pandemic

North of Oxford – Spring 2021 Pandemic Issue #7

Dreamscape.
.
Dreamscape by Maria Keane   http://www.mariakeane.com/
.
Thanks to the poets for contributing to The Pandemic Issue #7 from North of Oxford and Maria Keane for graciously providing her art. In order of appearance we present: Ray Greenblatt, Robbi Nester, Tim Suermondt, Charlie Brice, Wayne-Daniel Berard, Eileen R. Tabios, Stephen Page, Joan Mazza, Faith Paulsen, Marion Deutsche Cohen, Maria Keane, Wesley Scott McMasters, Megha Sood, Judy DeCroce, J. H. Johns, Charles Rammelkamp, Thaddeus Rutkowski, Linda Nemec Foster, Stephen Mead, James Walton, Antoni Ooto, Ethel Gofen, Michael A. Griffith, Ken Soyow and Bartholomew Barker.
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Ray Greenblatt
.
2020 Summer
The boardwalk stretches away
straight and empty as if
          a landing strip waiting for the first plane.
Mr. Peanut exits his shop
squinches in his monocle
twirls his cane and peers
          around in disbelief.
And yet the tantalizers
of caramel corn
and pizza slices
          float on the air uselessly.
In the casino
the roulette wheel still spins,
          fanned cards lie on the green felt.
While on the wide deserted beach
the gulls seem to hoot and hoot
          derisively.
.
This is the dream of a million minds
thinking now in terms of six paces
thinking that their words are muffled
          with winding cloth.
.
Covid Days of the Week
.
minute a bug bite
an hour a mud ball
          in the eye,
but a day
. . . wednesday, thursday, friday, saturday . . .
we lug like a tombstone
tall    dense    mossy
gray    grainy    granite
obit etched,
until the end of the week
to add to the foundation
upon which we build
          a wall of months
so high and gray
it obscures the sky
.
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. Ray Greenblatt has two books out for 2020: UNTIL THE FIRST LIGHT (Parnilis Media) and MAN IN A CROW SUIT (BookArts Press).
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Robbi Nester
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Tu B’Shvat During the Pandemic, March 2021
.
I have been watching out this window, waiting for
everything to change, if only for a moment,
a day, a week. Now, outside my window, three slender
trees, young girls swaying on the sunny path, have
begun to bloom, buds bursting in the spring’s first warm
sunlight. The trees take on soft edges, branches raising
garlands to the sky. Soon, next month maybe,
blizzards of white petals will fall to the grass, and trees
unfurl their leaves. Let the bees enter the vaulted
chapel of each blossom, drink from each raised chalice,
bless us with the sweetness of continued life.
.
Robbi Nester, like so many, is just beginning to emerge from sheltering in place and finding it more challenging than she imagined. She is author of 4 books of poetry, who used much of this year to write and host readings, as well as editing an anthology, The Plague Papers.
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Tim Suermondt
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  The City is Returning
                      Easter, 2021
.
But the city is returning
only because more and more
people are—not in a torrent yet,
some streets still looking a bit
lonely, but the signs are there,
like the bridges across the river
that were shrouded in a Covid fog,
the bridges coming to life
in a flow of sun and gulls and human
traffic. I want to wave to and embrace
everyone, but I keep myself dignified
as best I can—there’s much living
to be done for those who made it,
over sorrow and resilience, to this day.
.
Tim Suermondt’s sixth full-length book of poems “A Doughnut And The Great Beauty Of The World” will be forthcoming from MadHat Press in 2021. He has published in Poetry, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, The Georgia Review, 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.
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Charlie Brice
.
Mugsi Doesn’t Wear a Mask
.
But I do because of the pandemic.
      Mugsi doesn’t because she’s a dog,
a black standard poodle that
      we don’t cut up to look like the freaks
owned by rich ladies in Manhattan.
.
On our walk we come across masked strangers
            who always appear menacing,
but who invariably wave because
            they are my neighbors and
we all like one another.
.
They remove their masks and I recognize them—
            a sheen of familiarity that brings relief.
It’s always good to see what’s behind a mask,
            even if the mask is an illusion of civility,
something that covers brutality and barbarism,
            even if what is unmasked is the bare bottom
of our culture, the butt end of racism,
            the guttural groan of fascism.
.
Mugsi wiggles her tushie while she walks,
            smells everything available,
is very intense, but always has time
            to wag her tail if we meet
a crossing guard who might
            have a treat for her.
.
Mugsi never holds a grudge even
            when it rains or snows too hard
for me to give her a walk.
            She always forgives me.
She loves to sit in my chair
            when I’m not in it,
and she knows exactly where she
            wants a scratch.
.
Charlie Brice is the winner of the 2020 Field Guide Magazine Poetry Contest and was awarded third place in the 2021 Allen Ginsberg Poetry Prize. His fourth poetry collection is The Broad Grin of Eternity (WordTech 2021). His poetry has appeared in The Atlanta Review, Chiron Review, Pangolin Review, The Sunlight Press, Sparks of Calliope, and elsewhere.
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Wayne-Daniel Berard
.
Mars
.
The unhypocritical
