North of Oxford – The Pandemic Issue #1

Under the Corona Moon (1)

Painting – Under the Corona Moon  by Belinda Subraman

Thanks to the poets for contributing to The Pandemic Issue #1 from North of Oxford. In order of  appearance we present: Howie Good, Marion Deutche Cohen, Alan Toltzis, Charles Rammelkamp, Gloria Parker, Len Krisak, Ed Krizek, Mervyn Taylor, Carl Kaucher, M. J. Arcangelini, Eileen R. Tabios, Bryon Beynon, Greg Bem, Richard Nester and John D. Robinson.

 

Flight into Darkness By Howie Good

I seem to have discovered my shadow side – a wardrobe with mystery contents, blue and purple and full of leprous spots. Which isn’t to say I feel sad or lonely. Rather, I’m noticing different details. The world right now, mostly it’s news of the virus. We first heard the rumors from travelers. Men: quiet, faces drawn; women: often sobbing. We didn’t believe them. The weather was just too beautiful. We lazed around, eating cherries, one basket after another, and ignored the shrill, jangly bird cries and the elderly stumbling down the road from time to time, buckling under their loads..

Howie Good is the author of What It Is and How to Use It (2019) from Grey Book Press, among other poetry collections.

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March 2020 By Marion Deutsche Cohen
.
“Don’t touch your face,” we’re told, so then my nose starts itching.
And anyway, my face is lonely for my hands.
My hands are lonely for my face.
My body loves itself.
Every part of my body loves every other part.
“Stay six feet away,” we’re told
but my hands can’t get six feet away from my face.
.
.
Two Poems by Alan Toltzis
.
Coronavirus Sky
.
“In Los Angeles. . .air pollution has declined
   and traffic jams have all but vanished.”
                    The New York Times
.
Parting her pouting lips, the sky streamed in.
Blue swirled around her tongue, her teeth,
coating the insides of her cheeks. Jaws clenched,
she swallowed once and then again, becoming
the wild blue and feathered thing
she always expected she would be.
.
Rattled
.
Breath—damp, warm,
rhythmic—rose in small puffs
from the top of my face mask,
clouding my glasses.
.
We had set out
to hike the reservoir,
but the virus closed it.
So we skirted it instead,
edging along narrow curves
of hard-packed, yellow dirt
hemmed between road
and retaining wall
that braced the hillside.
.
And there, at shoulder height
atop the retaining wall,
tongue and fangs locked me in.
The rear half of the snake’s body
slowly slunk back and sideways,
defending itself—an unyielding
cacophony of gravel and rattle.
We veered off the path
into the street. Stunned,
shaken, giddy with relief,
we warned two hikers,
wearing bandanas,
desperado style over their faces.
.
That night,
clouds obscured moon and stars.
We felt their influence, anyway.
The rain started
and I considered three elements
that guide us in times of crisis:
safety, desire, love.
You pulled close, whispering a fourth:
                        witchcraft
and bit my shoulder
hard enough to make me wince.
.
Alan Toltzis is a native Philadelphian and the author of 49 Aspects of Human EmotionThe Last Commandment, and Nature Lessons. A two-time Pushcart nominee, he has published in numerous print and online journals including, Grey SparrowThe Wax PaperBlack Bough PoetryEye Flash Poetry, and North of Oxford. Find him online at alantoltzis.com and follow him @ToltzisAlan.
.
The New Normal by Charles Rammelkamp
.
“Miss Ida’s failing,” Brenda told us.
We’d come across each other
on our afternoon walk through the park,
like a stroll through the prison yard,
our break from confinement,
all of us wearing face masks.
We stood ten feet apart,
on either side of the footpath.
“Marcia mentioned it to me the other day,”
Brenda went on, shaking her head sadly.
“At least it’s not the coronavirus.
She’s just running out of energy.
She’s what, ninety-three? Ninety-four?”
.
Miss Ida was the memory of the neighborhood.
She’d lived here most of her life.
She’d seen all the changes.
Her divorced daughter Marcia lived with her.
.
“She looked like she was losing it
at your Christmas party,” my wife remarked.
“We hadn’t seen her
since your last party the year before.”
.
