Painting – Party Underground by Belinda Subraman
Thanks to the poets for contributing to The Pandemic Issue #4 from North of Oxford. In order of appearance we present: J Thomas Brown, Emily Bilman, Akshaya Pawaskar, Jason Kaufman, Naila Francis, Donna J. Gelagotis Lee, Linda Nemec Foster, Wayne-Daniel Berard
Hart Island by J Thomas Brown
They come to me, a time-worn island, once more.
They come to me in rows two wide, in layers three deep,
and I am too weary from the holding and can hold no more.
A child, grasping a handful of my grass, once said to a poet:
What is this grass? He answered he did not know,
that it seemed to be the beautiful uncut hair of graves.1
The tides, in unceasing motion, have worn my sides away.
My belly of earth, no longer fit for the task, splits, gives up its secrets.
See the clean white bones on their march into the bay.
Here, the water laps a shoulder blade resting on my gale eaten shore.
Nearby, protrudes the thigh of a Union prisoner who starved in the South,
and here, the ribs of one too poor to pay.
Over there, the jaw of a woman who died alone,
unsaved by burning pitch and cannon blast to scare Yellow Jack away.
Close by, the bones of a homeless man found in an alleyway.
Enough, enough. Today, a backhoe and fresh scrobis2
for the unclaimed who have passed.
May at last their dreams be happy,
beneath the leaves of grass.
1. From Song of Myself by Walt Whitman, 1892 version . . .it seemed to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.
2. scrobis: a trench or grave
J Thomas Brown has had short stories published in Scarlet Leaf Review and Everywhere Stories: Short Fiction from a Small Planet. I am a contributor to Lingering in the Margins: A River City Poets Anthology, Rattlecast, and Grotesque Quarterly Review. Mooncalf, a collection of poems, was self-published as an ebook and as an audiobook by Authors Republic. Two novels, The Land of Three Houses (historical fiction) and The Hole in the Bone (historical adventure fantasy), were published in 2018.
Two Poems by Emily Bilman
Will Covid-19 spread from the fish markets
into a metallic pool where we will mutate
into primordial fish while others remain above
the disintegration of Time? Will we, at last, leave
the bats, foxes, and pangolins in the own
kingdoms, safe from our manipulations
to avoid Covid’s thousand mutations?
Will we slow down our pace as in our
confinement to prevent Dali’s warped Time
from turning the metallic pool into bullets? Or
will our broken Time dry out all the olive trees?
Will flowers mutate into plastic objects floating
on a jelly-sea of brine below the surface? Or
will currents still circulate in the oceans
and clear the air we breathe? In the post
Covid-19 space, will our Time be stretched
into the poem’s eternal present, allowing
us transformative change through
language, rhythm, and thought?
The Stages of Cruelty
1751 & 2020
While a gentleman offers a tart to stop the murderer
The dog is killed with an arrow stuck to its body
While another boy pulls on his throat with a rope.
A youngster ties a bone to another dog’s tail and grins
While the dog tries to catch it. Cats are hung on a pole
And a bird’s eye is cauterized with a stick as boys watch.
The sadism of Hogarth’s slum-boys that turns boys
Into tyrants, in turn, makes men into poachers who murder
Pangolins and sell their scales for medicine, their meat for food.
Bitten by bats, pangolins, traded and consumed for their meat
Spread the Covid-19 virus, killing thousands by lung
Constriction, leaving the rest of us in mute confinement.
Dr. Emily Bilman is London Poetry Society’s Stanza representative in Geneva where she lives and teaches poetry. Her dissertation, The Psychodynamics of Poetry, was published by Lambert Academic in 2010 and Modern Ekphrasis in 2013 by Peter Lang, CH. Three poetry books, A Woman By A Well, Resilience, and The Threshold of Broken Waters were published by Troubador, UK in 2015 and the latest in 2018
Two Poems By Akshaya Pawaskar
As light as they come
We were sitting tall
atop a Howdah.
Looking down our noses
at the mastodon tusks,
thinking them servile
thinking them tamed,
How our tiny bodies
Now a scream pierces
the sky, silently
We cower for shelter.
Houses turn sacred
they have a glamour
as temples are abandoned,
gods walk out of the idols
and follow us home.
We run for life
to the deepest recesses
hiding from enemies
as light as they come
yet carrying death
on their formless backs.
The way of the world
How we are divining the civilization,
How we are trying to exorcise the evil,
How it is always intangible smoke like.
How we feel guilty about writing poems
yet how they churn out faster from
stillness of the sealed houses.
How we watch the numbers ebb and flow
watch the uptick and lose hope.
How we light candles, bang utensils
and make noises to break the silence.
How those who set out on a soul searching
journey are returning home and learning
they are none the wiser, yet how
we are rediscovering ourselves inside
the four walls, going back to basics.
How a pandemic starts and ends?
How does one come out of this crisis,
a changed person, a better human.
How long till one forgets the lesson,
the history repeats and we start again
from scratch, the humbled ones.
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.