virus says “aren’t
I lovely? Velourishly
spherical don’t you
adore my red fleurettes?
Don’t I deserve to live
just as much as you?
Person, it’s nothing
personal I can’t just
change lifestyle eat
plants eschew carbon
(not that you would)
you are my incubator
and the purpose of
viral sex is procreation
if the mother dies
you know how that is
impregnating your paradigm
because you can’t give it
up even if it kills you allow
me I learned from the best
worst case we sleep our
smallness in your big sleep
and catch the next meteor
to the next world wasn’t
that your backup plan too?
See you on Mars, mamma.”
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Wayne-Daniel Berard, PhD, is an educator, poet, writer, shaman, and sage. He publishes broadly in poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. His poetry chapbook, The Man Who Remembered Heaven, received the New Eden Award in 2003. His non-fiction When Christians Were Jews (That Is, Now), subtitled Recovering the Lost Jewishness of Christianity with the Gospel of Mark, was published in 2006 by Cowley Publications. A novel The Retreatants, was published in 2012 (Smashwords). A chapbook, Christine Day, Love Poems, was published in 2016 (Kittatuck Press). His novella, Everything We Want, was published in 2018 by Bloodstone Press. A poetry collection, The Realm of Blessing, was published in 2020 by Unsolicited Press. Noa(h) and the Bark, was published in 2020 by Alien Buddha Press. Wayne-Daniel lives in Mansfield, MA with his wife, the Lovely Christine.
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Eileen R. Tabios
.
The Covid-19 Hay(na)ku
.
There are other
ways of
dying—
.
But when it
occurs, we
wonder
.
even when we
sometimes must
forbid
.
ourselves from asking
such insensitive
questions
.
The Lockdown Tanka
.
But the near-strangled
planet shook off its blanket
of smog—the canals
reveal frolicking fish—we
see scales and eyes as sapphires
.
Eileen R. Tabios has released over 60 collections of poetry, fiction, essays, and experimental biographies from publishers in 10 countries and cyberspace. In Spring 2021, she released her first novel, DoveLion: A Fairy Tale for Our Times (AC Books, New York). Her award-winning body of work includes invention of the hay(na)ku, a 21st century diasporic poetic form, and the MDR Poetry Generator that can create poems totaling theoretical infinity. More information is at Eileen R. Tabios
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Stephen Page
.
A Virtual Constitutionalist Convention
.
A honey bee hovers around yellow flowers
Growing out of Teresa’s vertical garden.
.
In the rectangular cement planter that divides
My office and the living-room patio decks
.
Newly planted lavender stands tall
Vibrating gently in the breeze
.
Between red daylilies
And clusters of blue columbine.
.
Last night I watched a virtual convention
Where people talked disdainfully about Dictator Reginald.
.
They spoke about his autocratic, manipulative, bullying tactics,
His lies, his divisiveness, his homophobia, his racism.
.
Of course, the DR trilled epitaphs and threats at them
And is still trying to dismantle the United Colonies Postal Service.
.
The mandarin-haired DR sits in is square office watching TV
While the plague outside attacks his voters.
.
The Orchids
.
My wife is preparing French toast,
While I sip coffee in front of the sea
.
That for the last five years
Reached farther inland every high tide.
.
A sparrow lands on the patio deck,
Hops over closer and tilt his head while studying me.
.
On the coffee table behind me,
The orchids which have for four years
.
Had only been wire-supported stems
This morning blossomed with purple-streaked petals.
.
Last night, on the international T.V. news channel,
Non-mask wearing Nationalists sat side-by-side in droves
.
To gaze up at the non-mask wearing Dictator Reginald
Screaming “A phantom virus! Climate change is fictional!”
.
“Make our colonies great again!” he bellows,
While wild fires rage on the split screen.
.
Life with and Without Father
.
I love opening an old book
And am struck with sunlight
While standing in an attic
On a wood floor,
The air swirling with flecks of dust.
.
I am driving Father’s white pickup
On a state highway
No traffic
                        The open road
                                                            Trees lining the ditches.
.
I am at a baseball park
                        Lying on the outfield grass
                                                The afternoon sunlight bathing me.
.
My father died
Of a heart attack
While seated in a hospital admissions
Room, while ambulances were lined up
For blocks outside the hospital.
.
Today Tyrant Reginald said, “I have learned
A lot about COVID-19,
The old-school way.”
.
Our Own Demigod
.
And all this time I thought
That Tyrant Reginald was just
A dictator, but it turns out
He is a God, immune to the virus.
.
Yesterday, he sucked all the air around him
And raspingly declared, “You have nothing to fear,
Unless you are already dead! Go back
To work, go back to school, go
Eat inside restaurants, don’t
Wear masks!” His bleary eyes
Stabbing into the camera lens.
.
Then he turned around,
Grabbed a golf bag,
And bordered Sea Soldier 1.
.
Stephen Page is part Apache and part Shawnee. He was born in Detroit. He is the author of four books of poetry, several stories, essays, and literary criticisms. He holds degrees from Columbia University and Bennington College. He is the recipient of The Jess Cloud Memorial Prize, a Writer-in-Residence from the Montana Artists Refuge, a Full Fellowship from the Vermont Studio Center, an Imagination Grant from Cleveland State University, a First Place Prize in Poetry from Bravura Magazine, and an Arvon Foundation Ltd. Grant. https://smpages.wordpress.com/
