Thanks to the poets for contributing to The Pandemic Issue #4 from North of Oxford. In order of appearance we present: J Thomas Brown, Emily Bilman, Akshaya Pawaskar, Jason Kaufman, Naila Francis, Donna J. Gelagotis Lee, Linda Nemec Foster, Wayne-Daniel Berard
Hart Island by J Thomas Brown
They come to me, a time-worn island, once more.
They come to me in rows two wide, in layers three deep,
and I am too weary from the holding and can hold no more.
A child, grasping a handful of my grass, once said to a poet:
What is this grass? He answered he did not know,
that it seemed to be the beautiful uncut hair of graves.1
The tides, in unceasing motion, have worn my sides away.
My belly of earth, no longer fit for the task, splits, gives up its secrets.
See the clean white bones on their march into the bay.
Here, the water laps a shoulder blade resting on my gale eaten shore.
Nearby, protrudes the thigh of a Union prisoner who starved in the South,
and here, the ribs of one too poor to pay.
Over there, the jaw of a woman who died alone,
unsaved by burning pitch and cannon blast to scare Yellow Jack away.
Close by, the bones of a homeless man found in an alleyway.
Enough, enough. Today, a backhoe and fresh scrobis2
for the unclaimed who have passed.
May at last their dreams be happy,
beneath the leaves of grass.
1. From Song of Myself by Walt Whitman, 1892 version . . .it seemed to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.
2. scrobis: a trench or grave
J Thomas Brown has had short stories published in Scarlet Leaf Review and Everywhere Stories: Short Fiction from a Small Planet. I am a contributor to Lingering in the Margins: A River City Poets Anthology, Rattlecast, and Grotesque Quarterly Review. Mooncalf, a collection of poems, was self-published as an ebook and as an audiobook by Authors Republic. Two novels, The Land of Three Houses (historical fiction) and The Hole in the Bone (historical adventure fantasy), were published in 2018.
Two Poems by Emily Bilman
Will Covid-19 spread from the fish markets
into a metallic pool where we will mutate
into primordial fish while others remain above
the disintegration of Time? Will we, at last, leave
the bats, foxes, and pangolins in the own
kingdoms, safe from our manipulations
to avoid Covid’s thousand mutations?
Will we slow down our pace as in our
confinement to prevent Dali’s warped Time
from turning the metallic pool into bullets? Or
will our broken Time dry out all the olive trees?
Will flowers mutate into plastic objects floating
on a jelly-sea of brine below the surface? Or
will currents still circulate in the oceans
and clear the air we breathe? In the post
Covid-19 space, will our Time be stretched
into the poem’s eternal present, allowing
us transformative change through
language, rhythm, and thought?
The Stages of Cruelty
1751 & 2020
While a gentleman offers a tart to stop the murderer
The dog is killed with an arrow stuck to its body
While another boy pulls on his throat with a rope.
A youngster ties a bone to another dog’s tail and grins
While the dog tries to catch it. Cats are hung on a pole
And a bird’s eye is cauterized with a stick as boys watch.
The sadism of Hogarth’s slum-boys that turns boys
Into tyrants, in turn, makes men into poachers who murder
Pangolins and sell their scales for medicine, their meat for food.
Bitten by bats, pangolins, traded and consumed for their meat
Spread the Covid-19 virus, killing thousands by lung
Constriction, leaving the rest of us in mute confinement.
Dr. Emily Bilman is London Poetry Society’s Stanza representative in Geneva where she lives and teaches poetry. Her dissertation, The Psychodynamics of Poetry, was published by Lambert Academic in 2010 and Modern Ekphrasis in 2013 by Peter Lang, CH. Three poetry books, A Woman By A Well, Resilience, and The Threshold of Broken Waters were published by Troubador, UK in 2015 and the latest in 2018
Two Poems by Jason Kaufman
Day #1 of Ohio’s stay-at-home order
54,856 Covid-19 cases in the US
780 Total deaths in the US
225 People died today in the US
I bear dim witness
to ticker counters on a phone screen,
the virus’s exponential spread
veering northward on Logarithmic charts.
