Three Poems

By Rita Coleman

Potter’s Field, New York City

Will a relative or a friend
come forward, one who

has been sick or gone or
quarantined or poor,

search for their someone
who’s been missing too

long, who might check
a hospital record, who

might suspect their
someone, dead,

in an unmarked coffin, white,
stacked two deep

by a front-loader into a
channel of dirt on

Hart Island, neighbored
by those too destitute

to be buried anywhere
else, mourned by families

whose food never fills
a belly, who have no

money for a burial,
who accept the new silence

around them as one more thing
to be endured as a have-not.

Go Ahead, Tell Me

I can take it.
I’ve been around the sun a few times.
Go ahead, tell me all about the deaths,
tell me how they died without caress
in the slipstream between breath and silence
a video call of last words.
Tell me about everyday fear, suspicions,
a sinuous distrust woven in the blood
and guts of many, of most, of me.
I know about the firebelly of injustice.
I will never again utter the words,
“Nobody ever said it would be fair,”
to my grandchildren.

Go ahead, tell me one more time
that we’re all in this together when we shrink
at the presence of anyone closer than six feet,
at an unmasked face in the near beyond.
Yes, we can wash our hands twelve times
a day and spray disinfectant on our credit card,
on our car keys when we have to go out.
But for all these efforts, this heart is weary,
longs for a day without numbers and spikes,
for a day without idiocy, for a time when
this heart was not broken.

When Breath Is Not Enough

“I can’t breathe.”

Whose last words?

Who’s gasping for breath?

Whose lungs are failing?

A fatal virus? A deadly knee?

“I can’t breathe.”

No more ventilators? A trachea choke-off?

Covid? Police brutality?

Both fatalities, one murder.

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