Editor’s note: This is a creative piece. The views in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of the 14 East editorial staff.
While we stare down at flat points,
the virus expands everywhere we can’t see
A mob is hyperventilating in a pharmacy
around the hand soap section that’s empty.
Next day, the CDC says that it’s not spread
by hands primarily, but by breathing
From an elevated train,
I see a buffet of men
at the ground of a new
A child at my work coughs hard on our table —
the rest of the tutors and I pause, then we laugh —
we know kids can’t contract this, we know this
My headphones have stopped working:
the wires have been worked out of place.
Any movement breaks the music now.
I shiver under a train’s roar, want to respond
to your text, but I leave my phone in pocket,
drone in ears so as as not to stop the harmony.
We can’t go to work; the children
are chubby reminders of death —
“viral conduits,” the e-mail decided
The parks are vacant on St. Patrick’s Day.
Thousands of green shirts party behind neon doors,
weed n’ juicing themselves weak, immune
I like your hand
on my heart
I’m holding you
your body’s hot
A spoonful of honey went down
so fast I don’t know if it helped
this itchy throat or not.
Spring allergies, I mantra over
the sink. Absent cough into
the kitchen hand towel.
Dizzy in hot shower,
I sing Springsteen for calm —
my heart’s sharp, sides cramp.
I drank tea too quickly.
I’m seeing my sick old man
in an hour, going to your place after.
I play the songs you sent me
while I wait for your text
until my headphones fry
and I feel the urge
to reach out for contact
grey Monday afternoon – when not on our phones, me
and the only other person on this metal coffin double-take
eye contact across the long formaldehyde aisle. I wonder if
she’s visiting her auntie for a bowl of chicken soup too.
and the aunties still gossip on the couch
about last year’s Christmas party.
The kids monkey on the mattress
and land where the carpet’s milk-wet.
Big bro gives lil bro a ride to the station —
waits in prayer ’til the train’s distant.
On a lone respirator walk across the concrete riverbank,
I look like some brown-coated municipal worker
fixing a septic tank. Nah, they’ve all been laid off —
there’s no need anyway, the raw sewage plant
to the suburbs is right here on the other side.
So many sunny cars pass the open window.
Warm spring winds wave in — I breathe them easy,
then tense. The sun reddens, a scowl sunken, inflamed,
thunderheads closing over streets with silent flash-bangs.
Traffic lights, I think, looking for signs of life, but the streets
are bodiless. Hours pass. An ambulance passes, too.
Every movie I watch,
every smoke-throated voice
makes me clear my own
as if the screen’s coming closer
Clicking laptop music by the window for four days,
I’d forgotten how hills have so much dimension.
I’m sprinting barefoot in a floral shirt through long dusk,
fenced-in fields by the sewage plant, distant trains
strange to my ear, as if God has pushed up dials and
has rebalanced the mix — the whirl of reverbed birds.
I’ve not shivered so warmly in weeks. The clouds
are fossils resurrected by their wetness and the sound
of a plane overhead is an intruder — I realize
I’m in the temple of rabbits, collapse on all fours,
giggling, sore, kissing the cold mud, meat
honeyed as the blonde brush by the river.
You are hoarse over the phone — it could be a cold,
you don’t know. I exhale the email, virus in my building,
thinking of the cootie shot I drew on the small of your back.
You tell me not to worry about you, worry about myself,
but my throat is tight as I say goodbye and I don’t know why.
Header illustration by Jenni Holtz, 14 East