live and who will die don’t rest solely on their weary shoulders. Still, they work and work and work from daylight into the midnight hours, hoping to save people they don’t know and return home safely without infecting the people they do.
David Joseph spent 20 years as an educator and nonprofit executive before moving to Spain in 2016. His writing has been published in The London Magazine, Wall Street Journal, and Motherwell.
Eileen Vorbach Collins
Eileen Vorbach Collins
Facebook friends became epidemiologists overnight. The sun kills it. It’s okay to order take-out, it’s not a food born illness (eye-rolling emoji). You can’t get it from your cat. Cats are carriers. Don’t let them near your face. Now is a great time to foster a shelter animal. Don’t wear a mask. Everyone should wear a mask. It’s now mandatory in LA. The president has metrics in his head. He points to them three times while the medical expert gets death threats for his truths. My hands are like leather. When nurses are fingerprinted there is a high incidence of unsuitable prints. Have we washed them away? Stay three feet away. Six feet. Stay indoors. Get outside. The sun will kill it. I order a cheap clip-on macro lens for my camera. A quarantine toy. I photograph the stigma of a hibiscus. It reminds me of the coronavirus.
Eileen Vorbach Collins, an RN, lives in Englewood, Florida. Her essays have been published in the Santa Fe Writer’s Project, The Ocotillo Review, Lunch Ticket, and others.
I Threw a Bucket
I threw a bucket across the living room today and it felt great.
While my husband said something like
you’ve gone too far, or, we only
have one more package of bacon.
I’ve been cheerful for my five-year-old,
played trains for weeks, made puppets.
I’ve been filled with despair, while hot-gluing
eyes to my winter socks. I’ve thought of people
watching walls lying alone dying
while I pretended to be a cat exploring Mars.
Every day I need to scream.
I can’t scream.
I work my job after dinner
when the laptop is free.
So when my husband said he needed to keep working
this yell came out, I hate everything I’m
miserable with the two of you every second
in this pumpkin fucking house!
Then I heard the sounds of a woman
who didn’t want to be alone
and a dog growling
in a quiet street.
M.K. Sturdevant’s writing has appeared in Orion, Flyway, Alluvian, Newfound, Kestrel, and elsewhere, and is forthcoming in the Lily Poetry Review and Tiny Seed Journal. She lives in the Midwest. Follow her on Twitter @mksturdevant
in the midst of the Plague,
a town saved itself:
distancing souls one
steeping coins in vats
of vinegar like pickled
what we could learn
from past pestilence
that knowledge saves
and ignorance kills
that secrets, like fleas,
latch onto hosts
Nancy L. Davis lives in Chicago. Her work has won numerous awards and appeared in Route Nine, Cutthroat, Philadelphia Stories, among others. Her poetry chapbook, Ghosts, was published July 2019.
Jess D. Taylor
Jess D. Taylor
Santa Rosa, CA
I have no more right to the ancient oaks of the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery than anyone else. Still, as another casualty of the shelter-in-place mandate, the new “temporarily closed” sign is an affront to our history. There, in the lovely dappled shade, he spread a blanket on a chilly spring morning. And there, where bark has overtaken an old iron gate, he posed with his arms around my pregnant belly. That solid bench, where we had one of many take-out sushi dates, hours evaporating like morning dew. These trails among trees: so many talks about us, about parenting, domestic life and routine, how hard. Eventually, about how it just wasn’t working anymore. Everyone awaits a return to our old lives. But as long as we’re wishing, I’d like to return to the simplicity of blanket, snacks, sky, backgammon, birdsong. The cemetery’s peaceful hush. The surety of us.
Jess D. Taylor’s writing has appeared in MacQueen’s Quinterly, Little Patuxent Review, Pidgeonholes, and elsewhere. She teaches college English and raises her two little girls in Santa Rosa, California.
Salvation in the Silence of Quarantine
When the Coronavirus first peeked over the horizon I thought of the “Tale of the True Artificer” as told by Karl Shapiro. In it a poet goes to the window, sees destruction coming, and simply returns to their desk to make corrections. I immediately felt that same self-mandated compulsion to write: to push past responsibilities, home improvement projects, eating, sleep; to scream my barbaric yawp into the face of the virus—unlike that televangelist clown blowing god spittle on the virus (and the camera). We don’t need the empty breath of fools, but we do need words: In the beginning was the Word…. To write. To create! I write all the while knowing full-damn-well that the words I write on paper are ephemeral; that they may go poof, disintegrate, feather into the sky like ashes over a fire. God is the word, but salvation is in the creation—the writing.
Raymond P. Hammond is the editor-in-chief of The New York Quarterly. He is the author of Poetic Amusement. He lives in Beacon, NY with his wife and their dog Hank.
