By Daniel Halpern

There are fewer introductions
In plague years,
Hands held back, jocularity
No longer bellicose,
Even among men.
Breathing’s generally wary,
Labored, as they say, when
The end is at hand.
But this is the everyday intake
Of   the imperceptible life force,
Willed now, slow —
Well, just cautious
In inhabited air.
As for ongoing dialogue,
No longer an exuberant plosive
To make a point,
But a new squirreling of air space,
A new sense of  boundary.
Genghis Khan said the hand
Is the first thing one man gives
To another. Not in this war.
A gesture of  limited distance
Now suffices, a nod,
A minor smile or a hand
Slightly raised,
Not in search of   its counterpart,
Just a warning within
The acknowledgment to stand back.
Each beautiful stranger a barbarian
Breathing on the other side of the gate.

First published in the March edition of POETRY, 2013, and reproduced here by kind permission of the author.

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Gill McEvoy
Gill McEvoy
1 year ago

How we have changed the way we look at our fellow humans and how this poem makes that uncomfortably clear.

1 year ago

Such a great poem full of beautiful imagery. Love “new squirreling of air space”

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