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Joan Mazza
.
Ode to Variants
.
You who insinuate yourself into every
living thing, you who invade and commandeer
the cell’s machinery to reproduce yourself
by the billions, with only a simple nucleic acid
in an envelope of lipids and protein,
.
let us praise your innovations. Proficient
at disguise, you are a survivor, evader
of antibodies, antivirals, phagocytes,
and cytokine storms. Ever mutating, you
sidestep human high tech assaults like
.
black belts in karate. Though invisible,
your morphing army marches forward,
adjusts to human precautions of masks
and distance, ever more contagious, more
virulent, resistant. O, mighty miniscule
.
life form, you never surrender. Ignorant
and mindless, without intention or will,
you keep us locked up, ever on standby.
You live by the command, Adapt or die.
.
Joan Mazza has worked as a medical microbiologist, psychotherapist, seminar leader, and is the author of six books, including Dreaming Your Real Self (Penguin/Putnam). Her work has appeared in Rattle, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Prairie Schooner, Poet Lore, and The Nation. She lives in rural central Virginia where she writes a daily poem. www.JoanMazza.com
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Faith Paulsen
.
Another Poem About Light
.
I
Homesteaders now, before going out,
we strap on our paper masks. Beyond our walls,
just steps away, the wind’s ashes toll like a bell:
The faraway dome is breached.
Rushing home, we slam the door
shed our shoes, their mouths open.
.
We are hungry—
We have nothing to eat or breathe that isn’t
tainted. We begin to think that the bad spots
are cherries. In cupped hands we hold
our losses.
.
II
One house has plenty of eggs. The other has all
the apples they need. You buy half the beans
in the market. We tell each other we can
make something out of this. Just then
a girl in a red satin headband recites a poem about light
and in spite of jinx and dread, we begin.
.
String teardrop bulbs from the streetlights,
dangle from windows our brave-enough flags.
Night comes,
a snow lantern, lit from inside.
.
III
Let us wake up now and eat rice with orange peel.
Let us spread our
bread with honey.
We will not live through. We will live
during.
.
We will sing a capella the chorus of light
not at the end —
but in —
the tunnel.
.
Faith Paulsen’s work has appeared in many venues including One Art, Ghost City Press, Seaborne, and Book of Matches, as well as Thimble Literary Magazine, Evansville Review, Mantis, Psaltery and Lyre, and Terra Preta. Her work also appears in the anthologies such as 50/50: Poems & Translations by Womxn over 50 (QuillsEdge). She has been nominated for a Pushcart. Her chapbook A Color Called Harvest (Finishing Line Press) was published in 2016. A second chapbook, Cyanometer, is expected in 2021. For more information, please check the website at https://www.faithpaulsenpoet.com/
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Marion Deutsche Cohen
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The Abandoned Muscles
      The Excel Physical Therapy mailing tells us that achiness is common during
      quarantining.
.
I do my exercises every morning.
Make sure to do a few extra wriggles in extra directions.
I walk 4,000 steps a day, 500 at a time all throughout.
I play my piano, Beethoven’s late sonatas, arms all over the place, am even beginning to
    trill with my left hand.
I move my writing muscle, Zoom muscies, cimbing stairs muscles, dancing muscles.
   sex muscles.
But there must be muscles I’m forgetting.
.
Outdoor muscles, Reading Terminal Market Muscles, grocery cart muscles, thrift-
    shopping muscles.
Muscles that are protesting
giving me gentle reminders
appearing in dreams
trying to move the way they’d move in reality
and therefore moving too much.
Clenching too much.
Cramping too much.
Aching too much.
.
Angry muscles, muscles turned mean.
Obsolete muscles that won’t go away.
.
Physical
.
Am I only imagining that I’m finally feeling my age?
Sinus crap, jaw pain, clenched back, the possible recurrence of trigeminal neuralgia?
And now I can hear my heart beating.
It sounds like water dripping from my childhood drainpipes.
Sometimes it wakes me up.
Or maybe it’s only the nightmares.
Different nightmares from before.
That people refuse to stay six feet away.
They come at me, hands dripping with droplets.
In one dream there was an orgy of them.
Or it’s past the equinox but the days are getting shorter rather than longer.
Every late-afternoon the darkness begins sooner than the late-afternoon before.
And my husband tells me his nightmare.
The door to our house was put on backward
locked from the outside so anybody could get in
and he needed the key to get out.
The locksmith arrived right away but then took away the entire door
said he couldn’t get back ‘til next week.
All week long outside kept seeping in.
Inside was disappearing.
There was no such thing as inside.
.
Marion Deutsche Cohen is the author of 32 collections of poetry or memoir; her newest poetry collection is “Stress Positions” (Alien Buddha Press), and her latest prose collection is “Not Erma Bombeck: Diary of a Feminist 70s Mother” (Alien Buddha Press). She is also the author of a book of #MeToo poems, two controversial memoirs about spousal chronic illness, a trilogy diary of late-pregnancy loss, and “Crossing the Equal Sign”, about the experience of mathematics. She teaches a course she developed, Mathematics in Literature, at Drexel University’s Honors College. Her website is  http://www.marioncohen.net
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Lantern by Night