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
The Subject Myth of Animal Instincts
All-day long, I watch the kitten live fully through her instincts. She rips across the flat, leaping up and onto the window sill to watch for hours the pigeons as they fly and roost. Moments before, it was the sound of them over the rooftop enticing her into a moment of play. Blindness, in this case, allows her to experience the birds in her body. The exactitude of her presence is sharp. I cross the attic flat from my bed to the kitchen table, less instinctually than she. I make the coffee and then I write some things down. Today I commanded to no-one that I will wash my hair. I hope I remember. Three weeks of isolation, and it’s a good day if I remember to brush my teeth. But I do eat a lot. Fork to mouth, I like imagining the sensation of someone’s hand to my shoulder.
Jocelyn Ulevicus is an artist from Waterbury, CT with work either published or forthcoming. Her memoir, The Birth of a Tree, was short-listed for the Santa Fe Writer’s Program 2019 Literary Award.
San Diego, CA
on a mooring ball
The deserted bay park
rattles me, I want to inhale
its serenity, smile for
praise opportunistic pigeons
parked in shade, they fly
anywhere, congregate anyplace
I see a black seabird
on a lonely mooring ball—
the rising tide pulls on
whatever unknown anchor
keeps it in place, the bird’s
talons tenuously hold on
Sparrows dart and sing as they
play in the bougainvillea, then
flit to red flowered monks cress
while salty bayfront buttercups
spread their shiny petals
I wonder how long the bird
will remain on the mooring ball
how long could I stay
should I pick some flowers
Richard Matta grew up in New York’s Hudson Valley, attended Notre Dame, then worked as a forensic scientist. He is active in San Diego poetry circles.
Los Angeles, CA
There’s something about cutting a sandwich in half, diagonally.
And maybe that something is an illusion of having control;
It’s close enough to feeling like you just went out for lunch.
But you’re eating it at home after crying about the restriction of the outdoors, holding a sandwich cut in half diagonally,
like you’ll be prevented from biting into a sharp crust.
An ease of a bite, into. that. sandwich.
Why did I never read the “Journal of Solitude” by that one lady?
I wish I could smell sagebrush on the coast, but I’m picking up a mop
and sponge to remove the smell of socks and tuna fish.
Leslie Ortega is social distancing with her partner across the freeway bridge from Downtown Los Angeles, California. She is a Chicana poet who loves to cook and help the homeless.
We are wilting.
Waiting to flourish,
Wishing to bask in the sun,
of our routines,
handshakes and hugs.
The clouds part,
heads peak out.
Vibrant colors explode,
Maura Maros has a master’s degree in Human Resources Administration from the University of Scranton and Creative Writing from Wilkes University. She resides in Pennsylvania.
We scour the kitchen for scraps
forage cupboards for crisps
find only tins without labels
best before dates can now
soured milk is better than black coffee
Andi Talbot is a poet from Newcastle, England. His debut collection, “Burn Before Reading” is available now via Analog Submission Press.
Chris di Croce
Chris di Croce
And the machines have shut down.
We’ve locked ourselves in and things –
Life interrupted, routines on hold.
Wash away – the sickness, the worry.
But it comes back, the worry.
This is not my problem.
And it’s not yours.
It’s ours. All of us.
Buzzing, like flies at a screen door,
wondering what comes next.
How do we pay?
Will there be enough?
Nature is cleaning up our mess.
We’re being shown what we can live without.
We’re being reminded –
kindness survives disaster.
On the rush back to normal,
pause for a moment and decide
if it’s worth the rush.
Chris DiCroce is an Amazon bestselling author, speaker, and critically-acclaimed songwriter who’s been writing in one form or another for nearly 30 years.
New Jersey, NJ
Escape From Paradise
I wake up in a mansion. Well, it’s more like a mini-mansion.
It’s a “barn,” but not like the kind that farmers have.
It’s the kind that rich people have.
Not familiar? Let me play it out:
High ceilings, a refurbished kitchen and bathroom, an upstairs loft area with two couches and a big-
screen TV, and below deck – a beautiful half-basketball court replete with lines and all.
This should – as a basketball-lover – be my dream. Where else could I ask to be quarantined?
But it’s not, and I can think of at least a few other places.
Because I’m at my in-laws. Well, that’s not exactly precise.
My girlfriend’s families’ place.
They’ve got five acres of space, a pool, and a rich-person’s basketball barn.
And yet I still feel like a caged animal. Got to get out, got to get out…
Why? Because I don’t like them. But why, really?
Because they’re waiting for me to propose…and I’m waiting to escape…
Mike Kentz is a former financial journalist and current Middle School Writing Teacher. He’s in New Jersey and “should” be happy, but he’s not.
