Thanks to the poets for contributing to The Pandemic Issue #5 from North of Oxford and Mary M. Michaels for graciously providing her art . In order of appearance we present: Howie Good, Robbie Nester, J. Joy “Sistah Joy” Matthews Alford, Ray Greenblatt, Dee Allen. , Dan Brady, Mike Maggio, Michael D. Amitin, Mark J. Mitchell, Rikki Santer, Benjamin Siegan, Anne Becker, Akshaya Pawaskar, Amy Barone, Judy DeCroce and Antoni Ooto, Ben Nardolilli, Jane ‘SpokenWord’ Grenier, Barbara Crooker, Tim Suermondt, Michele Riedel and Diane Wilbon Parks
I board the subway at 72nd Street carrying a metal briefcase like the one that contains secret nuclear launch codes. A busker playing guitar at the far end of the car is trying to make up in enthusiasm what he lacks in formal training. He apparently adheres to Lou Reed’s dictum: anything with more than three chords is jazz. The passengers ignore his musical pleas for attention. They nap. They text. They shed virus. When the train emerges for a moment above ground, the sky looks as if it’s been digitally erased. There are colors in nature that birds can see, but humans can’t.
Howie Good is the author of THE DEATH ROW SHUFFLE, a poetry collection forthcoming from Finishing Line Press.
2 Poems by Robbie Nester
When fear takes you by the throat and
shakes you, breathe slowly. Remember
the feeling of hanging, a leaf on the end
of a branch, in headstand at the yoga studio.
Imagine the weight of an heirloom tomato
the precise shape of a geranium in your palm.
Fear cannot abide such sensations. Shove it
to the back of your closet with your oldest shoes.
Throw open the shades and listen to the rain
finding its way into the soft earth, waking
seeds that have slept in the ground
for months, so they open their mouths
and drink, tasting the air at last.
The 52 Hertz Whale
was the world’s loneliest because no other
whales would swim with him. His song
sounded awkward, maybe too shrill,
out of kilter. He was just plain odd.
Originality doesn’t count for much
among cetaceans. But we humans
are less discriminating, at least about
whale songs. We are listening,
sitting at our windows, staring out
at the empty streets, sure that we
are the whale, or that he is us.
Robbi Nester is the author of 4 books of poetry, including a chapbook, Balance (White Violet, 2012) and three collections, the most recent being Narrow Bridge (Main Street Rag, 2019). She is also the editor of three anthologies. Her poems, reviews, articles, and essays have appeared widely in journals and anthologies.
J. Joy “Sistah Joy” Matthews Alford
There can be no balance,
But amid all the desolation and pain
Lilacs still lift and elate me beyond measure.
Her sweet fragrance wafts across my lawn
As though divinely assigned for such a time.
It is she who still calms, settles, stills my soul,
Slays today’s reality if only for a moment
Taking me back in reverie to childhood
Backyard games and daydreams
Where possibilities danced
Among calming lavender blossoms
Unfettered and unhindered by masks.
J. Joy “Sistah Joy” Matthews Alford is the inaugural Poet Laureate of Prince George’s County, Maryland, U.S.A. She has authored 3 collections of poems, “Lord I’m Dancin’ As Fast As I Can,” “This Garden Called Life” and “From Pain to Empowerment, The Fabric of My Being.” For the past 15 years she has produced and hosted the nationally-recognized cable television show, Sojourn with Words, which has received two Telly Awards for “Excellence in Cultural Programming.”
2 Poems by Ray Greenblatt
We do not wear gas masks
but Halloween masks
nor carry rifles
instead washing hands
and stand at a distance
like slightly neurotic
very polite children,
while people fall dead
all around us;
at least when the V-2’s
stopped ticking we knew
we were in trouble
and could run for it,
but this invisible
silent monster can clasp us
like any innocent clown
at any time on any corner
or tucked in our beds
saying last prayers.
we’ve all been away
from each other
on inner trips
and oh yes
we have all changed
because now we see each other
we see each other
as we never have before
we have all aged
for questions of life and death
have been whirling all around us
so close around us
some will never return
and we wonder why
we wonder why we have survived
we wonder how we have survived
touching places to see
if we are really here
and all we can do
go on . . .
“Ray & Sue Greenblatt were vacationing with family in Delray Beach, Florida in February. All seemed very normal, but when they returned, everything hit the fan! They will always be very thankful that they got home in time!”
3 Poems by Dee Allen.
Streets—Oakland’s 74 miles closed
To cars—Mayor Schaaf prioritises
Two-wheeled exercise and safety
To the extreme. Underground
Solid concrete ghost town.
