North of Oxford – The Pandemic Issue #2

Rooted (1)

Painting – Rooted by Belinda Subraman

Thanks to the poets for contributing to The Pandemic Issue #2 from North of Oxford. In order of  appearance we present: Ray Greenblatt, Cathleen Cohen, Cameron Morse, Ed Meek, Joan Mazza, Hiram Larew, April Penn, Grace Andreacchi, Mary Shanley, Bruce E. Whitacre, Jonie McIntire, Lindy Warrell, Nicole Yurcaba, Thaddeus Rutkowski, and Mike Cohen.


Three Poems by Ray Greenblatt 
Losing Time
Last night rain tumbled
and ticked down metal drain pipes
making us restive in our beds
glancing the clock numberless times
not certain when we slept.
Today is glaringly
clear, yet, it feels like
the virus continues
to pound on the door.
Meanwhile, nature pushes up
its pinks, purples, golds
and infant whitenesses
as if all was well.
The sunlight in the school
across the street is
the only thing alive.
As the day rotates
the light moves up and down
the stairway forming students
from glare and shadow.
In a classroom it highlights
assignments on the board
now many months old.
Emergency lights
remain on at night
Maintenance wanders the rooms
pushing vacuums at dust
inevitable but
no longer made by children.
The Moments
We sit in a stern little family group
holding hands for grace
staring at each other
trying to absorb every feature
we might have overlooked
might have never noticed before.
Each bite of our meal
we savor though humble.
          This might be the time for lasts.
Let music we love ring through
our brains like fond echoes.
The book we are reading
we have reread but want
to cherish each word
like never before.
Ray Greenblatt is an editor on the Schuylkill Valley Journal. His book reviews have been published by a variety of periodicals: BookMark Quarterly, Joseph Conrad Today, English Journal, the Dylan Thomas Society, and the John Updike Society. His new book of poetry, Nocturne & Aubades, is newly available from Parnilis Press, 2018.
Three Poems by Cathleen Cohen
Pandemic Week Four
I eye my grandmother, so young
in the photo.
She gazes
                 not at me, but
out towards the yard
where blue jays knock wrens off the feeder.
She leans her chin on fingers
spread out like a fan.
Braids cradle her white neck,
a column, a monument.
What now? I cry.
She was 18 during the Spanish flu.
Circuit singer, sent back money
to her mother.
How we children adored her
singing, playing waltzes on piano
as we twirled. She was always
joking, chirping.
So you must have words now!
I implore, but she sits,
elegant, unmoved.
I tug her like a doll
from room to room,
position her on tables, chairs, desk
with a view the window, but
turn her to face
my stricken face.
At first I count
            (each a foot length)
as my mother taught
to measure rugs or the length of a room
when buying a couch.
This was decades back.
But now I practice
                              pacing 6 feet
then venture out, shocked
by blue jays swooping
and the bright red hat
of my neighbor
                        who appears near the hedge
without warning.
He’s lonely, wants to chat.
I freeze like a deer, edge back, measure
       which is not static.
Three teens jog past, safe
at a distance but
they’re shouting companionably.
One spits on the ground.
Is it safe
                  to pass that place?
When will we adapt
to this new way to orbit?
Between Us
As was written,
our trials can be lengthy:
forty years of desert wandering,
forty days of shelter in the ark.
But I also think of Moses
forty nights on the mountain,
cowering at first, shivering
in a crevice, surrounded by
thundering  voice
but ultimately
open, receiving.
He carried back radiance,
a glimpse of presence.
Now I search for radiance
(not in portents or the news)
but in bird flight,
the changing colors of hours,
beloved voices,
prayers sung from balconies, extending
beyond walls.
For walls are temporary, porous
to the  radiance
that must pass between us.

Cathleen Cohen is the Founder and creator of ArtWell’s core program, We the Poets, and a member of ArtWell’s Board of Directors (effective 2018). Following her retirement in 2015 as a treasured member of ArtWell’s staff as Education Director, Cathy continued in a volunteer capacity. As a master teacher, poet, and literacy specialist, she serves as a vital mentor to new Teaching Artists and volunteers. Cathleen holds a Ph.D. in Learning Disabilities from Northwestern University, an MA from Teachers College, Columbia University, a BA from The Johns Hopkins University and a certificate from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.


