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.