By Laura Glenn
We appear in little squares—
a sheet of commemorative stamps,
minus the commemorated one;
four generations—all over the map—together,
sans hugs, food, schmooze.
Newspapers and the radio
echo our words—at the end
we weren’t there for her. I repeat those words
till they belong more to history than to me.
We’d have been endangered, a danger.
Regaled with tales from my mother’s life,
we view photos of her art,
snapshots of her over the years:
Her life flashes before my eyes
as if I were dying.
Music brings mute sobs.
I square my shaking shoulders.
The song ends. Composed,
I smile at my family, then
our windows blacken.
Notes from the Pandemic
The streets are empty as De Chirico paintings
of abandoned piazzas and stradas.
I venture out and chance upon a friend—we don’t dare touch—
only air hugs and air kisses from 6 feet apart.
Who would have thought it was our faces
we’re not supposed to touch?
On the other hand, which I keep washing,
soap is my best friend.
These days the butterfly effect seems unseemly,
unless we reverse it ~ so rippled air can’t reach us. Who wouldn’t prioritize saving lives?
All we have to do is stay home. As Pascal said,
“miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.”
There’s terrible anxiety around shopping for food:
One blunder and we might end up 6 feet under.
People are masked and gloved like surgeons
or like thieves with bandanas covering their faces—
they might rob someone of life without them.
Soon it’s home delivery for us.
Still, we scrub the plastic tubs of triple-washed spinach.
We’re lucky to have a garden with fresh herbs returning
and spring flowers acting
as if everything were normal.
I can’t see my son but I follow his footsteps—
he’s under lockdown in Berkeley, then I’m under
lockdown in Ithaca. At least he’s not home worrying about
unintentional harm. Like him I spread
information that might help.
I worry about my mother and my aunt,
both in the same retirement community.
If they fell deathly ill, I couldn’t be there for them
like I was for my father and uncle.
In between work and obsessive news-checking,
panicking and quelling and remotely connecting,
I work on a chaos-filled painting—spiking it
with new elements daily.
I have to calm it down.
A few final dabs of black over a suspicion of red
and the painting’s complete.
But before this poem ends
the virus finds its way
into my mother’s retirement community.
Before I end the poem, while it incubates in sleep,
the phone rings in the middle of the night,
and I know what it means—
my mother’s long life has ended,
leaving me speechless.
Laura Glenn’s book of poems I Can’t Say I’m Lost was published by FootHills, and her chapbook When the Ice Melts by Finishing Line Press. She lives in Ithaca, NY.