Three Poems by Cameron Morse
Crucifixion of a Phantasm
Spring rain self-quarantine,
Augustine flays below the scourge
of bodily sickness. COVID-19
the topic of every breakfast, herd
immunity and high-dose Vitamin C,
how you refused baptism
even as your fever heightened.
Christ being nothing to you then
but a phantasm. Outside,
hyacinths purple dank mulch
with their royal robes.
Robins drop to the rippling bird bath
in the light-spangled orchard,
cardboard boxes sogging curbside
in recycling bins. I seize
upon the quarantine to learn the rules
for recycling, the new labels,
and rip the plastic window
screen from a box of spaghetti
noodles. Inhale the cleansing
chill of social distancing: school
closed, reading cancelled,
and today’s sky doubtless is a kind
of phantasm, perhaps even
a phantasm crucified, for all I know.
Its pallor overwhelms me.
Vacuity wonders where the world is
that perched upon its shoulder.
Wonders where the wonder
of the world went. Will anything
I say now make sense to me after I’m well?
Will you clear the cobwebs from my eye
shells? Vacuity listens to itself
in the conch, its own voice
carping from a great distance.
Its fatigue is talking. Shrill
as a crow in hardnosed winter air.
Its fatigue lets the dogs
spill into the house, pounce over September’s
bright new upholstery. Lets its forehead
sink into the heel of a hand.
There is no helper here, Vacuity thinks,
where there used to be thoughts.
The virus is everywhere.
Burr Oak Woods
A walker in black
leggings, pink-dyed hair,
raises her makeshift
mask to ask who stole her car,
where in the woods is
the lost parking lot that holds it.
Worn with cares and fears,
writes Augustine. A screenshot
from Facebook confirms
seven Costco workers COVID-19
where we buy pullups and wipes.
Bethany Falls Trail with Theo
for the first time, my two-year-old
emptying the spray bottle in his
mouth. My body unclenches
on a bench beside the gravel path.
All is stillness in the woods,
the oceanic wind surge, rat-a-tat
blast of somewhere a woodpecker,
faraway rumble of an airplane
lifting its crucifix over us
or against. For each passerby,
I yank my boy into the understory.
For great intervals of time,
there is only us, a single trunk
somewhere is thinly creaking.
Cameron Morse was diagnosed with a glioblastoma in 2014. With a 14.6 month life expectancy, he entered the Creative Writing Program at the University of Missouri—Kansas City and, in 2018, graduated with an M.F.A. His poems have been published in numerous magazines, including New Letters, Bridge Eight, Portland Review and South Dakota Review. His first poetry collection, Fall Risk, won Glass Lyre Press’s 2018 Best Book Award. His latest is Baldy (Spartan Press, 2020). He lives with his wife Lili and two children in Blue Springs, Missouri, where he serves as poetry editor for Harbor Review.
On Pandemic Island by Ed Meek
Now the seven days have become one.
Every day the Monday of a long weekend.
It’s National work-from-home-day.
Call your parents, friends, siblings’ day.
Home school day.
Wherever we are, we now inhabit a small town.
S, we take long, meandering strolls.
Random cars cruise deserted streets.
Weary of strangers, we startle
At sniffles, coughs and sneezes.
We give everyone a wide berth,
Navigating around them
As if we are in boats.
We live in the singularity
Of the eternal present.
Every day like a snow day
without snow. We plan
for the indefinite future
on an etch a sketch

Ed Meek has been published by Dash, Constellations, Blue Mountain Review, What Rough Beast, Red Wheel Barrow Review. My new book, High tide, is coming out this summer..