The endless scrolling of Nasdaq and the S&P
replaced by real-time rising death rates.
I’m out of work and nervous about making ends meet.
It’s week one in quarantine.
My list of renovation projects is dwindling.
Our house gets cleaner by the day.
We throw family dance parties and laugh.
I embarrass myself for the love of this moment.
My wife and I make love like teenagers,
in this room and that.
I wonder why it took a pandemic
for us to begin living our lives.
Ruptures and Articulations
Day #3 of Ohio’s stay-at-home order
83,206 Covid-19 cases in the US
1,201 Total deaths in the US
174 People died today in the US
Is there anywhere on earth untouched by this? Anywhere
inside of you untouched by fear.
McCarthy calls man a lesser God,
insatiable and malignant, whom no ceding could appease
nor any measure of blood,
but I see caped cashiers and superheroes in the stockroom.
Homebound Troubadours singing from balconies
about a dark age, not so long ago, when humankind believed
they were created to serve the stock market.
Have we broken
through to a new truth?
Have we broken
from our legacy of blood and war?
Has this pandemic ruptured the chain of bestial replicas?
Will we stand up out of the rubble and discover we are new species entirely?
The potential of profound change, born at the intersection
of our heart and this burdensome cross.
Jason Kaufman is a poet and visual artist living in Bellville, Ohio. The major influences on his work are fatherhood, backpacking, Post-Structuralism, Buddhism, theopoetics, and mental health advocacy.
And have you cried yet today by Naila Francis
And have you cried yet today, let
your eyes become water become
wonder, become soundless kiss
on the brow of this soft-skinned world?
Listen, in Hanoi, a water tank spills rice
into residents’ bags daily, in Ho Chi
Minh City around the clock.
Air pollution is plummeting, a 30 percent drop
in America’s Northeast, a breather
in the bellowing of tailpipes and power plants
that has polished the sunset to a truer hue
in China, raised handclaps in outer space.
In the oceans, cruiseless and calm, whales
can keep singing, and so, too, the creatures
who glide less stressed, their dreams
of motherhood tucked in the quiet deep.
Today, I read of a coffee shop giving
a month of profits to medical first responders,
a landlord canceling three months’ rent.
The math these days is dizzying, grim:
34,376 deaths in the US, globally 141,452,
in my city 311 new cases since yesterday,
in Italy a generation — gone.
Here, where I write from among them, 22
million unemployed, a shortfall of millions
of tests needed per week to open the economy,
thousands of gallons of milk dumped by farmers,
and still more produce, without a system
to funnel them to the miles-long food bank lines.
But there is also $20 shoved anonymously
through a front door, two young boys
in blow-up dinosaur costumes billowing joy
in their duo of a neighborhood parade, one
85-year-old nurse leaving her retirement
to care for other seniors, 78 children
receiving free meals every day from a teacher
who walks five miles to deliver them.
How else to take the sorrow, terror
if not with beauty, too?
How to keep counting the days
without the moments that gather
in the good, remind us “Here Comes the Sun,”
which is played in a Michigan hospital
whenever a patient is weaned off a ventilator.
How many tears have you cried?
Will they ever be enough, a trail we follow,
from here inside this keening dark,
to where our hands will meet?
First Three Issues
North of Oxford – The Pandemic Issue #1
https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2020/04/19/__trashed-2/ Poets: 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.
North of Oxford- The Pandemic Issue #2
Poets: Ray Greenblatt, Cathleen Cohen, Cameron Morse, Ed Meek, Joan Mazza, Hiram Larew, April Penn, Grace Andreacchi, Mary Shanley, Bruce E. Whitacre, Jonie McIntire, Liddy Warrell, Nicole Yurcaba, Thaddeus Rutkowski, and Mike Cohen.
North of Oxford- The Pandemic Issue #3
Poets: Don Riggs, John Macker, Lorna Wood, Michael Steffen, Matthew Ussia, Belinda Subraman, Susan Champion, Carlos Hernández Peña, Phil Saunders, Arlyn LaBelle, Peter Scheponik, and Ben Mazer