Latern by Night  by Maria Keane   http://www.mariakeane.com/.

Maria Keane
.
A Reckoning
.
I beg
to hear the river rushing
an incessant rocking
down a deep corridor
where darkness—
its there
I am tied to it.
.
Not even wings can free me
from the black
for a reason we suppose—
is for the good.
.
Night blooming trees
feed a need to breathe.
Their perfume
saturates the senses
splinters a fracture
to eliminate hysteria.
.
Walking through a web
 I break, unraveling
the first silence
under the sole edict
of sound.
I see it now
and quench some dark history
in the presence of anxiety.
.
I will walk in shadow,
hold on to murmers,
listening for you to arrive,
You reduce the havoc of the trees
repair my will
to believe
all things are only in the moment.
.
Wesley Scott McMasters
.
A Haiku for a Pandemic
.
It is so quiet;
or have I grown tired
of the same voices?
.
Wesley Scott McMasters teaches and lives just within sight of the Great Smoky Mountains with his dog, Poet (who came with the name, he swears).
.
Megha Sood
.
Unclaimed Freedom
.
The cerulean tinge peeking through the barbed wires
a gaping hole, like an open, stretched out calloused palms
seeking empathy in hunger, in pain
color tinged rays making their way
 through the mishmash of thick wires
.
I squint my eyes to even the shades
 Even then I can see the mesh obstructing  my vision
there is too much restriction these days
the invisible virus boisterously ruling our lives
Holding lien to our breaths
making us beg for the next one, a novel privilege
.
I want to rip apart this entrapment
Pry it open the obstructed view of the open skies
Let the fraying ends come loose
Shifting wings like a soaring eagle
in the vast cerulean skies
laced with mellifluous melody,
I want to taste freedom through my squinty eyes
.
I know this calling,
I can feel the warmth in my bones
the sorrow draining from every iota of my existence
I take the clamps, cut the wires
one joint at a time
slowly but surely
.
Making way for my petite body
to pass through the thin gaps
of this corrugated mesh
and claim the freedom
which is truly mine.
.
Megha Sood is a Poet, Editor, and Blogger based in New Jersey, USA. She is a Poetry Editor at MookyChick(UK), Life and Legends (USA), and Literary Partner in the project “Life in Quarantine” with Stanford University, USA. Works widely featured in journals, Poetry Society of New York, Kissing Dynamite, and many more. Author of Chapbook ( “My Body is Not an Apology”, Finishing Line Press, 2021) and Full Length (“My Body Lives Like a Threat”, FlowerSongPress,2021).National Level Winner Spring Mahogany Lit Prize and Three-Time State-level winner of NJ Poetry Contest.Blogs at https://meghasworldsite.wordpress.com/ .Tweets at @meghasood16
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Judy DeCroce
.
A Repeat of the New
.
“It’s happening again, because it’s new to them.”
—Antoni Ooto
.
A reply
natural in the hum
.
beginning with the concrete
and then a buzz annoying
.
a mystery in context
for such a transparent idea.
.
Strangeness is marching
through a metaphor none saw coming.
.
Is it danger or a riddle?
(hard to know)
.
The moment shakes us in
and we grab its edges.
.
Along the way
ideas stand and rearrange.
.
It’s happening again…
because it’s new to us.
.
Judy DeCroce, is an internationally published poet, flash fiction writer, educator, and avid reader whose recent works have been published by The BeZine, Brown Bag Online, North of Oxford, The Poet Magazine, Amethyst Review, The Wild Word, OPEN: Journal of Arts & Letters, and many journals and anthologies.
.
J. H. Johns 
.
“There was a Time Before the Time” 
.
                                                           There was a time
                                                            before the time
                                                            when things changed;
.
                                                            slowly-
                                                            then instantly-
                                                            we went
                                                            from
                                                            the momentary past
                                                            being an instant away
                                                            to that same past
                                                            which became
                                                            a historical memory;
.
                                                            so quickly;
                                                            so instantly;
.
                                                            what used to be
                                                            our present
                                                            dissolved
                                                            in a viral concoction
.
                                                            that was out to kill.
                                                            There was a time before the time.
.
            J. H. Johns “grew up and came of age” while living in East Tennessee and Middle Georgia.  Specifically, the two places “responsible” for the writer that he has become are Knoxville, Tennessee and Milledgeville, Georgia.
.
Charles Rammelkamp
.
Coronavirus Cooties
.
“Daddy, Ian said I had cooties,”
Stephanie pouted to her father
about a kid in her first-grade class.
.
Amused and gratified to hear
the term still in use,
generations later,
her father asked,
“What are cooties?”
.
“They make you fat,”
Stephanie answered without hesitation,
disgusted by the fact,
body-type issues infecting
even elementary school children.
.
Originally World War One soldier slang
for body lice in the trenches,
cooties had mutated over the years,
just like any other virus.
.
In her dad’s day, girls gave boys cooties,
boys gave them back to girls,
like an unacknowledged venereal disease,
polio in the 1950’s,
AIDS in the 1980’s.
What next, in 2020?
.
The Bald Guy with Long Hair
.
I was in the Documentation Department
at Infodyne, in the late 1980’s,
working on operations manuals.
.
“Go talk to Woody,”
my supervisor advised when I went to him
with a question about COBOL coding.
.
“The guy who works with the mainframes,”
Paul clarified when I confessed
I wasn’t sure who Woody was.
.
“He’s always in here talking to Joyce,”
he went on, as if I knew
the people my colleagues consulted.
.
“The bald guy with long hair,”
Paul finally explained, a poker player
producing the ace up his sleeve.
.
“Oh!” I exclaimed.
Now I knew exactly who he was talking about,
the skinny guy with the shiny pate
and hair down to his shoulders,
a Fu Manchu mustache.
.
Why do I remember this now?
It’s been four months
since my last haircut,
wary about going into a barbershop
in this age of COVID.
.
That could describe me:
the bald guy with long hair
(not to mention eyebrows like caterpillars).
.
Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. His most recent releases are Ugler Lee from Kelsay Books and Catastroika from Apprentice House.