A jogger came loping past then,
a young guy in shorts,
and we all backed off a few more feet.
.
“So you could tell?” Brenda asked
after he’d passed.
“Marcia’s even talking about hospice care.”
.
“I’m afraid we won’t see her
at your next Christmas party,” I lamented.
.
“If I even have one,” Brenda replied, grim.
“If we can have Christmas parties ever again.”
.
 Charles Rammelkamp is the author of The Secretkeepers, two collections of short fiction, A Better Tomorrow and Castleman in the Academy, and four previous collections of poetry, The Book of Life, Fusen Bakudan, Mata Hari: Eye of the Day and American Zeitgeist. Rammelkamp is is currently Prose Editor for BrickHouse Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. He lives in Baltimore with his wife, Abby, to whom he’s been married for about a million years. They have two daughters and two grandchildren.
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The Line By Gloria Parker 
.
Because no one knows where to draw it, it shifts.
Maybe you’re coughing, have a fever or feel fine.
My Florida friend washes door knobs, wears gloves
to the mailbox and orders groceries over the phone.
The handier ones sew masks, pull weeds from their
gardens, make muffins and critique their poems online.
My brother calls to make sure I’m alive. I tell him I’m
weathering at home, watching the news, sleeping a lot.
We look for the right words: Russian Roulette, crapshoot,
a week of Sundays, a drag.
I find old dust masks in the basement, a half-full box
of yellowed latex gloves in the garage
and go to the grocery store at seven with the other
white-haired; half-armed, confused, in danger.
.
.
Virus by Len Krisak 
.
Submitting to the state’s demands
That tie us to the common good,
We keep our distance, wash our hands,
And act exactly as we should.
Lest we give in to plaguey death,
We mimic feckless Pontius Pilate,
Scrubbing up like Lady Macbeth
To keep our threatened lungs inviolate.
All this although we plot no killing,
Especially murder of a king.
Instead, we scour, contritely willing
An unseen microbe’s vanquishing,
Surely work that must be done
If we’re to say the war is won.
.
.
Pandemic By Ed Krizek
.
Today I took myself out
of quarantine.  The sun
was welcoming,
the temperature mild,
sky blue and almost cloudless.
.
We are walking
on charnel ground,
trying to avoid death
by embracing life,
from six feet away,
.
Reality is the present
as the virus multiplies.
I am not afraid of death,
.
just not ready,
.
yet.
.
Maybe tomorrow…
.
.
Three Poems by Mervyn Taylor
.
News of the Living
.
Where’s Leta, that I may greet and
 hug her, her arms, her face white
with flour. She’s been baking all
.
day, to help her son Curt with the
business. Is the shop flourishing,
the autistic grandchild doing well?
.
I can’t think whom else to inquire
after, except Dudley, who long ago
retired into himself, drew the covers
.
up to his chin, as if he knew this day
was coming. Ah, Leta, I know you’re
holding them all above water,
.
while the floodgates of this virus
open all around us. You’ll convert
your house into boat, kitchen into
.
galley, beds into rafts, blowing into
the sails till your air runs out, then
fanning with your apron, fanning.
.
Day of the Virus
.
Behind a wall, small voices. Children
play unseen in an overgrown garden,
paving stones leading to a closed gate.
They remind me that this curfew is
temporary. They’re safe from the madman
who walks into the grocery shouting
the things that are on his list: bread,
Vienna sausage his mother fixed before
she passed. The wall around the garden
is high. Their game is magical, mother-
in-law tongues for swords, lilies for hearts.
They swash and buckle, have tea under
an almond’s broad leaves. Sheltered
from the disease now plaguing the world,
they sip, using adult words, like devastation.
.
Corona Impromptu
.
In Napoli, they are playing a song,
voice and clarinet, notes flying
between buildings, high and low.
.
It started on a fifth floor balcony,
was answered by the sax on a
seventh, corner condo, and then
.
the chorus, hardly masking tears,
rolling the r’s in Rigoletto,
saving their breath for the rush
.
the flourish of the horn coming
from a ground floor apartment