On the Psychiatric Frontlines of the Coronavirus Pandemic
I am a social worker in a psychiatric hospital fighting a mostly invisible, yet starkly virulent side of the COVID-19 pandemic. Discharge planning for homeless, mentally ill individuals, challenging during the best of times, now feels futile. There is no shelter in place for those without shelter. I am intimately acquainted with the topography of suffering- the dearth of resources and compassion. I instinctively scour this harsh landscape, an array of gaping holes with sharp edges, seeking closure. I trained to deal with adversity, to dive into the devil’s playground. Now I hold back, suppressing the bravest part of my reckless ambition and cautiously take my temperature before immersing into murky waters. How can I rescue those at risk for drowning if I am afraid to swim? According to the news, plenty of folks are now wearing scuba masks for added protection.
Tammy Smith is a social worker from New Jersey. Her writing has been published or is forthcoming in The Esthetic Apostle, Ailments: Chronicles of Illness Narratives, and io Literary Journal.
I’m always fine;
my family knows
I’m an easy child—
listens to the trees,
gets excited by leaping squirrels,
smiling, smiling, smiling…
and I know it, too,
until I know I’m lying.
I’m not always fine,
my mind’s too crowded for that,
my list of worries
longer than The Odyssey …
it’s epic, really.
Like right now,
as I type to feel fine
(praise the catharsis of writing!)
I have a small twinge in my chest
and just Googled the difference between
a heart attack and anxiety
because surely the Internet will help me
ensure I’m not dying.
To preface, my brother informed me
of the rising mortality rate of the virus.
How fun! How wonderful to hear!
I told him I did not want unsolicited updates,
he told me I shouldn’t bury my head in the sand,
not knowing, sometimes,
Ashley Myers lives in a charming, little town outside of Boston. Writing is her one true love, so this quarantine is half love affair, half internal panic.
I am one of you, forced into self-isolation in order to help control the spread of COVI-19. But unlike many of you, I was already trained for this. For the last three years I’ve been fighting advanced liver disease and cirrhosis, making me vulnerable to disease. My very poor immune system puts me even higher up on the ‘compromised’ list. I already had to be careful with social contact, contracting viruses and making sure to keep my immediate surroundings as clean and as germ-free as possible. I’ve never gotten angry or rebelled against these actions as it makes sense: maintaining good health – staying alive – means staying at home until it’s safe enough to venture out. I am optimistic that things will turn out okay. They have to. So, to those who are self-isolating, as difficult as it can be right now, the ‘compromised’ thank you so much.
Chynna Laird is a mother of four, a freelance writer, blogger, editor and award-winning author living in Edmonton, Alberta. www.chynnalairdauthor.ca
Back and Forth
I kick my black nursing clogs off outside the front door where they stay. My scrubs come off in the foyer, into a plastic bag and up to the washing machine. I sanitize my hands and run upstairs to the shower. The water runs hot, scalding away the worry of a microscopic enemy. A few days between shifts stretch out before me. The first day, I look for clues I am developing a respiratory illness. I curve my body into a tight ball, clutching my phone, refreshing over and over. More deaths, more restrictions, more check-ins with loved ones. By the second day, I need fresh air. I bake, I work out, I allow a little less worry in. I convince myself I will not lose anyone I love. Day three, my shift arrives. This is not vacation. I put my clogs back on and worry again.
Abigail Eisley lives in Baltimore, MD where she writes, runs a picture framing business, and works as a lactation consultant nurse in a hospital.
Hasbrouck Heights, NJ
Atrophy of an Exterior Life
The community’s in atrophy
the neighbor’s knuckles
beneath an exhausted faucet head
alcohol disintegrates our fingerprints
eroding any evidence
of an exterior life
from the backside of our hands
like flakes of nuclear fall out snow
like fleshy grains of sand
hide your head below the surface
find me retreating
within my tortoise shell
dripping from their keyholes
if our lungs are filled with anything
let’s hope it’s only bleach
and particles of dust
settling around us
settling around the shrinking world
with no pedestrians left
to disturb it
A.D. Anderson is an emerging writer with a few small publications. Half of her year is spent with her sailor husband Eric, the other half with her nose in a book.
A Self-Isolated Morning Routine
I fills a mug and pours in milk. It looks like pond scum to Me. I tastes and recoils; sprinkles in sugar but misses the mug. The house is quiet enough to hear the crystals patter on the floor. I is angry at tearing a rationed paper towel, wetting it and wiping – stooping to the floor and wiping. Me knows ants will come for the sweet sprinkles I has carelessly released.