Conversations

Conversations by Maria Keane   http://www.mariakeane.com/

.
Thaddeus Rutkowski
.
Cold Day Outside
.
I see my homeless friend
sitting on a step and smoking a cigarette
on an unpleasant day.
The air is filled with water, and it bites.
“Where’s your mask, man?” I ask.
“I’ve got a mask,” he says. “But I’m outside.”
He’s right. “The virus doesn’t travel well through air,” I say.
Then I ask, “How long have you been here?”
And he doesn’t answer.
He looks like I caught him doing something he shouldn’t.
“How many hours?” I ask.
“Five,” he says.
Indeed, he should not been sitting outside,
in the cold and rain, for five hours.
It is not natural.
I give him a bill, and he says, “Bless you.”
But I’m not the one who needs blessing.
.
Thaddeus Rutkowski is the author of seven books, most recently Tricks of Light, a poetry collection. He teaches at Medgar Evers College and received a fiction writing fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts.
.
Linda Nemec Foster
.
Pandemic Litany: The White Chair of Absence
.
If death has a color
it would be white, the color
that reflects and scatters
all visible light:
this chair, this chair
becomes my mantra–
.
white chair of solitude
white chair of isolation
white chair of the absent father
white chair of the abusive mother
white chair of the forgotten–(say it)
white chair of the forgotten–(say it)
white chair of the forgotten child
white chair of the silence that comes before
white chair of the cry that comes after
white chair of solitary confinement
white chair of the hole in the gut
white chair of the bone-white fist
white chair of the shroud
white chair of the wedding veil
white chair of the dark secret
white chair of the white lie
white chair of the what now (what now)
white chair that doesn’t leave
white chair that doesn’t arrive
white chair of the recurring dream
white chair of the yes
white chair of the no
white chair of the maybe
white chair of my birth
white chair of my–(say it)
white chair of my–(say it)
white chair of my death
.
and the wind in the long grass
above my white bones
above my white bones
is the only voice I have
.
Linda Nemec Foster has published eleven collections of poetry including Amber Necklace from Gdansk, Talking Diamonds, and The Lake Michigan Mermaid (2019 Michigan Notable Book). Her work appears in numerous journals: The Georgia Review, Nimrod, New American Writing, North American Review, and Verse Daily. She’s received nominations for the Pushcart Prize and awards from Arts Foundation of Michigan, National Writer’s Voice, Dyer-Ives Foundation, The Poetry Center (NJ), and Academy of American Poets. Her new book, The Blue Divide, is forthcoming from New Issues Press (2021). The first Poet Laureate of Grand Rapids, Michigan, Foster is the founder of the Contemporary Writers Series at Aquinas College.
.
Stephen Mead
.
                     Blue Mask Seas
                                                                                   (for my Friend, Tom Stephany, taken by                                                                                                                    Covid on World AIDS Day 2020)
.
They are so easy to picture:
that ridge for the nose a wave’s curve
& the surrounding white outline being froth’s tips
creased pleat upon pleat…
Even the hue is a Madonna’s robe gentleness sky-expansive
though these horizons are grayer, often opaque,
a chloroform of loss stopping things up.
Face without a body, not modeled in the round
is how one dictionary describes that eye-less paper relief
there on the parking lot paving, blowing now across the sidewalk
& into the weeds lining the pharmacy’s brick exterior,
its chained-up trash can overflowing with refuse,
all the six-pack plastic for a tortoise’s intestines.
This stray one didn’t make it to that heap anyhow, whether a careless
sort of pocket-escapee or dropped on purpose as a take that
Mother Nature. Caring is sharing.  May others be touched
as you have touched me.
Come, don’t be cynical about how so many are angry
& searching for a companionable mob to show that their great misery
is oh so inconveniently displeased about shops & salons, (the nerve of them)
wanting their employees protected when Privilege
is now a Liberty Fight to carry Uzis through marches for Peace
to keep mutating and spreading genome A to genome Z.
No one is tear-gassing that, pleading “can’t breathe”
like in the sterilized wards the size of stadiums if put together
globally – see – waving white flags to reflective face shields,
goggles & layers of gowns stretched into latex, the gloved touch
an antiseptic cry of good-bye mirrored in beeping equipment,
the hissing, decompressing & pumping ocean of lives
named or unnamed in today’s pandemic headlines
tomorrow’s may forget once vaccines return normalcy,
that other great body, blood-red, industrious, tidal & churning
or is that just the fear, blue mask asks blue mask,
that the human species has learned nothing
.
James Walton
.
Tsundoku
.
(the condition of acquiring reading
materials but letting them pile up
in one’s home without reading them)
.
They are laid out for this Sunday
stations between lockdown dates
and if an ear is pressed to them
.
words singing out of lethargy
rise out of loose leaf castings
.
from waiting rooms across the city
a fall of sound as another bearer
signals to lounges kitchens hallways
.
that awakening hope of release
in the chugging unopened language
.
where skimmed pages delayed
hanging on by the faded light
of patience stretched amongst the piles
.
convey the railway alphabet
a slower mystery of words
.
stops to start again ticket less
written as we are by each other
for carriage into other lives
.
