We Used to Walk a Mile to School in the Snow

By Sarah Colon

We used to stand
shoulders touching
in elevators, on the subway.
“Like sardines,” we’d say.
We used to fear a stranger’s
breath only for its humid
odors, its hot closeness.
“Breathing down my neck”
was not a phrase for brushes
with death. We used to greet
with open palms, hold hands
with strangers, saying “Nice
to meet you.” We’d catch
sneezes and coughs in our mitts
like baseballs, wipe noses
on sleeves, tease the person
who kept jellied alcohol
behind their monitor or wiped
a keyboard before use.
We left bathrooms so cavalier,
passing our paws under faucets,
skipping soap, flinging droplets
everywhere. We’d kiss babies
on the mouth. We’d cram
like little fish around a table,
singing off-key, a flaming dessert
walking toward us. We’d bend
low over the flames, use breath
as extinguisher, blowing
until all that’s left was smoke.
Then we would cut up the cake,
passing out pieces to everyone.

Sarah Colon is a writer, educator, and parent from the American West. She grew up in Southern Montana and now resides in Largo, Florida with her husband and their blended family of six children. Previous publications include The Examined Life, Flash Fiction, Just Words Fallacy, and work is forthcoming in The Account: a Journal of Poetry, Prose, and Thought.

I wrote this poem early in the pandemic, when the adjustments to face covering and social distancing were still very new. At the time, I thought we would be in for maybe three months of the quarantine, based on the statistics from Hubei Province. In spite of my optimism, a deep part of me also felt that this experience was going to change our culture irrevocably. After reading an article about elderly people in assisted living facilities and the profound loneliness they were experiencing, I started imagining how I or someone my age might describe the pre-pandemic world to my grandchildren or great-grandchildren, and this poem was born.

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