Hotel rooms—They’d make better
Shelter in place for the homeless than being
Warehoused in close quarters on mats. Existing method:
Good way to get infected.
Shelves—Inside the supermarket—
The spirit of hoarding
Cleared them of supplies.
Long line of humanity outside are in for a nasty surprise.
Nothing left dwelling in the husk for some.
Nothing left but hostility—Blame for sickness
Lands on descendants of Asia.
Describes this reality, re-configured
By rapid infection—Humanity homebound—
There’s no reverting back
To normal after this.
Ten presidents, the residual terror of four
Foreign wars, power outages, outbursts of nature,
A petrol shortage, evictions and homelessness.
I will survive this, even as this contaminated air
World quickly goes
There was a time
When wearing a masque
In public was equated w/ anti-system
Protests in the streets, attending the
Most extravagant, fun balloon
& paper streamer-strewn
Costume ball @ best
& crime @ worst—
It’s the Law now
To throw the masques up.
Cloth covering our faces, concealing all
But our eyes. Looking fresh
From a steam train
Robbery Old West style
Or a Black Bloc
Putting some smash on the blue block
That redlines & forecloses
& holds money simultaneously
To throw the masques up
Is an exercise of
Good judgement now. Invasion of our persons
Held back w/ a new school
Protection spell. Just add cloth
Firmly over nose & mouth.
Continued being assured against
Robbery of our lives
By a thief so intrusive,
Another murderer unseen,
But far more elusive.
For Jennifer A. Minotti
I am grateful for…
The arched roof above my head
The twin rafters with
The twin lights, holding it in place
The four walls surrounding me
The two windows with
The two Venetian blinds, down & shut at all times
The red brick floor below my feet
The wooden shelves full of books & movies
The VHS by themselves & DVDs in clear totes
The Keetsa© mattress I sleep on
The melatonin that helps me sleep
The vegan food in my fridge, a meat-free zone
The fruit & vegetable juices I savour
The filtered water I drink more than tap shit
The hardcover journal notebooks and
The rollerpoint pens I use to express myself
The shower I use, even though I’m a bathtub man
The Hewlett Packard laptop computer aiding creation of
The once and future poetry volumes
The Samsung© TV & VCR/DVD player combo
The little house in East Oakland I call home
The vast collection of political slogan t-shirts
SOMETIMES ANTI-SOCIAL ALWAYS ANTI-RACIST
Remains a personal favourite but
BEING BLACK IS NOT A CRIME
Gets me the most love on the street
But most of all
I am grateful for…
The bus drivers
The subway train conductors
The launderette clerks
The grocery store workers
The farmer’s market workers
Which I happen to be one
The pharmacy workers
The protestors for the rights of all Black lives
The dead and the living
The mutual aid collectives
Giving food, water, medicine and household
Items to the people living hand to mouth
During this goddamn pandemic
And long before
All the heroes
In our service
Seeing to our immediate
They could use the praise
And you don’t need
To be a hero
Just be there
Dee Allen. An African-Italian performance poet based in Oakland, California. Active on the creative writing & Spoken Word tips since the early 1990s. Author of 5 books [Boneyard, Unwritten Law, Stormwater and Skeletal Black, all from POOR Press, and his newest from Conviction 2 Change Publishing, Elohi Unitsi ].
The personal and impersonal
Who denies their chains
Those long-standing claims
From the empires of our past?.
Error driven into fear
Misapprehensions into enmity
Thence to greed and onto war
Corpses strewn … a medallion glints
The long – justice – of silence
The parade crowds cheer
The grim reaper waves …
Supporting everyone’s troops
Midway barkers loud
Angry sky, blusters sweep papers
The Dark comes for its own
One thing I know
About this world’s ending …
No one will see it coming
We saw them
Titanic muscular clouds
Lightning flashed there were eyes
We need to make calls
End this man now, lest this be how
Civilization falls – – –
Today, a tulip trembled in the breeze:
an urgent temptation to bloom.
When I awoke,
it was to the delusion of dream.
Outside, a vicious wind.
Outside, the trees. Fearful.
One moment, seclusion.
One moment, a prickly crown of memory.
There’s nothing we can’t touch.
Nothing we can lay a finger on.
Sweet dove, waving from the wilderness,
wherefore this social distancing?
In a moment of delirium,
I journeyed to my mother’s grave.
Nothing on the horizon.
Not even a ghosting of sun.
2,000,000+ sick. 200,000+ dead.