Three Poems by Joan Mazza
Sonnet for Covid19
Before the quarantine, I made plans
for how I’d spend the time alone at home
with only cats for company. No drone
to deliver milk or eggs. I wash my hands
as soon as I return with what might be
the last fresh lettuce, cucumbers, lemons
for a while. Everywhere—lurking demons
both bacterial and viral. Pity
those who don’t have extra for any extra
food or tissues, would not think of hoarding
Chapstick, dental floss, or Bach recordings,
plus paper books for the coming trifecta
of contagion, solitude, and ennui.
Creating keeps me from going screwy.
Silly Shopping on eBay
Balm for anxiety, we’re shopping online
buying essentials like coffee and chocolate,
wine and brandy for those who still drink.
Booze sales boom during the threat of Covid19
as it presses against a shortage of masks.
I won’t be buying troll dolls with succulents
growing out of their heads, or vintage Barbies
in their original box and clothes for seven
thousand dollars. No tall platform sandals for me,
no exfoliating scrub, or off-the-shoulder blouses—
already passé. I don’t need home hair dye kits
or articles on how to pass the time during
the quarantine. I’m grateful not to be married
to Pence or Falwell or Bundy, or the gun and ammo
collectors I once knew. My days are full, hours
too few. Like other quilters with a ginormous stash,
I find large scraps for sewing masks and make
them reversible. I’d add some silly beads or buttons,
beards of ribbons. But no to bling. Extra texture
might offer coronavirus another way to cling.
No embroidered leaves and daisies like those
on jeans in the sixties, no childish charms will dangle.
I could make bread and rolls shaped like genitalia,
cookies iced with bawdy words to bake my rage
at feeling helpless. But I’m still on a healthy track,
won’t gain back pounds I shed. When I come out
of the world of dread, you won’t recognize this thin
and sober, pale and mindful me in my snazzy veil.
What I’m doing in quarantine that I didn’t do before
My fantasies have changed from a larger house,
tropical vacations and ocean swimming
to shopping at Costco, Walmart, and Food Lion.
In my reveries, I restock my supplies without
the worry of using up my paper products. I stroll
the aisles of specialty shops and choose imported
spices, fresh and crisp broccoli rabe, lettuce,
artichokes, and cucumbers. I fill two carts
without fear of stares or microbes lurking
on the wagon’s handle or in the air. In my best
fantasy, I find everything I could ever want
or need, a dream of organic fresh vegetables
that don’t rot. My trash, including wet cat litter,
disappears as soon as I place it on my porch.
Today I write in that small leather notebook
of handmade paper and a metal clasp, once
too good to use, record my gratitude for my
deep freezer, electricity, and well water.
Every day, I bless the letter carrier, who
delivers packages and mail, and I repeat
my thrill to have the Internet in my house
in the woods. I didn’t expect to be so happy
to be alone without the men who collected
guns and ammo, men who got drunk and found
fault with how I spent my time and money,
except when I paid for beer. I never thought
I’d so easily fall in love again
with my sewing machine, fabrics, thread.
Joan Mazza worked as a medical microbiologist, psychotherapist, and taught workshops on understanding dreams and nightmares. She is the author of six books, including Dreaming Your Real Self, and her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Rattle, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Prairie Schooner, Adanna Literary Journal, Poet Lore, and The Nation. She lives in rural central Virginia.
Spoons or Rakes By Hiram Larew
What we need now
            is glow –
The sort of night that embers make
The sound in nests
         or apples’ shapes
A glow that gives more than it takes
The kind of spoons or rakes
                 that neighbors love
Those shoreside waves that warm the boats
We need the wool of passing years
               or more
What holding does when little’s near
Larew’s fourth collection, Undone, was issued in 2018 by FootHill Publishing.  On Facebook at Hiram Larew, Poet and on
Two Poems by April Penn
Bring a book
I don’t recommend reading A People’s History of the United States
by Howard Zinn during prolonged periods of self-isolation.
I do recommend the book.
It does much to fight against ruling class narratives of history, but
it’s hard to hear the same cries against oppression over and over,
and see that so many died, unanswered,
and wonder what then will become of us now?
How come what can be foreseen cannot be prevented?
History teaches that ideas are not enough.
History is repetitive and boring without poetry.
I am reading poetry while also reading A People’s History.
That’s the compromise I struck
against merely listing off a string of tragedies.
Good thing
I can’t
write a poem on
a roll of toilet paper
because if I could
I would still have to use
that toilet paper
to wipe my ass
and then depending
on who you ask
these poems would be
more or less appealing
Everything that goes in
must come out,
but that isn’t true.
Sometimes pain never
finds a way to leave.
Does that mean that pain
doesn’t enter or exit?
Pain like water colors
bleeding into each other,
escaping boundaries,
self-hood, ah, at last
the artist has to go.

April March Penn is a queer poet who visits Anne Sexton’s grave and conducts tarot readings for real and imaginary friends. Penn’s poetry is published in What Are Birds, The Offing, The Fem, The Deaf Poet Society, Maps for Teeth, Provocateur, and other literary magazines. They have featured in Boston at the Cantab Poetry Lounge, Out of the Blue Gallery, and Stone Soup Poetry. Follow them on Instagram: @pennapril