“Myself needs to wash dishes,” I tells Me, seeing a plate balanced atop a bowl balanced atop another mug. “Why is Myself this way?” I asks, an inside joke with Me.
Myself overhears, is annoyed.
Me doesn’t answer, so I walks away from the full kitchen sink, from the sugar crystals the rationed paper towel missed, from thinking too hard. Me checks her temperature, Myself suppresses a cough, and I keeps sipping her coffee.
Ashten Shope is a MA student in creative writing at East Carolina University and is currently riding out the quarantine in South Carolina.
I had a dream last night I walked into the ocean to the point the land disappeared into an abyss of eternal emptiness. I backed away slowly, afraid I had gone too far out and would be swept down into the dark and murky unknown and drown. It’s my life now. I’d love to see a friend or two, go out to dinner, take long drives to explore other communities, especially those along the Missouri or Mississippi rivers. I’d love to go to a winery, sip sauvignon blanc while listening to music, visit my grandchildren and family. I’d love to go out at night, see a band. I’d love, love, love to live again. But even in my isolation, my fears, my loneliness, I realize: I’m one of the lucky ones — at least for now.
Debbie Cutler is the former managing editor of Alaska Business and the former editor of Alaska magazine. She currently lives in Columbia, Missouri.
Foster City, CA
All things contain all things
Every moment is pregnant
With ecstasy and horror
Forced confinement brings
Regularity, consistency, discipline
Improved diet, earlier bedtime
Not a day of zazen or workout missed
Family time on the couch
And weekend hikes
As I smile in contentment
The former busboy
Looks at his girlfriend and daughter
And wonders where
The baby formula will come from
A mother bids her husband
And carefully chooses words
To explain the unexplainable
To her kids
Her grief will have to wait
Until after bedtime
Dave Chelsea-Seifert believes that being a good person is much more important than being a great person. He aches and smiles at the same time.
New York, NY
I re-download the Sims. I make everybody woo-hoo. I make girls woo-hoo and boys woo-hoo and daughters, sons, cousins woo-hoo. I tell them to flirt with each other and instead they make embarrassed gesticulations and lose friend points. Their happiness plummets. They are not having fun. I make them cook dinner nude. I make them play mean pranks. I make them float trance-like in the pool. I make them do their homework, work toward job promotions. I enter a cheat code and buy them a new house. I make them write jokes. I turn the volume way up and then way down. It is night and they are sleeping. Like my mom in the 90s with Tetris, I see them when I close my eyes. They wait for me to unpause them and I benevolently do. It is overall a successful life, one with weeping cherry blossoms, a repaired sink.
Anne Cooperstone is a current MFA candidate in creative writing at Stonybrook Southampton. She is based in New York.
Pegi Deitz Shea
Pegi Deitz Shea
CoVid19 tanka, haiku & senryu
her own terms—not Covid’s—
buying 2 packs of Camel
closing the distance
she hands the cashier cash
on the swings
cross-dressing, he returns
to buy another rationed Charmin
virus swimming in the air—
I miss my aqua-aerobics buddies
Pegi Deitz Shea, poet and children’s book author, teaches in the Creative Writing
Program of the University of Connecticut
Holding Hands Through Glass
With my hands pressed against the nursing home door, I saw my grandma for the first time since quarantine began. An ear-to-ear grin on her thinning face welcomed us. Although words were muffled, we were as close as we could be right now. After weeks of snail-like speed, the shortest minutes passed with her. Then dementia triggered her anxiety, and she exclaimed she must go. My mother smeared her mascara, but I waited my turn. The weather that day was as bleak as the world’s mood. I know the world’s mood because it has never been more unanimous. The wind met me outside for a screaming match that left my cheeks red. I know the anger because it’s fear in disguise. I couldn’t blame the wind when I started to cry for I was inside again.
Brianna Schullo is a writer based outside of Chicago. Her work is usually less emo, but this quarantine has her in her feelings. Kind of like every other human being.
Our Spring Break cruise canceled, we are a couple of professors stuck in Chi on a stay-at-home order. Governor Pritzker OKs exercising outdoors and on Wednesday when the sun comes out, the first decent day of the year, we take a gray-brown early spring walk through our Gold Coast ‘hood to Lincoln Park, zig-zagging, turning corners, turning our heads, walking in the street as necessary, so careful. Approaching the park: so many but so few, a 40 degree crowd in 60 degree weather. As we emerge from the underpass, the crowd thickens gradually, suddenly, although the Nature Boardwalk remains empty, the Zoo closed. Dog-walkers chat, dogs sniffing one another. A clutch of tourists, too uniformly aged to be a family, ride by on Divvy-bikes. We nudge and point with our elbows, muttering: “Congregators! They’re going to ruin it for all of us.” On Thursday, Mayor Lightfoot closed the parks.
