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New York, February 2020
As if we knew but didn’t know we knew.
February 29: Leap Day,
an extra day, an ordinary day,
predictable even in being extraordinary—
a bonus day in the old dispensation
we couldn’t guess was close to termination.
When did we start to sense the great subtraction?
Leap Day, then. And I was on my way
to catch a train to go to Tarrytown
(people still had a schedule and a plan,
mapping the hours to their destination)
to run a four-hour class on poetry—
specifically, tailored to the day,
on poems that performed a lyric leap:
the way the mind hopscotches, A to C
or D or Z, a little lateral hop
or skip, a sudden swerve, a syncopation.
I waited for the train. Grand Central Station:
tourists and travelers in circulation,
all of them aimed at some desired location,
throngs chatting, texting, pausing to gaze up
at the iconic ceiling’s constellations.
A pregnant woman in a scarlet coat
posed for a photo with a selfie stick.
Her baby must be six weeks old by now.
Waiting for my train, could I foresee
crowds would soon be prohibited by law?
Could anyone imagine the great hall
would within weeks be scoured clean of all
humanity? Just dust motes in the sun.
Idle tracks. An empty waiting room.
Whoever sensed it didn’t want to see.
That extra day, that ordinary day,
I got where I was going on the train
and taught the lyric leap, as per the plan;
then, tired, happy, bathed in poetry,
caught a train and travelled back again,
retraced my steps. Grand Central one more time.
Maybe make that Grand Central one last time.
Looking back now, I can see I saw,
that Leap Day when we leaped with poetry,
the cold blue morning light, the dappled sky,
the river silver grey as we rode by.
But what no one was prepared to see:
not quite a harbinger, since it was there
already. No, a searchlight raked the air
invisibly, masked by morning’s glare.
That searchlight still is circling everywhere,
and everyone’s a target—you and me.
And yet with the bewilderment and fear,
upheaval on a scale we scarcely see
even though we sense it in the air,
companion to our stunned anxiety,
something else persists invisibly,
something that isn’t going anywhere,
something that is still here.
From Pandemic Almanac (Ragged Sky, 2022). Copyright Rachel Hadas 2022. Included in Vox Populi with permission.
Rachel Hadas is the author of many books of poetry, prose, and translations. She has received a Guggenheim Fellowship in Poetry, an Ingram Merrill Foundation grant in poetry, and an award in literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.