Viral by Grace Andreacchi
It can’t hurt us
it’s too far away
(that’s what we said at first)
It can’t hurt us
let’s dance, let’s play
When it came closer still
we thought we were safe
look outside! the sun is shining
the world is not coming to an end
that’s what we said
Soon, very soon we were dead
first the old and the weak
then the little children
then everyone else
the earth did not mourn us
only the cats and dogs
for a little while wondered
turned sad frightened eyes
in search of us, this way and that
and then forgot
the birds in their cages
screamed and starved
after that all birds were free
the ocean returned to the fish
the air to itself, pure and sweet again
the foxes moved into our empty houses
made themselves at home
tearing rabbits to bits on the sofa
sleeping in our beds
the lion chased rich prey
through golden waves of grass
the tigress gave birth to sweet wet cubs
in the humming forest
the birds made fresh nests
in the new sprung woods
the earth did not mourn us
greedy monkeys
too clever for our own good
some of us were beautiful
some of us were kind
we perished along with the rest
nobody left to say goodbye
Grace Andreacchi was born and grew up in New York City. She was educated at the Academy of Mount St. Ursula High School, and went on to study theatre at the Stella Adler Studio. A brief period on the stage was followed by the study of philosophy, first at Hunter College (New York City), and then at Binghamton University (Binghamton, New York). Since 1989 Andreacchi has lived in Europe, moving first to Paris, then rural Normandy, and later to Berlin (1994–1998) and London, where she now resides.
A Smooth Stone By Mary Shanley
Put a smooth stone in your pocket
and when you touch it remember
the waterfall splashing at Jefferson
Market Garden, remember the Japanese
Garden in Golden Gate Park.
Remember to take time to sit
in quietude and let the serenity
wash your clean from the images
of global destruction from the killer virus.
Put a smooth stone in your pocket
and remember to wear a face mask
to cover your nose and mouth.
Protection from Covid 19, invisible killer
that will take our lives if we don’t practice
social distancing and stay inside.
Put a smooth stone in your pocket
and live one day at a time. Forget
trying to envision what our world
will be like when the virus is stopped.
No one knows the post virus world.
Put a smooth stone in your pocket
and wash your hands multiple times
per day. Try not to touch your face.
This is deadly serious.
Put a smooth stone in your pocket
and hope the president will have
an awakening an realize how
reckless and dangerous his inaction
towards Covid 19 has been.
Put a smooth stone in your pocket
and hope the president will care
more about life than the stock market.
Put a smooth stone in your pocket
and hope the president will release
funds for first responders’s safety
equipment and ventilator’s.
Put a smooth stone in your pocket
and give thanks for all the health
professionals who have come out
of retirement to stand on the front
lines of the Covid 19 war.
Put a smooth stone in your pocket and hope that
The inept and dangerous president 45 will be removed
from office on election day, 2020.
Put a smooth stone in your pocket
and remember to keep holy your thoughts
about those sick and dying from this virus
Mary Shanley, poet/storyteller, living in New York City with her wife, Lisa Genet.
What I Saw at Station Square By Bruce E. Whitacre
I will walk to Station Square
Though I won’t take the train
Or check out new cocktails at the bar.
I won’t worry about departures or arrivals,
Weather delays or locked waiting rooms.
I haven’t looked at a schedule for weeks.
Tickets crumple in my pocket.
The trackside trees are leafing out without me.
The funny man who pees all the time
Is no longer a comfort station customer.
The pushy lady who grabs the first seat
Must now roll easily from kitchen chair to couch,
I suppose.
            We gaze at screens, not out the windows
Of the empty trains passing by without us
Through a region frozen in emergency,
Of seething hospitals and blinded shops.
Trains clack over the heads of parents juggling children
And accounts unaided and without success:
Too much out of reach; too much passed them by;
Too many cash-earners gone.
Their losses will pull the spikes from all our rails,
Knock the train from the trestle,
And there will be nothing to wait for
Coming round the bend.
I turn back down the silent streets
And walk home from Station Square.
Until recently Bruce E. Whitacre was a nonprofit manager in the theatre field. His work has been published in the online journal, Cagibi, and he has been featured reader at the Forest Hills, Queens Public Library.  He received an MFA in Dramatic Writing from Tisch School of the Arts at NYU and has served as a literary and theatre manager in the nonprofit sector.
Three Poems by Jonie McIntire
Easter Sunday for Cynics
When churches weren’t open
or her legs too brittle to hold,
my grandmother would watch
on tv, read from pamphlets, reread
old passages in a tattered bible.
She found God every time,
from Jerry Falwell to
the cartoons of the Latter day
Saints to the sun on her back porch.
I wake early, Easter Sunday in a
cynic’s house during dark times,
and I check on the robin’s nest
tucked away in a second-story
corner window ledge.
Three days ago, just mud and straw.
Then one egg within a day,
two in another. Now,
three perfect eggs more beautiful
than sky or sea.
Would You Rather – Covid Edition
Go to the local grocery store looking like a bandito at high noon
or have to forage in the back of your pantry for something involving saltines and spicy mustard?
Be stuck at home with your relatives in a house where everything echoes and creaks
or be stuck in a small quiet space with all of your loved ones scattered elsewhere?
Start training for a marathon though the weather is tit-chilling bitter
or make day-drinking a practice you perfect so well you are usually asleep by 7 pm?
Spend so much time with your significant other that you are constantly
fucking or fighting (but both are very passionate)
or spend so much time seeking solitude that here we are in this house together with only our resentments to share?
Third Week of Quarantine
Because we hear
highway traffic
even in the house,
it is easy to think
we can go,
but watching cars from
bedroom window,
he mistakes longing
for love and still
has no idea
if I like green mints
or red.
Jonie McIntire, author of Beyond the Sidewalk (NightBallet Press, 2017) and Not All Who Are Lost Wander (Finishing Line Press, 2016), will be releasing her third chapbook, Semidomesticated, later this year. She hosts two monthly poetry reading series, Uncloistered Poetry and Art & Performance Poetry, and is the poetry editor for Springboard, a teen literary journal. Recipient of an Arts Commission Accelerator Grant, she has poems published in journals across the country and even stamped into cement in Toledo, Ohio as part of the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo’s Sidewalk Poetry series.
Coronatime by Lindy Warrell
How very lucky
you and I
to see the sky
and breathe.
Lindy lives by the sea in Glenelg, South Australia. Her poems appear online, and in journals and anthologies. She has recently published three chapbooks of free verse, evoking the Australian outback, cityscapes, old age, random moments and disturbing things.