Two Poems by Jason Kaufman
Day #1 of Ohio’s stay-at-home order
54,856 Covid-19 cases in the US
780 Total deaths in the US
225 People died today in the US
I bear dim witness
to ticker counters on a phone screen,
the virus’s exponential spread
veering northward on Logarithmic charts.
The endless scrolling of Nasdaq and the S&P
replaced by real-time rising death rates.
I’m out of work and nervous about making ends meet.
It’s week one in quarantine.
My list of renovation projects is dwindling.
Our house gets cleaner by the day.
We throw family dance parties and laugh.
I embarrass myself for the love of this moment.
My wife and I make love like teenagers,
in this room and that.
I wonder why it took a pandemic
for us to begin living our lives.
Ruptures and Articulations
Day #3 of Ohio’s stay-at-home order
83,206 Covid-19 cases in the US
1,201 Total deaths in the US
174 People died today in the US
Is there anywhere on earth untouched by this? Anywhere
inside of you untouched by fear.
McCarthy calls man a lesser God,
insatiable and malignant, whom no ceding could appease
nor any measure of blood,
but I see caped cashiers and superheroes in the stockroom.
Homebound Troubadours singing from balconies
about a dark age, not so long ago, when humankind believed
they were created to serve the stock market.
Have we broken
through to a new truth?
Have we broken
from our legacy of blood and war?
Has this pandemic ruptured the chain of bestial replicas?
Will we stand up out of the rubble and discover we are new species entirely?
The potential of profound change, born at the intersection
of our heart and this burdensome cross.
Jason Kaufman is a poet and visual artist living in Bellville, Ohio. The major influences on his work are fatherhood, backpacking, Post-Structuralism, Buddhism, theopoetics, and mental health advocacy.
And have you cried yet today by Naila Francis
And have you cried yet today, let
your eyes become water become
wonder, become soundless kiss
on the brow of this soft-skinned world?
Listen, in Hanoi, a water tank spills rice
into residents’ bags daily, in Ho Chi
Minh City around the clock.
Air pollution is plummeting, a 30 percent drop
in America’s Northeast, a breather
in the bellowing of tailpipes and power plants
that has polished the sunset to a truer hue
in China, raised handclaps in outer space.
In the oceans, cruiseless and calm, whales
can keep singing, and so, too, the creatures
who glide less stressed, their dreams
of motherhood tucked in the quiet deep.
Today, I read of a coffee shop giving
a month of profits to medical first responders,
a landlord canceling three months’ rent.
The math these days is dizzying, grim:
34,376 deaths in the US, globally 141,452,
in my city 311 new cases since yesterday,
in Italy a generation — gone.
Here, where I write from among them, 22
million unemployed, a shortfall of millions
of tests needed per week to open the economy,
thousands of gallons of milk dumped by farmers,
and still more produce, without a system
to funnel them to the miles-long food bank lines.
But there is also $20 shoved anonymously
through a front door, two young boys
in blow-up dinosaur costumes billowing joy
in their duo of a neighborhood parade, one
85-year-old nurse leaving her retirement
to care for other seniors, 78 children
receiving free meals every day from a teacher
who walks five miles to deliver them.
How else to take the sorrow, terror
if not with beauty, too?
How to keep counting the days
without the moments that gather
in the good, remind us “Here Comes the Sun,”
which is played in a Michigan hospital
whenever a patient is weaned off a ventilator.
How many tears have you cried?
Will they ever be enough, a trail we follow,
from here inside this keening dark,
to where our hands will meet?
Naila Francis is a warm, vibrant and inspiring woman. She’s a poet, an ordained interfaith minister who performs weddings and baby blessings, and a world traveler whose journeys have taken her, among other destinations, to Tanzania as an orphanage volunteer, Mallorca to study poetry and Peru, where she climbed Machu Picchu Mountain with a shaman as her guide. https://www.nailafrancis.com/
Living Without Fear of the Air by Donna J. Gelagotis Lee
Already, in movies it’s obvious.
Life has changed forever. No longer
Will we move as if the air
Were something not to be feared,
As if microbes didn’t lurk in
No longer will we go out
Without thinking about what we touch
Or how close we are to another.
No more love-ins. No more hugs
And kisses with friends. What
Has polluted the air has
Polluted our idea of the air.
Our movements like a dancer’s
Let free will have ceased.
How I long for
That spring day we greet
In a park or at a beach
With neighbors of our state
Who say hi within six feet. I’d
Long to go to the supermarket
And not wear gloves and
A mask and sanitize the shopping
Cart. I’d like to chat
With the gas station attendant
Or waiter at a restaurant I’ll never
Likely go to again. If they make
A vaccine, it will be better. But
Not as before. Because lurking
Is the virus that will down
That percent who will not escape
Its grip, its residence in the lungs
That try to take in the air.
