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John Okrent: This Costly Season

March 17, 2020 

Driving to clinic—on the radio a pulmonologist 

in Italy tells of choosing among the dying 

which ones not to save. I picture Whitman, 

wending his way through wounded Union 

soldiers—his democratic nostrils, the smell of dead 

or dying flesh. And in all the dooryards, the smell of lilacs. 

It was gorgeous today, and marked the fifty-second death 

in the Evergreen State. Everyone’s eyes seemed wider 

above their face masks. Fear lends an urgent sort of beauty 

to the days. When he got back to clinic this evening,

Frankie said it was crazy at the gun shop; everyone grabbing 

all the ammo, all the guns. “Business has never been better,” 

said the man behind the counter, whom I picture 

wearing latex gloves the color of lilacs, only darker.


March 18, 2020 

The color of lilacs, only darker—the clouds 

that cover the top of Mt. Rainier this evening  

like a shroud. Another beautiful day. Disturbing 

to see so many people walking the waterfront. 

The fish market is closed. The café is closed. 

The bar is closed. The daffodils are heedless.  

Today, the first death in Tacoma. A woman 

in her fifties. Droplets cover me, probably. My

neighbor veers. Conversation grows heavier by the word. 

In clinic I don plastic face shield and gown 

of goldenrod when seeing a person 

under investigation. The nights grow quieter. 

We no longer hear passenger trains,

only freight trains, and fewer, from our cabin.


March 19, 2020 

From our cabin we keep the world. 

Home from clinic I throw my clothes 

straight in the wash and get in the shower 

before I touch my wife and daughter, 

which means Xela has to hide her 

so Oola doesn’t see me when I come in.  

What I bring home with me: mortality 

and an empty thermos. A hundred and sixty  

new positives in King County. Numbers double 

by the day and will and from the dresser last week’s tulips  

bow their purple, ludicrous heads. This may be the end 

of irony. The sky again so blue it could break 

from blueness. Sterilized, I hug my girls. 

In our cabin we keep the world.


March 20, 2020 

We keep the world, the world keeps us, 

the way the oceans keep the continents— 

nowhere to go now but down, and in. 

Friends and family, faces on my phone— 

pixelated flesh-tones. Are they choking up? 

The familiar cups of their eyes 

overflowing? Or is it just a bad connection? 

I miss connection—the compassion of hands—

the heat of faces. The sharp curve of new cases 

like a sudden middle finger from a fist. 

What if we can’t withstand this? 

Our dog, thank God, tangential as a dream. 

I can’t wait for a time when I say “this” 

and you don’t know what I mean.

Copyright 2022 John Okrent

John Okrent is a poet and a family doctor. These four poems were first published in Poetry Northwest in the spring of 2020 and constitute the first four sonnets in his extended crown of sonnets, This Costly Season, which will be published by Arrowsmith Press in May, 2022. He works in a community health center in Tacoma, WA, where he lives with his wife and two young children in a fisherman’s cabin on Puget Sound. 

One comment on “John Okrent: This Costly Season

  1. Barbara Huntington
    May 1, 2022

    Beautiful and true. Thank you.


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