Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

Corona's Jaws: An Anthology of Poetry

Some thirty years ago, a great friend, Miles Donald, an English novelist and literary critic, who lived somewhere in the wilds of the English countryside, invited me to come for a weekend visit. When I arrived, he said that he wanted to show me something in which, he believed, I would be very interested. We walked behind his cottage where there was a barrel shaped structure of indefinite age. When we entered, he threw the light on the ceiling where some of the most fantastic imagery I had ever seen in my then vagabond life came into view. The space was filled with writhing figures, horrifying, and as I immediately understood,  victims of the plague in the 14th century. So, the humble structure that Miles insisted I visit was 600 years old and inhabited by a gallery of tortured souls. The experience was…”sobering.” I wish the hundreds or thousands of careless spring breakers on the Georgia beaches could have seen this before they arrived to possibly infect each other.

— James Hopkins, historian (private letter)

 

José Alcantara: New Love in the Time of a Global Pandemic
for Matt

Like bodies of unpolluted sky,
bluebirds appear in the elk pasture. 
 
More and more of them 
every day.
 
It begins with a fever
and a dry cough
 
and soon the meadow
is flush with blue outbreaks.
 
It does no good to distance yourself.
There is no vaccine.
 
Best to just throw yourself
across the ditch and start singing.
 
When the sun hits 
you will break into beauty.

--

Cynthia Atkins: Social Distancing

My ex-brother-in-law died this week
in the middle of a Tsunami pandemic, this illness
of global might.  And at this moment, when
the world is shutting down of each last concert
and diner— I’m remembering that it was he
that taught me about Jazz. At 15, my friends
listening to Peter Frampton, as I inhaled
Miles Davis, Stanley Turrentine, Coltrane’s
long vowels of sound.  Today, the news is bleak, 
and it’s not too far-fetched to imagine 
all of us breathing with masks on.  We will not be
getting dressed for weddings or funerals,
any time soon—all markers of life—be damned.
Nocturnes in the moon light, where people
are singing Acappella out their windows.
Stitch by stitch, we pick up where
we left off.  Now file this under
biblical or epic---Our daily rituals
parted like an ocean. Invisible venom 
in the snake’s jaw--now, human laws keep us
six inches apart, keep us from touch.
Awash in all our natures, this will be 
the portent of who we really are.  A new normal—
comedians without laughter, jazz without
smoky rooms, burying my ex-brother-in law 
with a prayer and lethal hands.


--

Charles W. Brice: Bottled Lives

We’re living in a laboratory beacon.
            No restaurants
            No coffee shops
            No Nothing
            Avoid everyone by six feet
            Stay in the house
            The backyard’s okay
            Walk outside away from people
Words emailed to our friends
from their daughter,
an infectious disease physician.
 
Judy, my sweet wife,
riddled with arthritis,
pinned and prodded
by a ruptured disk, prepares
medical marijuana squares
garnished with cream cheese 
and brown sugar.
 
I make my world famous self-
distancing chicken noodle soup
(In my apocalyptic panic 
I forget the noodles!)
and my quarantine-special yellow cake
with homemade chocolate frosting.
 
We sit in our porch room,
listen to Chopin,
write poems,
and marvel at how 
shadow and light prism
through our lives.  
 
Like bees captured in a jar
we buzz around,
bump into glass walls,
dream of the world outside.
--

Judith Alexander Brice: CORONA’S JAWS- Week 1
 
 
Yesterday he prowled across the front yard— 
white, reverse-raccoon face— black eyes
peering through the tailored ivy, skinny
tail sweeping back and forth and legs quick-
skittering across the grass, as if to glance,
to search for minutes of food, perhaps
even rest— like that time when 
 
his uncle sashayed along our drive, 
‘til Zorba’s canine jaws made short 
shrift of this thing that so resembled 
a squeaky toy he couldn’t help it, 
couldn’t resist the shaking, the grabbing, 
‘til this strange thing went loose, went silent
in his mouth— then limp, went dead
 
‘til I ambled out to dispose of the helpless
soul in a refuse bag and found
he’d walked away, played possum
in his baby rose slippers,
guided by the scents coming in
to his tiny pink nose— and led by his sense
of life, his instinct for tomorrow. 
 
The beveled windows of our sun-room refract 
a prism of sunlight today, yesterday as well.
We look out at the manicured garden which 
our silent possum left behind, and wonder when 
the jaws of COVID might grab us, shake us.
Which of us will rise again, amble away? 
And will a rainbow of colors be there to greet us,
steady us on our way?

-- 

Judith Alexander Brice: CORONA—  Week 2
 
 
You are so much bigger than I
and yet you cower, even wince when 
my name is whispered. 
You run and shy away
as you think of me, my crown.
 
Though why?
I am so lovely, I say, all blue and pink—
dainty, tiny.
I wear my power softly, 
shed it in silence
 
from face to arm, from breath to sleeve
to lip and back to lung
as I dance invisible from 
tiny drop to vest 
your shroud a desperate peace. 
 