Donna J. Gelagotis Lee is the author of two award-winning collections, Intersection on Neptune (The Poetry Press of Press Americana, 2019), winner of the Prize Americana for Poetry 2018, and On the Altar of Greece (Gival Press, 2006), winner of the 2005 Gival Press Poetry Award and recipient of a 2007 Eric Hoffer Book Award: Notable for Art Category. Her poetry has appeared in publications internationally, including The Bitter Oleander, Feminist Studies, The Massachusetts Review, Terrain.org: A Journal of the Built & Natural Environments, and Women’s Studies Quarterly. Her website is www.donnajgelagotislee.com
The Doctor Answers the Question: What is Breaking Detroit’s Heart?
By Linda Nemec Foster
Not the usual suspects:
the stabbings and gunshots,
the quiet OD in some abandoned
house on the northwest side.
Not the typical urban mix
of gut fear, heart fear, brain scared
to death over the lost job,
the mounting bills, empty table.
Not the streets overgrown with fields
where neighborhoods of houses
once stood, where dreams lived and
the children of those dreams once played.
What breaks Detroit’s heart is this: a hospital
overflowing with the dead. White body bags
like shrouds stacked in rooms, piled on floors,
sitting in chairs as if waiting for you to notice.
Linda Nemec Foster is the author of 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 magazines and journals: e.g. The Georgia Review, Nimrod, Quarterly West, Witness, New American Writing, North American Review, and Verse Daily.
Three Poems by Wayne-Daniel Berard
My Father’s Covid
the landing craft
of my father’s life
has once again ground
itself on omaha beach
but the iron door
is not dropping
normandy is all gusts
and bluster like always
like him night is falling
and he wonders why
no order to disembark
and why he is alone
in the hold’s center
a single candle
gutters and gasps
drowning in the liquid
of its own meltedness
my father wonders if
he’s dreaming or gone
crazy until he hears a
woman’s voice calling
his name from the darkening
cliffs he recognizes her but
doesn’t the candle sputters
he huddles in the corner of
his craft I hope he knows
not to wait for me (denied
permission to board by
executive order) I hope
when the wick exhales
and all the iron falls away
he’ll see only enemyless
beach moonlit and know
his one love’s call unhiding
in the high hedgerows
Passover in Plague Time
So this is how it felt
to have it all turn
against you to be
blamed in the burning
choking recesses of
each breath for decisions
by untouchable powers to
watch the river of your
everyday turn red your days
turn nights your very sky
fill with swarms of deadly
devouring tininesses your
massive milieu could not
fend off was this how it felt
when no safe distance
could save first born elders
and silly unschooled children
who gathered regardless
what was the hieroglyph for
“death count?” a human with
no animal head as every beast
had quit us in joyous liberation?
did the symbol rise and widen
grow and dominate until
everything infected everything
with enslavement to remoteness and
collapse? if we were all there back at
sinai then we were all there in giza
and luxor did we say “no, nameless one,
not this! egypt loves its children too
their grandparents are not pharaoh let
our liberation not be bought with plague?”
Christine in my Crisis
We’re sitting in the sunroom
the phone is constant
it rings it beeps so
much support “how
is your dad?” “there
for you” I get up from
beside you I don’t want
to interrupt your shows
from the kitchen I gaze
every minute of every call
back toward you your
profile defines both sun
and room being light
just by being and being
the one and every place
in which I dwell I’m glad
for all the others I breathe
because of you my constant
occasion the o in each hello
Wayne-Daniel Berard, PhD, teaches Humanities at Nichols College, Dudley, MA. He publishes broadly in poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. His latest full-length work of poetry, The Realm of Blessing, will be published in 2020 by Unsolicited Press. He is the co-founding editor of Soul-Lit, an online journal of spiritual poetry www.soul-lit.com
. Wayne-Daniel lives in Mansfield, MA with his wife, The Lovely Christine.
First Three Issues
North of Oxford – The Pandemic Issue #1
https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2020/04/19/__trashed-2/ Poets: Howie Good, Marion Deutche Cohen, Alan Toltzis, Charles Rammelkamp, Gloria Parker, Len Krisak, Ed Krizek, Mervyn Taylor, Carl Kaucher, M. J. Arcangelini, Eileen R. Tabios, Bryon Beynon, Greg Bem, Richard Nester and John D. Robinson.
North of Oxford- The Pandemic Issue #2
Poets: Ray Greenblatt, Cathleen Cohen, Cameron Morse, Ed Meek, Joan Mazza, Hiram Larew, April Penn, Grace Andreacchi, Mary Shanley, Bruce E. Whitacre, Jonie McIntire, Liddy Warrell, Nicole Yurcaba, Thaddeus Rutkowski, and Mike Cohen.
North of Oxford- The Pandemic Issue #3
Poets: Don Riggs, John Macker, Lorna Wood, Michael Steffen, Matthew Ussia, Belinda Subraman, Susan Champion, Carlos Hernández Peña, Phil Saunders, Arlyn LaBelle, Peter Scheponik, and Ben Mazer
Stay Calm – Stay Safe – Stay Home and When Out and About Wear a Mask
Diane Sahms and g emil reutter