Julie Benesh (MFA, Warren Wilson) has been published in Tin House Magazine, Bestial Noise: A Tin House Fiction Reader, Crab Orchard Review, Florida Review, Gulf Stream, and other places.
Grand Rapids, MN
Drive Thru Lines
The sky was blue, with lightness near the top of the dark trees as the sun went down. The sky was hopeful. The closeness of quarantine took a toll as my boyfriend and I fought over cuddle time versus video gaming time. I told him I needed to take a drive, get out of the house. I got into my car, turned the radio off, and drove ten miles down a road heading west, towards the sun. Back in town I decided to get Dairy Queen. I pulled through the empty movie theater lot on a Friday night and was the sixth car in line. All of a sudden there was four more cars behind me. Our patience for drive thru lines has developed into acceptance of forty-minute waits. We would rather wait in line than go back to the house we aren’t supposed to leave.
Rebekah Morris lives in Minnesota where she works for a propane company. She’s been published in Make MN, ANMLY press, and received Honorable Mention from the Utah League of Writers.
“Inoperable,” the doctors said, “three months at most. Is there anyone
you want us to notify?”
Amazing how quiet it is when there is no one to see, no more tears to
cry. Just tubes running in and out, hallway chatter that no longer applies.
But now my calm is disrupted. “Covid-19,” they say. “Not enough
rooms. Too many waiting outside.” It seems to spread daily, raising
questions for which there are no easy replies.
“Why must so many be segregated, to ensure that a few more may survive?”
“What is the point if the good and the evil are equally compromised?”
“Is everything we have been taught about life, a lie?”
As they pack more and more panicked people into my room, an ancient monk’s words come mercifully to mind: “Be at peace, my friend, it is only the detached who really know how to die.”
S.M. Silva is a lawyer, martial artist, and musician.
I live a solitary life as a poet—but I am drowning without my local coffee shop—my table—my books and journals, my laptop strewn about. I have swept black salt and lavender from hearth to lawn and have placed my broom upside down by the door to deter pestilence. Every surface is scrubbed from shoes to earlobes. I sage. I worry that I will cause sickness—if my parents do get sick—I know I will blame myself. I listen to my music with headphones—dance parties with my bird and cats are rare now. The sunlight lengthens, but I am always chilled. Fear? I know that death is near. I can hear the whispered lullaby. I wash laundry for the fourth time today. I pet my cats. Hum some deathly tune. I wipe down my cup of coffee, pick up sterile laptop, and pray through poetry.
Kim Malinowski is a poet/author known for both fairytale and war poetry. She believes that the world can only be understood through the arts.
San Francisco, CA
Day 11: Wake up, touch husband. Still there. Check. Do yoga. Check. Do cardio. Check. Not yet eight and if I stopped now it would be a good day. Coffee. Check. Meeting via Zoom. Check. Call friend in New York to see if she’s okay. She is. Barely holding on and planning to escape. Unsettled, I fight with the only person I can – my husband. Uncheck. He continues to inhale the internet while I retreat to the back deck. The wind still rustles the trees, birds still chirp, crows fly shadowed by hawks swirling in cloud-mottled sky. I have nothing left to do. Soak the lentils. Go for a walk. Drinks with neighbors at a distance on the deck. Have dinner. Put the dal on. Watch mindless movie. I’m in bed before I remember. The virus spreads into spaces between moments. I burnt the dal. I blame the virus.
Rani Gill lives and breathes in San Francisco. She uses her love of design, and desire to understand how the world works, to help people learn and organizations change.
These past couple of weeks, my normally quiet neighborhood comes alive in the late afternoons, people riding bikes and walking a safe six or more feet apart. What especially pleases me is seeing the children playing in front of their houses, escaping into the late afternoon coolness in this South Florida suburb, finished most likely with their on-line classes and perhaps bored with other electronic time fillers. Normally in school, attending after school sports and rarely outside, they now are drawing on sidewalks with colored chalk, throwing their basketballs gifted at Christmas and usually stored inside garages. I found a stone near my doorstep with “Be you” painted in a child’s style. The next evening I left a small bag with pretty shells and colored string and beads at the same spot. It was gone this morning. We are all becoming Boo Radley.
Reina Lipkind is currently teaching part time after a career in clinical medicine. She lives with husband halfway between the ocean and the Everglades.