You can’t hide, never run away. 
Forget your fears I say. 
Just seize the moment with
its sway, its solitude and quiet
I have offered, as you await 
my victims, my death 
that will surely come in time.
 
And watch, pause these days, their weeks 
of change, the merge of winter 
into spring, grasp the gold of forsythia, 
its turn to lilac, a scent 
of summer sure to come.
 

Sydney Lea: Balloon and Flowers
                                                                                                                     –for Goran Simic
 
I dropped into sleep while reading a book of poems
by the Bosnian friend I write for here. They’re brilliant,
full of red flowers and graves and wrenching accounts
of his homeland during the 90s. They lend some perspective
 
on our COVID-19 scourge, which I don’t mean to downplay,
much less to discount the unforgivable part 
in worsening it of our leader, jackass and villain. 
Goran’s a Serb, and his wife was a Muslim woman:
 
during the troubles, he really had nowhere to turn.
His poetry makes my guts knot; it’s not a sort 
you’d think of as soporific, but being so anxious
for three generations of family has made me restless
 
almost each night, and so of course I was tired.
I’d been sitting in my wife’s dear grandfather’s rocker,
handsome but sternly wooden. I still nodded off,
and when I came to, I noticed that I had drooled
 
on my shirtfront, like any old fool might do; and yet 
the sun of afternoon through the kitchen window
turned even the spot of spittle to something lovely. 
Unlikely enough, and the next things to snare my attention
 
were a once-vivid mum in a glass and a reddish balloon 
left from my wondrous partner’s 64th birthday,
back before we knew what the world was in for–
although that contemptible leader had been forewarned.
 
Our grand children’s eyes turned bright as my wife blew 
     out candles,
the smaller kids batting balloons like that one up
into air… All that before some weeks unraveled 
and people got sick and some died and that balloon
 
and that flower, sole survivors, puckered and shrank
to half their old sizes and somehow looked so sad
that I went back– it makes no sense, I know– 
to those agonizing poems of plunder and murder.

 

Adrian Rice: Beginning to Learn

 

First walk around our Oakwood neighbourhood, 
down past the silent school and into the cemetery. 
I chose to spend longer in the graveyard to avoid 
the living as much as possible. Not in the way
I normally do, to be honest, just to be alone,
but this time to try to stay away from other 
walkers who might be out, in case they’d worry

we’d pass by each other too close for Covid 
comfort, invading each other's 6 ft zone.
Last time I felt such an unnatural hush
was when all the Irish birdlife suddenly shushed 
as the last century turned with a full eclipse.
As I got back close to home I noticed, 
for the first time ever, a couple of robins

in the middle of the road outside our house, 
pecking away at bits of mossy grass breaking 
through the tarmacadam. The robins moved 
slowly, unfussed, not their normal edgy selves, 
no usual fear of big wheels rolling past.
It’s like they know. Already discern.
What we are only slowly beginning to learn.

John Samuel Tieman: marriage and the coronavirus

today we went to Sunday Mass virtually
we kept thinking of the Danse Macabre
but not so much the dance as the time
before the habit of death has yet to visit
upon us like when we hear the plague is 
in the next village so we go to church 


virtually and think again of the medieval monks 
and nuns and the deacon who understood 
distance from the other and from God and distance
from the violent black bird and the crimson ice cliff
and of a cloister where there are only holy oils
and a breviary in a chapel of terrible blue stone


but for now I shower and my wife shaves her legs
because the disease is just down the street
so we slow dance in the living room to Satchmo's 
“What A Wonderful World” and we are wonderful 
old barn owls in the belfry of our modern convent
all eyes in the dark way up here and waiting

Michael T. Young: Spring During the Outbreak
 
 
My daughter trots into the living room asking what 
the tree in the neighbor’s yard is. It’s a magnolia. One
of those short-lived, early blooming spring beauties.
Malia swings back toward the kitchen, singing, “It’s 
so pretty.” And I think of all those pink hands cupping
the morning light, how, in mere days, they will drop
it all. Something Malia would never let happen. She needs
to touch everything in her exuberance, pull it in close,
which makes our newly instituted afternoon walks obstacle
courses of infection, where we warn her to drop the 
broken necklace she picked up from cracks in the sidewalk,
not to tug at each tag on the posted sign advertising 
a room for rent in the next block. Beside us, my son 
walks a spartan line with hands in pocket. We instruct 
Malia to do the same. Still, before home, she presses her
face to a storefront window, and jumps to smack a stop 
sign on the corner. I think of hands, these most versatile
machines, gripping, poking, finding their way or losing 
and how a priest in South Africa, during apartheid, lost
both his hands to a letter bomb, and was never again able 
to hug those of his congregation, to press his hands onto
their shoulder and reassure them, how our hands reach 
toward a need that has no words, a need my daughter is
desperate to share.
 
Magnolias open,
Malia’s hands, and the world
Holds out to be held.

--

Compilation copyright 2020 Michael Simms. Poems are copyrighted in the names of the individual authors. All rights reserved.

Coronavirus cases in US by county as of 3/23/2020 (NY Times)

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