America has fallen

There’s a burnt body in front of my office.
Then I’m playing Scrabble with friends.
There’s bomb smoke rising in front of the mall.
Then I’m at a concert. There’s a long line
for gas. Then I’m at a nightclub.

This is how it happens. Precisely
what you’re feeling now.
The numbing litany of bad news.
The ever rising outrages.
People suffering, dying,
and protesting all around you,
while you think about dinner.

I used to judge those herds of gazelle
when the lion eats one of them alive
and everyone keeps going.

I went to work, I went out, I dated.

We’d pop the trunk for a bomb check.
Turn off our lights for the air raids.
I know people who were beaten, arrested,
and went into exile. But that’s not
what my photostream looks like.

The pain doesn’t go away, it just becomes
a furniture of bones, in a thousand homes.
There’s no launch party for decay.

(From I lived through collapse. America is already there)

How you die

I strip in the doorway when I get home,
stand in the shower too tired to think or cry.
I sing Happy Birthday twice over every
part of my body. At work I can’t eat,
at night I can’t sleep. The dreams I have now
have only three themes: gasping for breath,
wiping things down, somehow, by accident,
being touched by somebody. Did you ever wake
in those last moments, or in your sedation
did you ever dream? I still wake some days
with a small beat like a held breath before
the truth of this new world hits me. Be safe
say the families I call on the phone.
Your name is a poem I’m required to keep
to myself.

This is the day you start to turn.
What we suck up from your lungs turns frothy pink
and then the frank red of blood. There are tests
but no one willing to run them — you are too sick
and you have never cleared the virus. No one
would ever want to be what you are now:
a hazard, a threat, a frightening object
on the edge of death. We try not to touch you.

Stronger together say the screen savers
on every screen in the hospital, the banners
on the sides of the shuttle bus. What I’ll see
is just how much this isn’t true, how so many
of our sickest patients are Black or Brown like you.
I will see a forty-six-year-old Black man,
infected with SARS-CoV-2, die instead
from having a police officer kneel on his neck.
I will see those who protest police brutality,
though masked and mostly peaceful, tear-gassed
and shot with rubber bullets. I will see
your death multiplied by ten thousand,
by a hundred thousand, all those bodies,
mothers and fathers, daughters and sons.

With my arms at my sides, I watch through the glass.
I have never mattered less in my entire life.
And this is how you die, near no one who
ever loved you, a spectacle of futility
and fear. Time is called, and someone calls your
husband, and it isn’t me. I am not the one
who hears him cry out in grief.

(From The New Stability)

Because I have not done any writing

When I wake early I say to myself
Fight, fight.
If I could catch the feeling, I would;
the feeling of the singing of the real world.

Virginia Woolf

In the last weeks I’ve taken up, and put aside,
woodcutting, drawing, German. I’ve cooked
and painted walls and baked. Several weeks in,
I caved and made a sourdough starter (it really
does seem miraculous, the raising of bread).
Watched the lilac, then the climbing rose,
then the honeysuckle bloom. Planted sweet peas
and watched them sprout. I know I am fortunate.
Sat in the small, overlooked garden,
for which I’ve never been more grateful,
with a book unread in my lap, picking up
and putting down my phone, listening
to building works and the radios of neighbours,
staring into this fragrant, sunny, confined
space. I can’t settle to anything.

This is not the time to try Proust again.
I have found brief solaces in Boccaccio’s
Decameron: the people of fourteenth century
Florence spent the plague years holed up and drinking,
or otherwise abstemiously not drinking,
or they lived riotously in the streets,
no longer caring. A group – call it a bubble –
of noblewomen and men retreat to the hills,
to villas decked with broom blossom, and fine wine
for breakfast, and brief, funny, tragic, dirty stories.

I record sudden lapses in time, and languors.
I record the rose, the honeysuckle,
seeing Venus in the sky, at its brightest.
A week passes without my noticing,
and writing the date in the diary I record
my surprise that this has happened. Then
another week passes, and I do the same.

(From I am not reading. I am not writing. This is not normal)

Can you die of a broken heart?

Researchers have looked at what goes on in the brain,
and for lovers and addicts it’s exactly the same.

Those who are newly in love
experience joy in their minds from a dopamine flood.

And it’s this same pattern that goes on in the brain
as that which occurs when you’re hooked on cocaine.

So in the first throes of passion you’re literally addicted to love,
and that’s probably why those feelings all hurt so much.

(From Can you die of a broken heart? Submitted by Ben Mellor)

Man Adrift

He felt at times as if he were still in the Navy,
adrift on the sea, peering down through the vents

the way he used to squint through binoculars
on deck duty, keeping a lookout for objects

of interest. Life in the attic was humdrum.
His motel was a drydocked boat whose guests

endlessly watched television, exchanged
banalites, had sex mainly under the covers

if they had sex at all–and gave him so little
to write about that sometimes he wrote nothing at all.

(From The Voyeur’s Motel. Submitted by DawnCorrigan)

A modern gentleman

Carries house guests’ luggage to their rooms, breaks
a relationship face to face
has read ​Pride and Prejudice, demonstrates
that making love is neither a race
nor a competition. Never lets a door
slam in someone’s face, is unafraid
to speak the truth, arrives five minutes before,
possesses at least one dark suit, well-made.
Can undo a bra with one hand, has two
tricks to entertain children, can prepare
a bonfire, says his name when introduced,
cooks an omelette to die for. Knows that there
is always an exception to a rule;
avoids lilac socks, polishes his shoes.

(From Revealed: The 39 steps to being a modern gentleman)

The very last of something

Sudan doesn’t know how precious he is,
his eye a sad black dot in his wrinkled face
his head a marvellous thing, a majestic rectangle
of strong bone and leathery flesh,
a head that expresses pure strength.
How terrible that such a mighty head
can be so vulnerable, lowered melancholically
beneath the sinister sky, as if weighed down by fate.
This is the noble head of an old warrior,
armour battered, appetite for struggle fading.

(From A picture of loneliness: you are looking at the last male northern white rhino. Submitted by Angi Holden)