Walter Rafael Garcia
Walter Rafael Garcia
The Bronx, NY
Mount Everest Marker
I’d rather die than not be able to ride my bike. I ride for the clear streets and a clear mind. I might be taking the low road taking the long road but if that’s the risk, so be it. I even cycled up to New Rochelle, New York where it first hit to investigate and to have hot dogs at Walter’s stand in nearby Mamaroneck. On my long distance rides there is no COVID-19, I’m not laid off and the world is at peace. My mother calls me sometimes during my rides. She tells me she’s feeling fine but I worry as she falls in the susceptible bracket. She reminds me not even a bike ride can erase reality. I often joke about how I want to die later in life as a Mount Everest marker. I hope to make the ascent but for now I’ll climb the tarmac.
Walter Rafael Garcia is an emerging writer from the Bronx. He spends his time making music as Walter Rafael and with his band Grand Jaguar. He is also an adventure cyclist chronicling some of his rides through his Instagram and Youtube account Cycle And Eat.
She slinks around downtown
Jonesing for cookery not her own
She can ascertain which establishments are open
By the desperation that hangs in the air
Like a lozenge taking too long to dissolve
Like the turmeric that dyes her lips a sticky yellow
You see, the only cafe open sells their chai
With a golden lacquer
A doll-esque child drops a pink visor
“You dropped your hat’
The passersby mouth their thanks
Yet she fails to adjust her headphones
Afraid of the spools of abuse
That come ricocheting to the vulnerable
From the lurid mouths, graves of the uncharitable
During this time of fragile humanity
The clouds culminate
In the ether’s cauldron
At home she set the microwave: 45 seconds
Seems the appropriate amount of time
To warm up divorced eggs
A fitting metaphor of our severed state.
Sara Grimes has her undergraduate degree in Comparative History of Ideas from the University of Washington and is pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing at UC Riverside. She lives in Seattle where she imbibes art and culture via Salsa dancing, poetry slams, and karaoke. She lives with her lab mix Austen who conducts himself with a copious amount of gravitas. https://saragrimespoetry.com
I have a cousin who’s prone to anxiety. Small things lay her out. She texts me incessantly. Calls me more than robots do. If she’s in a bout, I’m in a bout too. That’s why when the virus came I didn’t worry about getting sick; I worried about how it would affect my cousin’s fickle sense of peace. When she calls now, and she does a lot, I tell her we’re okay in the city, that we have enough food (because we do), that we still wash our clothes (because laundromats haven’t closed), that we’re getting enough sleep (because we are). But I don’t tell her about the sirens or the days I’ve spent on Youtube, listening to nature sounds—‘Waterfalls’, ‘English Forests’, ‘Ocean Waves’, ‘Relaxing Rain’, ‘Snowy River’, anything—to drown them all out.
Kendall Poe’s work has appeared on the blogs of Tin House and Paris Review. She was the 2019 recipient of Southeast Review’s World’s Best Short-Short Story. If she’s not writing, she likes to bike around Central Park.
Each morning in the galleries old masters were awoken from their slumber by 300 schoolchildren roaring together. I’d smile from my desk above and feel invigorated by the proof of life.
Yesterday the children below my bed/living room/office window were screaming in Turkish. Sparking nostalgia for a warmer, more outside life, from almost a decade ago. Boisterous toddlers disturbed my co-worker miles away, making her shift her schedule. Our line manager offered to donate her own two pre-schoolers for a language exchange. I sympathised from experience.
Working from home for me now is usually quieter. My teenagers need only tea, better internet or fashion advice.
But today the local kids had walkie-talkies set, predictably, to megaphone mode. I complained into my computer briefly then regretted it. I still like the proof of life. Even so, they scattered to the wind when I went down to hang out the washing.
Keda Richens is a London based freelance artist/educator working part-time for Tate. During lockdown she is ‘hopefully’ setting up a website and posting weekly arts challenges for lone parents.
The tree is glutinous with new buds. Dark pink and slick, they will burst open soon
but only for a week before changing to a sedate green. The tree branches dip into the sidewalk. Our yard is always the messiest, rife with undergrowth, bulbous and wild. Old pine needles caress the sidewalk. The Germans scoff at it because it breaks their unstated rules of spartan decorum. And yet, here they are, strolling in the sunshine, breaking the cardinal rule. I can see the raucous teenagers shaking off winter’s claw. I can smell cigarettes and sound of drifting laughter. Get the fuck back inside, don’t you know what’s happening? For me, staying inside indefinitely is no different than before. The world has been dark for months already.
Aleksandra was born in Poland but has lived in Canada for most of her life. She currently resides in Düsseldorf, Germany and is a scientific researcher. She has authored more than thirty publications in scientific journals.
Man Not on the Run
Hopefully hermetically-sealed from COVID,
alone with half-century love
in once fur family forest cabin,
after three daily virtual Story Times
with clusters of grandkids/some parents
and before whole clan’s now routine
Friday Zooming into Shabbat
I tune in to our first Senior Sangha Zoom Romper Room.
