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Allen Stein: Contact Trace

Well before they pulled the tubes, placed him
on the gurney, draped him with a sheet,
and wheeled him to a quiet gray room
lacking landscape paintings and monitors,
they’d determined that he’d picked up the Covid
while getting fitted for tortoiseshell bifocals
to replace the pair his puppy had chewed
after he’d left them on the couch to answer
the phone call from an overseas scammer
(working overtime to send rupees home
to his struggling kin in Madhya Pradesh)—
the pup, a Wheaton mix, was a rescue,
found wandering the streets of San Diego,
and glimpsed online by his wife, yearning
for a dog ever since their frisky black lab
had happened on a sun-basking copperhead.
The technician fitting his glasses
had caught a dry cough from her boyfriend,
who satisfying a yen for a Krispy Kreme
chatted in line with a man who’d shared sushi
three nights before with a friend just back
from a business trip to Beijing (taken on short notice
when a colleague had to bail after his daughter failed
the bar and talked of hurting herself), where
he and a mid-level manager from Wuhan
took a selfie together over classic gin-fizzes,
the mid-level manager having strolled
through an open-air market in his native city
a few days earlier, freely sampling its delicacies,
including a bit of Cave Nectar bat, not typically part
of the Wuhan cuisine, but available now and again
for those tempted to try something exotic, the bat,
like all in its species, holding, one expert stated,
a “robust and long-term evolutionary relationship”
with viruses for what may be millions of years,
viruses nearly as old as the planet,
which all know took shape with the Big Bang,
which itself, many still believe, took shape
in the mind of God. How that mind took shape
is beyond the reach of this contact trace.


Copyright 2022 Allen Stein

Allen Stein has published two collections, Your Funeral is Very Important to Us (Main Street Rag) and Unsettled Subjects: New Poems on Classic American Literature (Broadstone).

Cave nectar bat (Eonycteris spelea), Wikimedia

8 comments on “Allen Stein: Contact Trace

  1. Timothy Patrick McBride
    November 17, 2022

    Excellent poem!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Louise Hawes
    November 17, 2022

    A Rubik’s cube, but more consequential and lovely. A pleasure to hold and unfold.

    Like

  3. Barbara Huntington
    November 17, 2022

    Thank you

    Like

  4. John Balaban
    November 17, 2022

    Image by image, line by line, we find ourselves inside a plot unfolding in this fine poem.

    Like

    • Vox Populi
      November 17, 2022

      Yes, constructing the poem as the trace of transmission of disease is an interesting way to order the details.

      Like

  5. Sean Sexton
    November 17, 2022

    What a labyrinth that silken strand of verse threads through. Mortality, Predilection, and the Cosmos…

    Like

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