James Walton is published in many anthologies, journals, and newspapers. He is the author of four widely acclaimed collections of poetry. ‘The Leviathan’s Apprentice’, ‘Walking Through Fences’, ‘Unstill Mosaics’, and ‘Abandoned Soliloquies’. His fifth collection will be released shortly.
.
Antoni Ooto
.
We’ll Remember…
.
“Stop the Steal”
.
that day—when the weight of the mob
breached the barricades.
.
When anarchy broke through,
.
scaling the walls,
crushing, storming The Hill,
bludgeoning police,
.
a shot fires into a woman
as the incensed mob screams on
.
scouring the hallways
crazed,
battering doors, disrupting the senate
.
through a “test by combat”
encouraged by our tyrant and his cronies
.
All this—
a performance of “might makes right”
.
as proudly grotesque figures
carry away trophies.
.
This was the worst and the least of our nature—
it was the winter of a nation coming apart
.
before a cell phone lens…
revealing no enemy but ourselves.
.
(January 6, 2021)
.
Antoni Ooto is an internationally published poet and flash fiction writer. Well-known for his abstract expressionist art.His recent poems have been published in Amethyst Review, The BeZine, Green Ink Poetry, The Poet Magazine, North of Oxford, The Wild Word, and many journals and anthologies. He lives and works in upstate New York with his wife poet/storyteller, Judy DeCroce.
.
Ethel Gofen
.
Coronavirus Haiku
.
Coronavirus:
Epic pandemonium,
Pandemic upset.
.
If you’re feeling scared,
Change those letters to sacred;
See it in each soul.
.
Vaccines have arrived.
Herd immunity awaits.
We shall overcome!
.
Ethel Gofen is a poet, author of two books in the series, Cultures of the World, for which she wrote the volumes on France and Argentina in 1990 and 1992.  She and her husband both survived Covid-19 in May 2020.
.
Michael A. Griffith
.
Mercy
.
What kills you fastest,
the fleece in your lungs or thorns
in your throat? Choking and the loss of vision
as constriction becomes everything.
.
Worms and fireflies swim across darkened eyes.
Everything becomes constriction.
Your hands not your own, your spine a jellyfish.
Pinprick of a voice over you: No,
everything is not alright.
.
Heat—wet, oppressive, surrounds you.
Heat—no air worth breathing,
what air is to be had? Gulping
is never enough, gasping is never a help.
Python oozes heavy around your chest.
.
Surrounding you, the urinal smell,
as the tube is taped to your lips
in a machine’s tinnitus whine.
A sting to your upper arm—
and constriction becomes mercy.
.
Michael A. Griffith teaches at Raritan Valley and Mercer County Community Colleges in central NJ. He is the author of three chapbooks of poetry, Bloodline, Exposed, and New Paths to Eden. Mike hosts a monthly poetry workshop through the Princeton Public Library. Recent work appears in Kelsey Review, 13 Myna Birds, Impspired, Page & Spine, Haiku Journal, and North of Oxford.
.
Ken Soyow
.
Deadly Virus
.
She cried when I left,
each time knowing it could be the last.
.
She used to keep meticulous records,
said the woman who did her taxes.
It’s sad watching her grow old, said a friend,
as my mother limped past with her walker.
.
I was there in March, as the rope tightened —
screening, testing, restrictions,
daily notices of what they’d do
if any cases in the county,
if cases among nursing home staff
or among residents —
.
I cut my visit short, skipping coffee
Friday morning for fear of a lockdown.
When are you coming back? she asked,
left alone with her caregivers
planted in front of the TV.
.
When the pandemic is over.
When they let me in, I said.
.
Pick me up and take me home, she said.
You are home, I said.
The furniture looks familiar, she said,
but this isn’t home.
.
Are you coming to visit today?
No, I’m six hundred miles away,
and they’re not allowing visitors, I said.
Maybe your brother could pick me up.
.
She sat in her wheelchair, often napping.
She dreamt her dead husband was calling
from the doorway.
.
It was a stroke, the doctor said.
.
Ken Soyow is a retired physician, living in Massachusetts.
.
Bartholomew Barker
.
A River Flows Through Us All
.
I was talking with this fish
the other day while I rested
on the banks of the Eno River.
She’d noticed a change.
.
The water was clearer,
the air quieter
even the bugs tasted better.
She felt lucky—
.
Lucky to be alive
in this glorious time.
She had no word for virus,
so I explained that my people
were sick and dying.
.
She sympathized— wished
the best for me and my school
and as she swam away she remarked,
In the weeds or over rocks—
by the shore or in the darkness—
a river flows through us all.
.
My Hermitage
– or How I Started a Pandemic
.
I last touched
a germ-covered body
over a year ago
and I am finally blossoming
into my hermitage
with a beard longer
than Longfellow’s.
.
I was bored with bookstore readings,
stale coffeeshop open mics,
workshops in sterile libraries
and tired of everyday showering,
putting on both socks and shoes,
the horror of going outside
in fetid heat or brittle cold.
.
So, with candles and wine,
I cast a spell of words,curling forth the RNA—
Rhythm, Neologism, Anaphora—
to spread through journals
and blogposts, infecting
my innocent readers.
.
All so I could languish
in these long nights,
sit in darkened rooms alone,
listen to Gnossiennes
and write, write, write
until the antibodies
kick down my door.
.
Bartholomew Barker is one of the organizers of Living Poetry, a
collection of poets and poetry lovers in the Triangle region of North
Carolina. His first poetry collection, Wednesday Night Regular, written
in and about strip clubs, was published in 2013. His second, Milkshakes
and Chilidogs, a chapbook of food inspired poetry was served in 2017.
Born and raised in Ohio, studied in Chicago, he worked in Connecticut
for nearly twenty years before moving to Hillsborough where he makes
money as a computer programmer to fund his poetry habit.
.