Age seventy-four, your mid-septuagenarianism
appears to be round about mid-range
among eighty-two of us and expanding
self-defined elders who until today convened
at bricks and mortar center in the flesh.
Guided meditation, try to relax. Restrain fists
from pounding into cranium’s gelatinous mass.
But writer in me stimulated by words of buddy
have done Ecstasy with — though if lucky unnoticed
– I cheat peeking through eye slits to gaze at three screens
of peeps, at least two unaware they can be seen walking amidst
this otherwise contemplative scene in their bathrobes. The bell
calls me home. May all sentient beings be safe, healthy, free.
Gerard Sarnat MD has won prizes/been nominated for Pushcarts/Best of Net Awards. Gerry has authored four collections and is widely published. gerardsarnat.com
It is March 27, my birthday. I shut my eyes in self-isolation from corona, and I picture myself in Sucre Salón de Té, a tall cup of English breakfast with a beckoning cat formed on its silicone lid. I would greet the barista, some days in Spanish, some, in English. I visit San Jerónimo at sundown to say a passing prayer. It plays out quite differently. I dance around the living room in my favourite skirt, make ginger tea, spread a spoonful of margarine on toast. My friends and family back in Delhi sing the birthday song over Hangouts as I cut a cupcake from the previous week’s supermarket trip. Resounding claps of appreciation continue to unite my apartment, and all of Madrid, every evening, as I read poetry late into the night. I see my next day of work-from-home – fuller with celebration, reading, and conversations of yesterday.
Anannya Uberoi is a full-time software engineer and part-time tea connoisseur based in Madrid. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Jaggery, Deep Wild, Lapiz Lazuli, and eFiction India.
My pet bat has the Coronavirus, but she’s asymptomatic.
However, bats aren’t in favour right now so she’s keeping her little head down.
Hidden beneath her folded wings, she tucks her furrowed snout – patient zero in a world frothing to place blame.
She tells everyone that she can’t infect humans, but no one’s listening to facts.
She posts articles daily on social media. Headlines such as:
‘Bats not to blame: intermediate host required for human infection from SARS-CoV-2 virus.’
She writes ‘We’re just a natural reservoir of the disease, the Pangolins are the ones being irresponsible! Bats are victims too!’ with a picture of her wearing a face mask, looking mournful.
The pathos is well-intended but not well received.
‘Goddamn bat skum!’
Angry comments flow beneath all her posts.
She hangs around our bedroom, sullen – our housemates isolating her.
We watch True Blood reruns and eat dry toast.
Jacky T is a country boy at heart, wearing city life like an itchy woollen sweater. He battles chronic illness, so currently feels at home with the world’s preoccupations.
Judit Katalin Hollos
Judit Katalin Hollos
The Last Game of Chess
He is not quite like the dark-robed figure in Bergman’s Wood Painting, nor does he look like a monster hero from one of my pre-teen daughter’s computer games. No matter how desperately I’m trying to outsmart him, he always seems to find a way of following in my mind’s footsteps. He’s last year’s song haunting from the birdless balconies of the bare branches, he’s in the colourless fragrance of the first plum flowers. He’s sitting on my childhood’s green slide in the locked playground, he’s a halo of rime frost on the blooming quince. One day I might be able to look at my deepest buried desires without hearing his laughing voice, but until he gives me a checkmate, I will never be quite sure if he can give me an answer to the very question even the Knight harped on in vain.
Judit Katalin Hollos is a teacher, poet, playwright, translator and journalist. Her short stories, micro-poems, translations and articles have been featured in English, Swedish and Hungarian in literary magazines and anthologies. Her first short play received a rehearsed reading in Glasgow, UK.
Saturday Morning Coffee
Somewhere between December and March, my experience of time has changed. Thoughts which begin, “Two weeks ago…”, form a vague sensibility I associate with memories from months in the past. And thoughts which begin, “In three days…”, draw up a blank wall of possibility which I know cannot be anticipated.
Well, I say I “know” possibility can’t be anticipated, but that’s not quite true. It would be more accurate to say I know this basal hum of stripped-down expectations are not to be trusted, not to be clung to, even as some part of me can’t quite let go.
Still. Now. There is gratitude for what is here. This gratitude is the only thing I’ve found which chips away at the solidity of grief, of dread, of misplaced guilt that I should be so fortunate. For now.
Laura Heldt is an editor with past lives singing opera and teaching music, literature, and philosophy. She moved from the US to the UK just three days before the coronavirus was declared a pandemic and is currently sheltering in place with her husband and his family in Durham.
