By Claudia Serea
Pour me another quarantini
We had blizzard warnings for weeks.
Deadly cinder flakes started to fall,
and kept falling, piling on,
day and night, like dirty snow,
like lava and ashes that rose
to our knees and thighs.
Dark masses drifted over the Brooklyn Bridge,
over Empire State Building,
over the Hudson River,
into New Jersey.
Gray lizards over suburban houses,
the virus storms raged on the roofs.
And we stayed home,
buried in our warm-lit bubble,
boiling pasta, stirring the sauce,
and watching the grim news.
Forget the news, you said,
it’s never good.
Pour me another quaratini
and find a comedy on cable.
Melissa McCarthy knows
the way out of this mess.
Hundreds of years from now,
when they’ll find us,
the journal I’m keeping will be an artifact,
a chronicle of quarantined times
recording the staggering numbers.
They’ll uncover us, embraced,
feet tangled on the couch,
still laughing in the house’s belly.
I can hear your heartbeat with my nose.
Here we are, millions of outcasts
on the shores of our own Black Seas
rising in our living rooms
and barbaric kitchens.
In each house on fire,
we play our silent, burning pianos.
Was there ever
a more futile endeavor
than the way we answer
death’s karaoke song,
banging on pots with ladles and spoons
and yelling, “We’re alive”?
we answer sirens with clapping,
with banana bread.
I see your exile, human,
and raise you a new day.
The barista’s name is Jesus
His hands are quick,
and he doesn’t smile.
It’s a busy spot close to Central Park
where people from all over the world
wait for Jesus to serve the hot with hissing iced
and the bitter with the sweet.
He watches the long line,
who’s first, who’s last,
writes down the names on paper cups,
and counts the money.
What can I get you today? he asks me
when I get to the front.
We order Peach Tranquility Tea for you,
dark roast for me,
and we step aside, waiting
for Jesus to call our names.
Claudia Serea is a Romanian-born poet with work published in Field, New Letters, Gravel, Prairie Schooner, The Malahat Review, Asymptote, RHINO, and elsewhere. She has published five poetry collections, most recently Twoxism, a poetry-photography collaboration with Maria Haro (8th House Publishing, 2018). Serea is a founding editor of National Translation Month and a co-host of The Williams Poetry Readings series in Rutherford, NJ.
I started writing a journal during the months of the pandemic, and it made me realize how inadequate our responses are to every catastrophe, not just this particular one: we respond with prayers to cataclysm. We meet widespread disease with banana bread. I am from Romania where the Roman poet Ovid was exiled, so it occurred to me that we all became exiles on our own Black Sea shores of our homes. We are so helpless, ants would mount a better resistance than humans. So my poems are trying to mount that defense—but in reality, they are only part of the same inadequate response. We are all alone in front of the darkness, and we can only fight it with love, with humor, with our unique experience and voice. That’s all we have. Nothing but our voice against the great darkness. Whistling, laughing. Surviving.