Hot Sauna

Hot Sauna  by Maria Keane   http://www.mariakeane.com/

Summer 2020 Pandemic Issues

North of Oxford – The Pandemic Issue #5

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2020/08/11/north-of-oxford-the-pandemic-issue/

North of Oxford – The Pandemic Issue #6

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2020/08/11/north-of-oxford-the-pandemic-issue-6/

Spring 2020 Pandemic Issues

North of Oxford – The Pandemic Issue #1

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2020/04/19/__trashed-2/

North of Oxford- The Pandemic Issue #2

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2020/04/25/north-of-oxford-the-pandemic-issue-2/

North of Oxford- The Pandemic Issue #3

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2020/04/25/north-of-oxford-the-pandemic-issue-3/

North of Oxford – The Pandemic Issue #4

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2020/04/27/north-of-oxford-the-pandemic-issue-4/

 .

Stay Safe – Vaccinate – Mask Up
Diane Sahms and g emil reutter
.

Happy Holidays from North of Oxford

christmas

Wishing all the best for the holiday season and the coming New Year. Remember all those lost to violence and the pandemic, the survivors who struggle on . Keep them in your thoughts and prayers, stay safe and respect others.

North of Oxford

http://www.dianesahms-guarnieri.com/

https://dianesahmsguarnieri.wordpress.com/

https://gereutter.wordpress.com/about/

North of Oxford – The Pandemic Issue #5

pandemic mary

The Great Falls of the Lehigh River and Stoddart Mills Ruins By Mary M. Michaels  https://marymmichaels.weebly.com/

.
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
.
Howie Good
.
Oh, Mercy
.
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
.
Instruction
.
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

 