lighting the kit of pigeons
.
landed on a ledge. Silence ruled
for a minute, and then the birds,
startled, took off, the high C
.
of a girl in a bedroom window
passed on to the doorman,
holding his hat like a tray,
.
carefully, as though a vaccine
had been found for the virus,
as the last note faded away.
.
Mervyn Taylor, a longtime Brooklyn resident, was born in Belmont, on the island of Trinidad. He has taught at Bronx Community College, The New School, and in the NYC public school system. He is the author of six books of poetry, including No Back Door (2010), recognized by the Paterson Poetry Prize for literary excellence, and most recently, Voices Carry (2017). Currently, he serves on the advisory board of Slapering Hol Press. A new collection, Country of Warm Snow, is due out in 2020.
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Two Poems by Carl Kaucher
.
Virus
.
I fear the virus is replicating
in syncopation
to the sounds of 5th street highway
but as the nucleus bifurcates
it sounds like a third grader
playing violin atonally.
The vibrating scratch of sounds
echo hauntingly from an attic window
next door
the light of which seeps into
the mist sopped evening air.
.
It’s an infectious sound
contagious like Covid 19
which perhaps originated in a mutation of funk
swarming in a feted puddle in the gutter
saturated with oil and gross gobs of spit,
cigarette butts and funginated gunk.
This made me think of a TV program
where someone made a candle
formed from hairy ear wax
but, I digress.
.
As I was walking by, I thought
maybe if I just stay on the sidewalk,
keep my line of thought pure
within the crosswalk,
that virus wont set it’s lecherous looks
upon me.
See, it’s more the stuff of back alleys,
the venomous viper of vagabond ways
drifting down the rusted railroad tracks
into low and seedy spaces
moping around the outskirts of town.
.
As the puddle was percolating
a robust feverish scum
that fed the stream of mass communication
haunting every cell phone in town.
And, the violin sounded as a dry cough,
a screech of lyrical lung fungus
working the crowd into a frenzy
just shortly before
they raided the liquor store
and marijuana dispensaries
for medicinal purposes only.
.
Let’s hope optimism is still relevant
and we are being open to change.
Let’s hope the wiring doesn’t fray
and the plumbing doesn’t spring a leak.
Let’s hope that telemarketer
doesn’t phone at midnight again
or that the internet
doesn’t lose it’s signal strength.
Too many beautiful chords have been written
only to be misplayed.
Too many lives are being shortened
for us to protest a return to our trivial ways.
.
Echo
.
He was hanging at the corner
lookin all shifty and suspicious
while waitin for the bus.
Wearin a beige bomber jacket,
metallic aviator sunglasses,
his long gray hair tumbling out
of a wide brim leather fedora
and a big cross hangin from his neck.
Fixing a fierce pathogenic glare my way
as I pass, he says; “How ya doin man?”
I says; How are you sir?
“I’m alright, brother.”
.
Alright then, so
I further on a few more paces,
look back
then ask; Your Covid 19, aint ya?
“Naw man, I’m 18”
Oh Yeah?
“Yeah.”
Like, what have you been up to?
What brings you round these parts?
“I’ve just been hangin out,
you know, hangin.”
Hanging, huh?
“Yeah.”
Then I looked down at the ground,
kicked a small stone around,
commenced a few steps more,
looked up again and he was gone.
.
I knew it was 19
that arrogant son of a bitch
but all of a sudden I get hit
with a rock that some little kid threw
whose sister was sitting in a tree
carving ECHO on the trunk
with a big bowie knife
much too mature for her years
as I suddenly get jump started
by a big mad toothed rottweiler
with salivating fangs
thundering wildly towards me
while angrily barking my name,
blood trickling in my eye.
.
Seriously so,
next time I’ll stay at home folks
for strange things certainly are afoot.
.
Carl Kaucher is a poet from Reading, Pennsylvania who transverses boroughs and cities across Pennsylvania.
.
.
Three Poems by M. J. Arcangelini
.
Magic
.
With Ganesh above the entrance
and a mezuzah on the door jamb,
do I have enough magic to ward
an evil virus away from my home?
.
Do I need a crucifix? A pentagram?