Cape May, NJ
a war on us
words stoke fear and frenzy among civilians,
and enlisted heroes with hospital badges.
quarantunes distract us from the madness of
layoffs, shuttered schools, white house updates,
scarves doubling as protective equipment,
beeping in the hallways, tubes down your grandma’s throat,
sisters and sons living like zombies,
praying not to infect the high risk loved ones at
begging for sleep
when the sheep go on strike.
But, they told me I’m alive today.
David lives in the Cape May area with his husband and son. When not writing he can be found scooping ice cream, teaching, or nursing the sick in southern New Jersey.
Jen Burke Anderson
Jen Burke Anderson
It was to be the starting shot of my achingly long-overdue second act: a year of travel, wandering through central Europe to wind down in the Balkans for an extended burst of work on my ten-years-in-progress novel.
I wound up sheltering in Passau, Germany.
What a Christian silence in these orderly streets! The lockdown almost becomes
Passau, whose myriad church bells still toll as they must have done during the Black Death and the world wars.
In the suburbs we watch each other through lace curtains at all hours: the woman on the adjacent terrace with the Australian shepherd who immediately throws her shutters down if she spies me in my Californian stretch routine; the elderly Bavarian man in checked shirt and suspenders who pops a paper bag to frighten the pigeons off his balcony; the insomniacs poring over newspapers at 3 a.m.
May we live to remember this springtime.
Jen Burke Anderson’s work last appeared in Australia’s Womankind magazine, and her short story “Soul Survivor” won the 2018 Sue Granzella Humor Prize in the Soul-Making Keats Literary Competition.
My husband learned he had spinal cancer in late January. This is our third bout with cancer in four years. He had cancer on his left kidney. Then he had cancer on his cerebellum. Now this. Two weeks ago, while waiting for him take an MRI, I noticed many hospital employees stop by the MRI waiting room desk to say hi to a woman who checks in patients. I walked over to her. After an ill-advised hug from which neither of us flinched, we both said at the same time, “God’s got this.” She’d had three aneurisms and a stroke at the age of 24. She’d been working at the hospital for 26 years. Each return visit requires us to leave isolation, a space where I have taken to sewing to calm myself. An occasional stitch brings memory of one who already knew the alternately fragile and robust way of life.
S.A. Green is an artist-writer born and raised in Florida with ancestry in the South and the Bahamas. She slowly treads life’s waters in Alabama.
It may be Friday
I whisper softly
compel pants to my body
one foot at a time,
how I like my old friends
that time that we
that guy who were you there when
we get to the point
we miss not being gone
while outside we ramble
inside we notice light
not the sun, we stare
look for a spot
to indicate a day
find phosphorous flares
ring in our vision
deep in our retina
our cornea, our iris, our flab
deep in our slug meat
stuck to surfaces
we scour until our fingers white
wet like oranges
sour like lemons
a citrus mask
if looks could kill
death would set clocks
Stephen Rosenshein (b. Seattle, 1984) is a writer, translator, and visual artist. Follow him on Instagram
New York, NY
This is the first time that the entire world has been together. The entire world has never been, in fact, more accessible. During this window of time in which we have no choice but to accept, I have spoken to industry experts that have otherwise seemed far-fetched. I’ve had one-on-one coaching calls with Emmy-award winning filmmakers & workout video calls with celebrity’s personal trainers. More than ever, people are searching for things to do & books to read, and it has been a valuable time to promote my past work, in that this internet campfire as, ironically, made it a perfect time to network.
Alicia Wilcox is an author & professional actress living in New York City. She is the author of the book ‘The Ultimate Secrets of Intelligence & Personality Disorders in the Criminal Justice System’.
Alicia Wilcox on Instagram
Patricia Black Gould
When the World Opens Up Again
A Six-Year Old’s Lament
When the world opens up again, I’m gonna
run to the beach and wiggle my toes in the sand.
When the world opens up again, I’m gonna
play with my friends in the park.
When the world opens up again, I’m gonna
go to the restaurant and eat pizza until my belly aches.
When the world opens up again, I’m gonna
hug my grandparents.
I told Mommy about everything I’m gonna do
when this horrible virus ends.
Mommy said that when the world opens up
maybe all of us will remember a word that’s easy to forget –
I’m not sure what that means but I know that when the world opens up
I’m gonna say thank you to the beach, to my friends, to pizza, and to my grandparents.
It will open up again, won’t it, Mommy?
Pat Black-Gould’s short stories and poetry have been published in The Emerald Coast Literary Review, panoplyzine, the Pen Women Literary Journal and Mused Literary Journal. Her latest short story, “The Crystal Beads,” published in Jewishfiction.net, won first place in both a national and state competition. Pat lives in Florida and is waiting for the beaches to open up again.