By Jessica Jost-Costanzo
They are just little white marks on the scan,
and they are floating shapes
that make me think of clouds—
clouds that look like funny things,
But really they are the shape of Covid
in my lungs;
pneumonia—what I didn’t want,
what couldn’t happen to me.
And the doctor explains what’s next as she adjusts
which I notice doesn’t fit right.
She tells me about the medicine,
and what it will feel like if I can’t breathe,
and my whole self is humming with
the possibility of death.
When I am alone again and they are gathering
steroids and spirometers,
the nightmare parting gifts of the Covid ER wing,
I hear a husband and wife, both infected, saying goodbye.
She will be admitted “too sick to go home,”
but he should be “just fine at home with meds.”
She asks to see him once more.
I don’t mean to listen, but it is unavoidable,
and I hear tears,
and I feel their terror.
And when they finally send me home
To wait and hope for clear lungs,
I walk out behind the man who may have just said goodbye
for the last time.
Listening to Elizabeth Bishop, and the Lost Art of Letter Writing
The symptoms just kept coming—
like they were being stacked,
one on top of the other—
bearing down on me.
And the thought occurred to me
that I was not doing very well,
and I shouldn’t put off the
So I wrote her a letter
on what was my worst Covid night.
You can guess the words . . .
all about love, and pride,
and regret about not being better,
not being stronger,
but ultimately gratitude.
. . . You are the love of our lives—without you,
nothing would have been as meaningful or joyful or purposeful.
You are my girl forever, and I thank you for being you . . .
It wasn’t great writing
(is it ever?);
it wasn’t all that I wanted to say.
But you have to write something
when you may not be able to say that goodbye.
So the letter of that night exists
in the notes on my phone—all these months later.
And through the enduring slog of long Covid,
I go back to it—again and again.
I realize now how close I came
to leaving her with my work undone,
to leaving her with a stilted goodbye,
to leaving her with the only awkward words I could conjure
while facing death, and spasms of pain and fear.
And somehow, but only now,
I am strangely thankful for the moment,
for it is in these moments—
these night terrors—
when you see the long arc of love
when human connection is incredibly simple,
and you live to talk about it.
Jessica Jost-Costanzo, Ph.D., is Chair of the Arts, Communication Studies, and English Department at Mount Aloysius College in Cresson, Pennsylvania. She has published poems with Tiny Seed and Ancient Paths.