What suggestions have you?
Three witches with a cauldron?
Buddhists chanting mantras?
.
Or just latex gloves and N-95s?
And where can I get those?
Tell me, quick!
I feel symptoms coming on.
.
On the Trail
.
Dogs snarl at each other
One barks “Single file!”
The other barks back
“Where’s your mask?”
They strain at the leashes
Of civilized society and
The leashes stretch taut
Ready to snap at any time.
.
This Morning’s Rain
.
Would that today’s slow, steady rain
could wash the virus from the land,
could wash the fear from our hearts,
could erase the spaces between us,
could erase from the newsfeed the
incompetence of those with power,
could cleanse every surface,
could sanitize every hand,
could make it safe to breathe in public,
could bring our friends and family
back to us from death and distance,
could make it safe to obtain food,
could make it safe to greet a stranger,
could wash the fear from our voices,
could wash the virus from our lives,
with a simple slow and steady rain.
.
Two Poems by Eileen R. Tabios
.
Triggered
            —April 2020
.
Mom and Dad taught me a lesson
that would break then make their heart
leak from their eyes to run in rivers
matching their facial wrinkles
if they learned I not only understood it
well but inhaled it to become part of me:
.
hunger.
.
To be immigrant is to be hungry,
as when Dad punished himself to stand
in line for bricks of government cheese
colored in a yellow so bright it must
have been radioactive. But the worst
is when the immigrant becomes full
-bellied only to remain hungry for
something more complicated to attain
in a new country: respect.
.
Years later, I went through their life-
savings to attain a college degree—it
did not protect me: my husband and I
woke to an empty refrigerator one
day before the next day’s paycheck.
We were lucky; we could have used
a credit card we were fortunate to have.
But he was mindful of beginning to
carry credit card debt; he anticipated
that small card was the wrong step
on a very slippery slope that’d already
taken down many of our hungry peers.
.
We got luckier. In the darkest of depths
of the cupboard lurked one more can
of tuna we swiftly opened and salted
and mayoed for dinner: tuna salad!
Visit me any day since and there always
lurk a dozen cans of tuna somewhere
in the house—a last wall of defense
against any attack, unforeseen or not.
To avoid its expiry dates, we donate
them every year to a food bank while
we replenish our valued soldiers stock.
.
Then Covid-19. We were prepared
but hoping the enemy doesn’t vanquish
our warriors stock. May the frontliners
at the grocery stores survive and may
this battle end soon, end soon, end soon …
.
Teepeed by Covid-19
      —after YouTube video “How It’s Made—Toilet Paper”
.
Cancel visiting Rwanda’s
gorillas for too much You
-Tube videos on pulp
.
-ing recycled paper
into descendants of Viking
wool, ancient Roman
.
sponges, and royal French
lace. But let’s not ignore
the true prize: a chance
.
to learn from what suddenly
makes us cringe from leaves
and corncobs—how we abused
.
other species until, slyly,
the animals remind: nature
has always been Darwinian.
.
.
Three Poems by Bryon Beynon
.
Nurses
.
Think of the humanity
behind the mask,
a gift of patience
for the enormous task;
challenges which continue
to descend on the mind’s calling.
The sublime stars light
you homeward,
guiding the engaged heart
from the darkness
at the inner window.
.
The Balcony
.
For months he lived
inside a room
with two single beds,
cane-chair, table, lamp,
shower, and the air-conditioning
generated at night
when he’d stand
on the outer edge
looking at the polished stars,
thinking of other worlds
turning round like faces afraid.
The silence of his balcony,
with no pollution or sub-zero
temperatures made time
more agreeable.
His sense of order
in life was to survive
as he dialled
a long-distance number,
the one kept inside
his head in case of emergency.
.
The Truck Driver
.
The headlamps burn
into the road
frightening the darkness
into prayer.
There is no security
only a vague memory
labelled with the past.
Each mile confirms
your panic.
You wish to travel home
but the night-rider
has taken over
your mind as fuel
burns in an engine
.
.

