Creative: Notes On Disease From a Phone Screen (Ex...

Creative: Notes On Disease From a Phone Screen (Excerpt)

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

downtown tower


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.


Deep breath.


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