I cannot count to infinity.
One dark night, I witness my reflection
taunting the reaper.
Michael D. Amitin
Sad Spanish strains
All dissent quiet
Church mice sleeping
Papers run you around
Papers to walk the dog
Police looting city blocks
Forgotten masquerade masks soaking in
God forsaken puddles
Gloves, skeleton mud runners
Double fried kisses, canned peaches and mist
Embraces on hold till a
Magic clock-strike twelve
Poets creak, Paris pastors reach,
The abandoned plunging
hollow cold-ice streams
With great introspection
Masses ponder the great dissection
Easter bunnies screw in tournesol sheds
The bum rap meds, no one to touch his hand
Lab rats grin as the mother
of all vaccines warms to the
Resounding orchestral death march
We stay together Keep our love
Hide in the never heard of
Knit our threads, bake our breads
Sing our songs, read Walt all night long
Nurses, doctor helping hands
Stave off the storm with clothespins
Nature heals, as the wheels roll off the highway
Rest like tires in a wilted roadside graveyard
Shutters flailing viral winds
Mind eye flashing gold
Designs of maladroit wine boats
Rocking ship shake harbors
On my droopy curtains
Sweet Suzy muse never forgets my address
Drops off provisions
Flipping bad luck coins
Like hot cakes griddle bound
To the sunrise…
Kind of blue nights
Late winter Paris
Mother earth freaking
Miracle balm on our last sundown legs
Used to trip on window pane
Now it’s tryptophane
Sleep away this nightmare, nevertheless
Ship ahoy, mates!
Jesus came down in a chariot
2nd coming time
Walls shaking, the frame was hot
big cigar chief told him
cool it with that riff of peace
we’re the visigoths..
the meanest band in town
We’ve chucked the wafers for the great vaccine
Dissolves on your palate- a king’s tongue in his queen
wail in the water
The great hereafter filled with brothels
n’ laughter, Louis playin’ the West End Blues,
Ay ye merry moutons
Line up, don’t ya’ cry
Take a shot, be an astronaut
A fireman to boot
Poet and musician, Michael D. Amitin travelled the roads of the American West before moving to Paris. Recently named International Beat Poet Laureate 2020-2021, Amitin’s poems have been published in California Quarterly, Poetry Pacific, Cajun Mutt Press, and others. A current collaboration with Parisian photographer Julie Peiffer has given rise to the “Riverlights” project.
Mark J. Mitchell
Mass in Time of Plague
(For Interior Choir)
After Haydn, Mass in Time of War
Let mercy roll like fog through every home.
Show mercy to all that can still see.
Let mercy flow to the known and unknown.
A slow silence drips from each untrimmed tree
And that gray chill touches each of your bones.
Show small mercy to all that you still see.
This morning love flows from a telephone.
Take that for now. Birdsongs and humming bees
Fly like mercy you’ve shown the known and unknown.
There’s more mercy than you’ll hope to see.
Let mercy flow into your sealed home.
Accept this gift: Mercy. Mercy. Mercy.
All your glory’s hidden by folded masks.
Pay no attention to the broken sky.
Count steps to the sidewalk. Savor the climb.
You must rise and converge. Everyone stand.
All that glory’s hidden by hand-made masks.
Soft fingers are unused to homely tasks.
Fold your sorrows now. No reason to cry.
Taste glory’s salt on your tongue. That scoundrel time
Must fall. Cover your face. Cover your hands.
Pay no attention to that broken sky.
Every word—even this—is a lie
And your glory’s hidden by fragile masks.
Those small slips, tiny errors—they are not crimes.
Cool morning sun cleans you. No, soft winds fan
Low clouds to the ocean. There’s nothing you lack.
Pay no attention to our broken sky.
Count the steps pavement asks you to climb.
So now—rise and converge. Now! Learn to stand.
3. Qui tolis peccata mundi
(You who take away the sin of the world)
If you can replace the half-missed good-bye,
Then carry this prayer.
If you can separate the masked from the wounded
Then spill us some mercy.
If you can change boredom to devotion
You’re welcome to these prayers.
4. Quoniam tu solo Sanctus
(For You alone are holy)
Solitude is not holy.
Absence is not holy.
Noise filled voids
Are never holy.
If you are holy,
It’s time to climb down.
Don’t make us
Beg for grace.
Now—believe that dry cough’s perfect. Your last.
You’ll be sent away—now—we all believe—
To die alone. There’s nothing worse. We’ve learned
That breeze can kill. A stranger’s naked face
Means an end of time, but a cheap cloth sieve
Means hope. We believe this is what we’ve earned.