Two Poems by Nicole Yurcaba
at times
i feel clandestine
as i whisper
i have information
to the grocery shelves’ remnants
i carried home in a freezer bag
i strip
for Richard Z. Kruspe
while wearing
and a N95 mask
Nicole Yurcaba is a Ukrainian-American poet and essayist, who teaches at Bridgewater College and serves as the Assistant Director to the Bridgewater International Poetry Festival.
Homeless Friend by Thaddeus Rutkowski
I see my homeless friend
(“friend” might be an exaggeration,
but we know each other’s names).
He is where I expect to see him,
but he isn’t sitting on his usual bench.
He is sitting on a fire hydrant
that has a cover: a sort of lampshade
over the knobby top of the pipe.
“They took away the bench,” he says.
We look through a display window
and see the bench inside a fancy café.
“They’ll bring it back out,” I say,
but I’m not sure if that will happen anytime soon.
The bench might stay inside for months,
until the shutdown ends.

Thaddeus Rutkowski lives and writes in New York City. Thaddeus Rutkowski



Four Poems by Mike Cohen
Unable to Make Sense of It (April 2020)
Senses don’t always make sense.
In the midst of the viral pandemic,
you get the sense
of being invulnerable to anything else –
that all you have to do is avoid the dread disease
and you’ll survive.
A middle aged man, walking
along a crowded sidewalk,
steps off the curb to maintain
healthy social distance from other passersby,
and is struck by a utility truck.
His death,
though brought about by the pandemic,
is not attributed to the disease.
Just another senseless casualty.
Humanity and Virulence (March 2020)
Uh-oh! Here comes another of those humans.
Of course, I’m human too, but
I know the human coming toward me
is not me.
And he’s likely loaded with viruses.
Most of us are. And his collection of viruses
is probably different from mine.
Some viruses are more virulent than others, some less;
just as some humans are more human than others, some less.
But I intend to stay clear of this human
and his viruses,
however virulent or human they may be.
Infected (March 30, 2020)
The demon is inside.
Inside you is a deadly virus
or a deadly fear
of a virus so deadly
it can scare you to death.
Either way,
there’s nothing you can do.
Once you’ve let it in,
the demon is inside.
Helpless (March 2020)
The impassive grey sky does nothing to cheer us.
It looms, immovable as the thought of a virus
that hangs in the air between our heads
and the unfeeling firmament.
I throw stones at it, want it to crack
a smile, let a sliver of blue show through,
release a beam or two to shimmer down
and halo someone – anyone – to save us.
But my stones fall short,
come down, each with a thud,
as the grey sky looks on, unimpressed.


Mike Cohen lives and writes in Philadelphia. You can find him at: MIKE COHEN SAYS


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