Three Pandemic Poems. Greg Bem. April 2020

1

covid

continues.

Every blossoming tree

an aphorism.

Every flower

a world.

Dogs walked

Strollers pushed

Gazes averted

Voices muted

A land of inward seeing

endured breathing.

Through the masks that begin                    to shape,

 define,

 each position,

 each presence.

every love and every distance

2

I spend my time in dreams,

dreams of forms.

A neighborhood of wishes.

A wish list contains

wood, brick, concrete.

Garden beds are choruses.

Flash:

HorrorAwe a fantasy word.

The horrorawe of centering.

Sing:

Pull the nodes from temples.

Cease the electric waves.

Open:

A man I presume homeless

pulls it out and starts to piss.

More:   than words

 than sounds

 written into sidewalk weeds and dust

 with weak sprays of urine and frowns

3

Wishes of rolling traffic

Traffic that sees all and none as the same

Why do we see each other now?

And how, as well?

.

Greg Bem is a poet and librarian living on unceded Duwamish territory, specifically Seattle, Washington. He writes book reviews for Rain Taxi, Yellow Rabbits, and more. His current literary efforts mostly concern water and often include elements of video. Learn more at gregbem.com.

.

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Alone Together by Richard Nester
.
How much does a coronavirus weight?
If one sat on a bee’s whisker, could the bee still fly?
Would the flowers shoo them away
in fear, would they miss them?
Heavy enough, I guess, like poison popcorn balls.
Too many of the sex-crazed devils
crowded in too small a space can bring down a city,
a country. A fleet of lead-lined freezer trucks
can’t haul off our sorrow. We’ve no choice
but to widen our gaps—hearts as big as Wyoming—
or they’ll widen them for us, the narrow bastards.
They don’t wear masks. They don’t read
the Constitution.  Bits of what we once were,
starving for more, with their trauma-circus clusters
of stars. A grain of wheat is the size of a pyramid
to them. Imagine Egypt without cats.
I hear them gnaw my sleep.
.
Richard Nester has twice been a fellow of the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. He has published essays on social justice topics in The Catholic Agitator, a publication of the Los Angeles Catholic Worker, and poetry in numerous magazines, including PloughsharesSeneca Review, and Callaloo and on-line in The Cortland ReviewQarrtsiluni and Inlandia. He has three collections of poetry published by Kelsay Books, Buffalo LaughterGunpowder Summers, and Penguin Love. His reviews of poetry have appeared in North of Oxford.
.
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Three Poems by John D. Robinson
.
Italy: Covid-19: Story
.
He walked into the supermarket
and filled the hand-basket with
food and then queued, keeping
to the social-distancing
guidance:
at the checkout he explained
that he had no money to pay
for the food but he and his
family needed the food: he
was not threatening or
aggressive in any way, pitiful,
humble, even pathetic:
security was called and he
was escorted out of the store
empty handed:
what the fuck would you
have done?
this is a tough one
but I’m fucking soft so
possibly would have said
to the guy look, come back
in 3 hours and I’ll try
and have something
for you and then maybe
asked for donations from
colleagues and customers:
could you have gone home
taking the face of this
man with you?
.
Only When
.
Only when it’s taken away that
you realize the beauty, the wonder
of freedom,
to walk freely,
without fear
amongst brothers and sisters,
it’s only when it is no
longer there, the love, compassion,
the humanity,
the common sense
of intelligence,
it’s only when you find these
things taken for granted
taken away, that you begin
to know what a fucking
hellish time we can create
for one another:
there’s not much else to care
for in this brief life
except for love and it’s
continuation.
.
Thank Fuck
.
The entire globe in lock-down:
supermarket shelves empty of
bathroom/toilet goods, the
panic of not being able to
wipe your ass with tissue
paper, of hand cleansing
cream: shelves empty of
dried foods: pasta and
rice: tins of produce
growing thinner,
vegetable and fruit
becoming scarce but
along with clothing and
electrical goods, the
shelves of wine were
well stocked and thank-
fuck for that small
mercy of comfort
at the moment.
.
John D. Robinson is a poet from the U.K. You can find his most recent collection, “A Hash Smoking, Codeine Swallowing, Wine Drinking Son of a Bitch” here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1073081400?ref_=pe_3052080_397514860
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pandemic
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