On empty streets—each and each—hides a face
That bears harm. We walk through an open sieve
Of foot traffic. We dance, slide, duck, we weave
Away from touch, sure it would be our last.
We don’t know why. But it’s time to believe
In threats we don’t see. We believe that a turn
Is coming. Even end times have an end.
We watch for sweat. That ill-omen of heat
Will find us—even believers. There’s no sieve
Fine enough for health. We believe retreat
Is carrying a battle forward. Terms
Enter our speech—spells and charms we believe
Almost true. We believe this cannot last.
We believe love, but we’ve forgotten her face.
The end, we believe, in the end, we burn.
Bless silence, bless absence, bless our closed doors.
No exit is not a cell. We’ll learn to pray.
We’re intimate with windows, acquainted with floors,
blessed by silence, broken absence, stiff doors
with loud hinges. Now’s not a time for more
anything. Sit still, let ghost priests say,
Bells silent. Bless absence. Close doors.
This exitless cell is yours. Pace and pray.
7. Agnus Dei
Bored lambs in a pen, we pray,
Take away sins we desire.
Softly enclosed, old lambs we ask,
Save us from desires we fear
We are, all of us, lambs of time:
Grant us peace.
Mark J. Mitchell’s novel, The Magic War appeared from Loose Leaves Publishing. He studied at Santa Cruz under Raymond Carver and George Hitchcock. His work appeared in several anthologies and hundreds of periodicals. He lives with his wife, Joan Juster making his living pointing out pretty things in San Francisco until the pandemic hit.
2 Poems by Rikki Santer
Coldest nights on record
tucking in the impatiens
with tattered thermal blankets
& days with a bad taste that rattles
like cod loins freezer-burned.
Brylcreemed ideas from a dangerous
podium, viscid shipping & handling
my emotions to the front door
landing me in moods for reduction.
The granular seepage of time,
my mind too near to itself.
I am a tiny balloon chasing
its string, dandelions shake their
heads, toss seeds to the squalls.
The train, a wailing pronoun in the dark breath of night
when quarantine responds to quarantine and I ask myself
how do I get from here to the rest of the world
or scale a kinder incline beyond the noise
above this jittery, jumbled ground
my eyes rheumy with incessant news, lips dry
from the briny kiss of pundits.
Words gather to call upon landscape,
sleep a foreigner who keeps me up under a swollen moon
and I am weary of suggestions for further study
pregnant glossary of regrets,
and I am wedded
to my weary couch denuded in its binocular view.
The braying train again in periphery
its skein of myth and fable trails behind
spectral thresholds blinded by the winds,
a wolverine in my lap,
skulls dangle from trees
this tasseled place dead air
of press conference somewhere between scorched earth
and uncharted territory.
Train cars stuffed with under-songs of tarnished narratives,
clouds pinched across the much midnight sky.
Publications including Ms. Magazine, Poetry East, Slab, Crab Orchard Review, RHINO, Grimm, Hotel Amerika and The Main Street Rag. Santer was awarded a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Santer’s eighth collection, Drop Jaw, was published this spring by NightBallet Press.
American Summer, 2020
More record-breaking heat. With it comes assailing storms—sable skies peppered with bursts and cracks of bluish-white along with a torrent of rain and swells of harrowing wind. God help us when hurricane season hits. The downpour subsides as I prepare for my trek to work. More violent precipitation is predicted at day’s end, but for now, sultry air and ashen clouds prevail.
I check the traffic report. Another Black Lives Matter protest in midtown—collective calls for dignity, equality, compassion, and justice. Although traversing the assemblage will add time to my commute, I’m nothing but supportive of their efforts. I marched with them during the strife-ridden spring. But despite the need for systemic change coalescing with a looming, unmitigated plague, the job beckons—reopen in service of the plunging economy as sickness spreads.
News radio provides updates during my labor-bound drive. The President offers misinformation, contradictions, and snide, racist remarks. The Governor has nothing but empty platitudes and prepared sound bites. The Mayor conveys desperation, urging those who can to stay at home. But rent needs to be paid; money is required for food. Electricity, water, phone, car, and internet—their fees are indifferent to the virus. I also need to keep the digital distractions funded. I’m not too proud to admit that I might go mad without them.