My Lilac
.
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
.
Invisible War
.
We do not wear gas masks
but Halloween masks
bizarrely decorated,
nor carry rifles
instead washing hands
anxiously raw,
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.
.
Going On
.
oh yes
we’ve all been away
from each other
been away
on inner trips
and oh yes
we have all changed
because now we see each other
differently
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
exhausted
fearful
touching places to see
if we are really here
and all we can do
is blindly
hopefully
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.
.
Barren 
.
Barren
.
Streets—Oakland’s 74 miles closed
To cars—Mayor Schaaf prioritises
Two-wheeled exercise and safety
For gentrifiers.
.
Barren
.
Subway stations—Social
Distancing maintained
To the extreme. Underground
Solid concrete ghost town.
.
Barren
.
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.
.
Barren
.
Shelves—Inside the supermarket—
The spirit of hoarding
Cleared them of supplies.
Long line of humanity outside are in for a nasty surprise.
.
Barren
.
Heart—There’s
Nothing left dwelling in the husk for some.
Nothing left but hostility—Blame for sickness
Lands on descendants of Asia.
.
Barren
.
Describes this reality, re-configured
By rapid infection—Humanity homebound—
There’s no reverting back
To normal after this.
.
I survived
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
.
Barren.
.
Masques Up 
.
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.
Simple, repurposed
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
Chase Bank©—
.
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.
.
Out Front
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 firefighters
The restaurant
Deliver drivers
The subway train conductors
The launderette clerks
The grocery store workers
The farmer’s market workers
Which I happen to be one
The doctors
The nurses
The paramedics
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
Out front
In our service
Seeing to our immediate
Survival needs
.
They could use the praise
.
And you don’t need
Super powers
To be a hero
.
Just be there
Out front
For us—
.
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 ].
.
Dan Brady
.
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
.
Smoky battleground
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 – – –
. 
Mike Maggio
.
Innominate
.
I
Today, a tulip trembled in the breeze:
an urgent temptation to bloom.
.
II.
When I awoke,
it was to the delusion of dream.
.
III.
Outside, a vicious wind.
Outside, the trees. Fearful.
.
IV.
One moment, seclusion.
One moment, a prickly crown of memory.
.
V.
There’s nothing we can’t touch.
Nothing we can lay a finger on.
.
VI.
Sweet dove, waving from the wilderness,
wherefore this social distancing?
.
VII.
In a moment of delirium,
I journeyed to my mother’s grave.
.
VIII.
Nothing on the horizon.
Not even a ghosting of sun.
.
IX.
2,000,000+ sick.  200,000+ dead.
I cannot count to infinity.
.
X
One dark night, I witness my reflection
taunting the reaper.
.
Michael D. Amitin
.
Mambo’s Blues
.
Sad Spanish strains
Night street
.
All dissent quiet
Church mice sleeping
Humans creeping
Petrified forests
.
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
Stare from
Weathered shelves
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…
.
Leapfrog fantasies
Kind of blue nights
Late winter Paris
Sunup
.
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 gothies
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
and cream,
.
The great hereafter filled with brothels
n’ laughter, Louis playin’ the West End Blues,
He mused
.
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
.
1.         Kyrie
.
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.

.

2.         Gloria
.
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.
.
5.          Credo
.
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.
.
6.       Benedictus
.
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
.
Quarantine Spring
.
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.
.
Landmark
.
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.
.
Benjamin Siegan
 .
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
.
Lockdown
.
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
surfaces—how long—how
long—how long—left to our
own devices our fingers
strike—snake bites—our
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
my shoulder—awkward
tender smile—watches—
 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
undone.
.
Social Distance
.
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.
.
Akshaya Pawaskar
.
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
happier world.
On driving down
these concrete woods
a Sign post
reads -go slow
Wildlife crossing.
And even the pigeons
teeter on their
twiggy feet
like toddlers
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,
unsanitizied, carefree.
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.
.
Amy Barone
.
A Dawning
.
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
.
Open Window
.
invisible nemesis
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
.
Passing
.
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.
.
Ben Nardolilli
.
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
your breath
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
6ft apart
we wait instead
don’t touch
there are corpses
death by viral sources
nurses underdressed
doctors depressed
workers
drivers
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
.
Worry Beads
.
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.
.
Daily News
.
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
.
Covid protest
.
“The caged bird wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he open his throat to sing”
Maya Angelou
.
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
appears,
how wings touch in flight,
silvered and soaring
.
and scarred throats find
their songs.
.
Zoom yoga
.
You are eating chips in your
undershorts.
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
you’re snoring.
.
Sunlight falls through skylight
softening shadows, muting your edges
In this moment, you are illumine,
an angel.
.
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
 drifts  indiscriminately,
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
 to darkened,
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 pandemic,
 this racial divide?
What if   prisoned by this glass,
this mask, this door, this lock,
 this isolation
deletes this dry cough
and its toxic fingerprints,
removes this virus,
enlighten our perspective
for inclusion,    our
hopes of
 unity?

.

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.

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Summer Pandemic Issues

North of Oxford – The Pandemic Issue #5

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2020/08/11/north-of-oxford-the-pandemic-issue/

North of Oxford – The Pandemic Issue #6

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2020/08/11/north-of-oxford-the-pandemic-issue-6/

Spring Pandemic Issues 

North of Oxford presents The Pandemic Issues.

North of Oxford – The Pandemic Issue #1

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2020/04/19/__trashed-2/

North of Oxford- The Pandemic Issue #2

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2020/04/25/north-of-oxford-the-pandemic-issue-2/

North of Oxford- The Pandemic Issue #3

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2020/04/25/north-of-oxford-the-pandemic-issue-3/

North of Oxford – The Pandemic Issue #4

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2020/04/27/north-of-oxford-the-pandemic-issue-4/

Diane and George April 2020

.
Stay Calm – Stay Safe – Stay Home and When Out and About Wear a Mask
Diane Sahms and g emil reutter

 

Wear A Mask – Do the Right Thing

Diane and George April 2020

We wish all well during these troubling times and ask with great sincerity that when you go out to be safe, stay six feet apart, and wear a mask. Wearing a mask is not a political statement, it is a way for all of us to protect each other from this virus which is unrelenting in its pursuit of human beings. Be safe and stay home when at all possible. Let us be hopeful that a vaccine is on the horizon in the near future. Simply put, DO THE RIGHT THING!

https://dianesahmsguarnieri.wordpress.com/ https://gereutter.wordpress.com/about/