Close to my destination, another obstacle—an angry throng making their way to City Hall. They wave Confederate flags. One banner features a crudely-drawn swastika. Some brandish pistols and assault rifles. They elevate signs with an amalgam of messages: All Lives Matter, Jesus Supports the 2nd Amendment, Open the Bars, Hilary and Obama—Partners in Treason, Quarantine=Socialism, Destroy the Deep State, I Need a Haircut, Re-elect Trump—Keep America Great, Protect White Heritage, COVID is a Democrat Hoax, Save the Aryan Race. Quite the pack of dangerous, hateful, morons, spreading ignorance and disease—a source of figurative and literal pollution. No doubt a few members of this despicable mob will venture into my place of business, requiring me to hold my tongue to continue employment and hold my breath to stave off illness.
Upon arrival at work, I put on my mask—a thick, garnet-colored cloth shield that spans the entire lower half of my face. The supervisor is required to provide a flimsy, disposal covering to those without. They fit poorly and frequently slip below the nose when speaking. I’m thankful I was able to procure my own washable, protective gear during the early phases of the pandemic. For once, being a paranoid germaphobe proved beneficial. My temperature is taken in the back room, out of public view, to confirm it is within normal parameters. I’m asked if any recognized symptoms are being experienced and affirm my healthy status. Industrial, indigo latex gloves are issued before I’m sent to the floor.
My assigned tasks have increased greatly from the Pre-Coronavirus era. In addition to my regular responsibilities, I must also enforce the company’s safety policies. Statutes are fluid, shifting from week to week. As of today, no one may enter without some form of mask, patrons must remain more than 6 feet apart from each other at all times, and the moving of tables and chairs is prohibited. Most are compliant, but there are always a handful who argue—labeling me a fascist, an oppressor, a violator of their rights and freedoms, with occasional bouts of screaming and swearing. Some acquiesce. Others make a scene before leaving and vowing never to return. My skin has grown thick. The insults and accusations fail to garner a reaction. I just repeat the stipulations in a detached, neutral tone and carry on.
The verbal abuse is much more tolerable than the cleaning mandates. After each customer has left, I must scrub down any surfaces they’ve touch with a pungent bleach solution. Bathrooms are scoured with disinfectant every hour. The chemicals sting my eyes. Sweat constantly pours from the brow. The perspiration bleeds into my pupils, making them constantly burn. I’ve taken to wearing bulky, lab goggles during sanitation duties. My peers mock me, but their ridicule pales in comparison to the harsh bite of noxious fumes.
The evening delivers its promised deluge. Drops of water spatter against the window with frenetic intensity. Physical and emotional exhaustion sets in. A final cleansing is administered, a complete sterilization from top to bottom. The tip jars are divided equally— a little, well-earned financial boost until my next paycheck is deposited.
I press through the turbulent weather that veils the moon and stars and casts night in its darkest incarnation. I opt for music on the return trip, drowning out detonations of thunder with the roar of guitars. A late, microwaveable dinner, one episode of a mindless television show, and I’m drifting into sleep—knowing I’ve done my part, made my contribution, to this horribly aberrant version of reality. I may not be saving lives, but I’m keeping people caffeinated. Such is the vital role of a barista in the summer of 2020.
Originally from Chicago, Ben Siegan had the good fortune of being influenced by the expansive literary and theater culture the city provided. While his career is that of an elementary educator, he has always dedicated his limited free time to the craft of writing. Siegan’s works have included collections of poetry, prose, material for the stage, and even a full-length rock opera. Now having settled in Virginia for the last decade, it is his hope to continue increasing efforts toward professional writing aspirations.
2 Poems by Anne Becker
Depression era glass
words cocked up
spill over the damn
in quarantine: fear our
human fellows, hope
to thread the labyrinth of
viral particulates hang
suspended, cling to
long—how long—left to our
own devices our fingers
hands full of lattice-like
molecules, traffic streams by
birds crazy at first light stake
their claims to the over story,
each house of bark, of leaves,
web of terrible green pollen
germ cell, extravagant
procreation, snore and
beep of nuthatch, happy
jeer of jay, flash of red—
of blue—gold finch cry
their desire for potato
chip, for chicory, the rust
wren for tea, little brown
jobs we strain to identify
all the egg blue shells
break before we cross
the path, deer stands at
you reborn—know I’m safe—
bounds past, in the air we
breathe, frightened and angry
there’s nothing we need do
queue of bright images—blink—
blink blink—blink—cry wolf,
cry whale, all the animals we
care for, foxes domesticate
themselves—same old traffic
sounds, sad coo of the train
clacks in the distance
eats us, breaks our
bread, its leathery crust,
slip crumbs beneath
dreadless masks, dust settles
old scores, dishes left
As when my son, first extruded
from the tissue that formed him,
head reluctant to quit the muscular
membrane that kept him safe,
unsure of the emptiness into which
he might fall, he and I are all about
food, and sleeping and waking—
but now no protest cry when we’re
hungry or desire sleep so much
we can taste it under our eyelids.
Now we cross town on asphalt
pathways to reach each other—
young bucks, their small rack
of antlers smothered in velvet,
step from the sheltering woods
to watch us pass—his beard
scraped away, his chin raw.
And I want so badly to swab A & D
ointment—the cure-all of childhood—
on the redden and blistered skin
of my son. Although the chin is not
plush and inviting like the silken
round of the bottom, and I’m not
allowed to claim his body with
comforting, probing hands the way
I once did when I didn’t have to admit
our distance: my one cell, divided
and divided again and again, had
become him—not me. And, anyway,
in this time of deadly virus, we don’t
hug, we don’t kiss—although
because of his neuroatypical sense
of touch he has never liked the light
feathering of fingers on his flesh, he
doesn’t embrace often—like his
father—and his grandfather, my
father, before him—and when he
does, it’s a quick, hard press.
Anne Becker, poet and paper artist, leads a workshop, Writing the Body, for those who have experienced life-threatening or chronic illness. Her poems printed on her own handmade paper have been exhibited in the US and in Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada. She is a poetry editor of Burgeon, an arts journal based in Washington, DC.
Politics of nature
River by the city
is finally breathing
unmasked and sheer
free of the murky veneer.
The peacock flower
has shed its flames.
It stains the tarmac
with colors of a once
On driving down
these concrete woods
a Sign post
reads -go slow
And even the pigeons
teeter on their
learning to walk
their wings tired,
of being chased
empty roads inviting.
We sit at home
connected by wires,
cables and Ethernet
afraid of being tangible,
while the dogs continue
to lick their paws clean
and each other dry.
The buffaloes walk
in herds less than
a meter apart,
Six feet are for
humans, single files
are for the convicted.
When the tables turn
the entitled animals
become caged and
the caged ones
find an amnesty
a freedom though
of numbered days.
Akshaya Pawaskar is a doctor practicing in India and poetry is her passion. Her poems have been published in Tipton Poetry Journal, Indian Ruminations, The Blue Nib, North of Oxford, Rock and Sling, Shards and Red Fez.
Orange-yellow flare on the horizon.
Trees still shrouded in night.
Relief at the gift of more hours.
Summoning angels to flex their might.
From towers of closed churches, bells chime.
Amy Barone’s poetry collection, We Became Summer, from New York Quarterly Books, was released in early 2018. She wrote chapbooks Kamikaze Dance (Finishing Line Press) and Views from the Driveway (Foothills Publishing.) Barone’s poetry appears in Local Knowledge, Paterson Literary Review, Sensitive Skin, and Standpoint (UK.) She lives in NYC.
Judy DeCroce and Antoni Ooto
coyote wind sighing
over the sill—
what is not done, wastes,
as every hour stalls scattering
in time, in place
a foreign breeze,
hitching a way in
messenger in a gale,
seemingly empty yesterday
yet rock-solid—leaning forward
A time of extremes; late and clearer,
sharp shadows of loss.
Indecision and reflection, as night
rests on other ages.
Fate holds all the cards
shuffles with slight-of-hand
and deals out lives
into unknown places.
While few small moments remain.
Internationally published writers, storyteller and educator Judy DeCroce, and poet/artist Antoni Ooto are based in Upstate New York. Married and sharing a love of poetry, they gather inspiration during their morning poetry sessions. Over a pot of coffee, they listen, critique, and revise their work.
Knowing the Vine
Trying to bring the outside inside, and what better way
than to become a primitive agriculturist?
some plants on the balcony, some flowers in the kitchen,
maybe a tree will grow rootless in a bucket
in the middle of my room in the middle of Brooklyn
Forgive the changes in spaces, and alterations in spirit,
my body’s not a temple anymore and palms
won’t give me the future, whether they hold cards or not.
Time to get working on a fertility cult, right now
it’s not clear if this God is shaped like a man, or a bull
What flourishing! I can already smell the succulents,
and yes, some crops are for my consumption,
smoke and sauce, I make them both thanks to my growth,
it’s a wonderful way to recycle when the street
is too sick to walk on, and only good for running away
Ben Nardolilli currently lives in New York City. His work has appeared in Perigee Magazine, Red Fez, Danse Macabre, The 22 Magazine, Quail Bell Magazine, Elimae, The Northampton Review, Local Train Magazine, The Minetta Review, and Yes Poetry. He blogs at mirrorsponge.blogspot.com and is trying to publish his novels.
Jane ‘SpokenWord’ Grenier
My f*cking Virus poem #1
in the city of the undead
6 ft apart
your cough I dread
where’s your mask
get the fuck away from me
I’m busy not touching groceries
locked down in my room
as the heroes’ work through doom and gloom
in the city of the undead
we wait instead
there are corpses
death by viral sources
all looking for protection
orange man boasting perfection
death from oblivious discombobulation
Jane ‘SpokenWord’ Grenier’s performances range from the Whitney Museum w/Cecil Taylor, to festivals, libraries, slam lounges, galleries, clubs, busking street corners and living rooms everywhere. Publications: 2 books of poetry w/art and audio – Word Against the Machine & Tragically Hip; Good Housekeeping, Boston Magazine, Boston Globe; anthologies: Rogue Scholars Express, Bonsia Publications, Oh-Wow Publications, and the National Beat Poetry Anthology’ 2019.
3 Poems Barbara Crooker
I wish I could quiet the voices
in my head, the ones with the projected
infection rate, the viral spread, the body
count. It’s been three months
since I’ve seen my grandkids,
except on a screen. My county
is still under lockdown, and there’s
a curfew, which really doesn’t matter,
as there’s no place to go. This is not
like a blizzard or hurricane, some
outages, then the storm passes.
This is the season of subtraction,
as faces of friends disappear.
What items will be gone
from the grocery store this week?
Popcorn, flour, hand sanitizer, yeast?
But spring has returned,
and bare sticks break out into blossoms:
azaleas, rhododendrons, mountain laurel.
The grass has spread a plush carpet,
and orioles gorge on sweet orange slices.
Maybe these are the good times,
with darkness to follow? My skin sings
whenever you touch me. Hold me,
my darling, as long as you can.
And so this day is like every other,
beginning with coffee and ending
with wine. But with nowhere
to go, and nothing to do, I’m
going to take my time, sit
in the morning sun and savor
the darkness, black and bitter
In the larger world, terrible
things continue to happen.
Here, the only action
is the hummingbird zipping
and sipping sugar water,
jazzed on sweetness, in love
with the sun. In the herb
garden, lavender, rosemary,
sage, thyme release their scents
as the heat rises. The implacable
sky is laid down with a paint roller.
Schedules and deadlines no longer
matter. If a small chore needs
to be done, we do it; there is
no later, only now. We miss
our friends, see our neighbors
only at a distance. There isn’t
any news to share. The sun
traverses the sky, the day
passes, just like the one before.
Soon, shadows will lengthen,
and the stars will print
their reports in the dark,
which echoes the consolation
of wine filling my glass. I
remember to thank the grapes,
crushed on my behalf.
Tomorrow, we’ll do this
all over again.
NOVEMBER 18, 2019
I didn’t know it then, but this was the last good day.
I was in the glittering city, visiting an old friend.
We walked on a busy street to the 9-11 Memorial,
the gold of late November reflected in the glass
windows, the water’s mirror. Ate dinner
in a crowded restaurant, so close to the next table,
we could have joined their conversation. Traded
bites of pumpkin tortellini, scallops in wine,
shared a crême brulée. Sipped a bit of wine
from each other’s glass. Rode the subway.
Grabbed the last two seats for a sold-out show,
then strolled Times Square, bathed in the neon
glow. We didn’t realize then that these were things
we would not do again. That life would become:
An Emergency Room, An Isolation Ward,
An Abandoned Mall, A Shuttered School.
That this was as good as it would ever get,
and that the rest was silence.
Barbara Crooker is the author of nine books of poetry; Some Glad Morning (Pitt Poetry Series) is her latest. Her work has appeared in many anthologies, including The Bedford Introduction to Literature, Commonwealth: Contemporary Poets on Pennsylvania, The Poetry of Presence, and Healing the Divide: Poems of Kinship and Compassion
2 Poems by Tim Suermondt
Counting the Beautiful Days
And there are a lot of them,
hanging on despite the discontent
and absolute horrors of the long
months we’ve had to deal with.
I walk the quieter city streets,
keeping my distance only because
I have to, but I feel the ghosts
of thousands in the very air, readying
for their moment to create
a crowd, become flesh and bone
again, surprising themselves at how
crowded, often dirty subway cars
hold a sparkle, a small beauty after all.
Left to the Sailboats
The birds follow me until
they realize: he plumb forgot the bread.
I go left to the sailboats, just a few
bobbing around on the water, more boring
than inspiring, how I miss the great ships.
Where did they go? I ask America—
I know she’s here, somewhere.
Tim Suermondt is the author of five full-length collections of poems, the latest Josephine Baker Swimming Pool from MadHat Press, 2019. He has published in Poetry, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, The Georgia Review, North of Oxford, Bellevue Literary Review, Stand Magazine, december magazine, On the Seawall, Poet Lore and Plume, among many others. He lives in Cambridge (MA) with his wife, the poet Pui Ying Wong.
2 Poems by Michele Riedel
“The caged bird wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he open his throat to sing”
Flat on my back,
feverish and faint, I dissolve
into the dark corners of tallying symptoms-
splintered lungs, lost breath.
Cell phone buzzes—
George Floyd, George Floyd!
I want to shout out in solidarity
across this broken land
but the scratch of bent birds
in their cages
press into my chest with every
clawing cough. My pillow
Is hard pavement.
I push into the tarred fear,
the sear of every swallow,
try to hold breath 8 minutes—
the pulse pounding torment
of no reply.
Basketball in hand,
a scared teen
chances to cross a street
disappears into the night
of no reply.
Someone’s mom in ICU
another alone in ER,
a nurse without PPE
all cry in the dark night
of no reply.
A man shelters
in place under park bench
in the dark night
of no reply.
I black out my screen,
take a picture of the night
starless and shadowed,
wait for morning light—
think about how a cloud
shifts and a piercing light
how wings touch in flight,
silvered and soaring
and scarred throats find
You are eating chips in your
I lie that they can see.
You belch, knees and ankle poppig
as you land on your mat;
phone blinking like emergency flashers.
A moan as your shoulder bends
stiffly in cobra pose.
You finally ignore message alerts
as we move into bridge pose
while Abbycat brushes our legs extra
slowly with her whiskers.
The instructor reminds us to breathe deeply.
I razzle my exhale
trying to sound like Lauren Bacall.
We windmill into three legged dog.
only legs and feet viewable—
look lost in each little meet up box.
I marvel how she manages, re-images
moves us from space to connection.
Put your head on straight!
I adjust my neck.
She says it again and I laugh—
you tell me to be quiet
Soon, our minds are lost somewhere
between couch and ottoman.
Two minutes into deep relaxaton
Sunlight falls through skylight
softening shadows, muting your edges
In this moment, you are illumine,
Michele has been published in Streetlight Magazine, MCV Literary Messenger, River City Poets Anthology, versewrights.com, thebezine.com and has a poetry blog at www.wordpalettes.wordpress.com
. She loves to attend critiques, workshops and open mike events and has found a supportive community with River City Poets. She taught Reading and ESL (English as a second language) in elementary schools and loves the written word.
Diane Wilbon Parks
What If There is Light at the End of this Pandemic?
the air splinters and bleeds into a hush
that swallows whole – its prey,
that spits out a rosebud of bones and broken wings.
we attempt miniature flights,
but fall back to weightlessness
into silk strands of what was,
into January’s cold white winter
when fingers were allowed touch,
when breathing was not caged.
what if, what was, could be again,
and if, hope could stay, longer?
The air’s staggard breathing
opens up crowded rooms,
Covid’s pale white ghost
blows into consenting lungs
that are born to breathe, to carry,
this haunting pandemic
crouches in waiting rooms
searches for light
to dim its flicker
and sinks deep
in the earth at dawn.
what if we could loom
into what was
and open its silence,
wipe clean this virus,
this racial divide?
What if prisoned by this glass,
this mask, this door, this lock,
deletes this dry cough
and its toxic fingerprints,
removes this virus,
enlighten our perspective
for inclusion, our
Diane Wilbon Parks is a visual poet and artist. Diane has written two poetry collections. Diane’s been recognized as a Prince George’s County, Poet of Excellence. She is an U. S. Air Force Veteran and resides in Maryland.
Summer Pandemic Issues
North of Oxford – The Pandemic Issue #5
North of Oxford – The Pandemic Issue #6
Spring Pandemic Issues
North of Oxford presents The Pandemic Issues.
North of Oxford – The Pandemic Issue #1
North of Oxford- The Pandemic Issue #2
North of Oxford- The Pandemic Issue #3
North of Oxford – The Pandemic Issue #4
Stay Calm – Stay Safe – Stay Home and When Out and About Wear a Mask
Diane Sahms and g emil reutter