Pandemic Poems - APRIL 2020
Bio Note: I am Prose Editor for BrickHouse Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. A chapbook of poems, Me and Sal Paradise, was published last year by FutureCycle Press. Two full-length collections are forthcoming in 2020, Catastroika, from Apprentice House, and Ugler Lee from Kelsay Books.
No Laughing Matter
The local supermarket set aside the hour from 6:00 AM to 7:00 AM for people over sixty, a vulnerable demographic, to shop during the Coronavirus pandemic. I drove over in that pre-dawn hour to pick up some items I’d decided were necessary – soy sauce, orange juice, a can of diced tomatoes – nothing my life depended on but things I really wanted. As if it were a magic wand – or as if the grocery basket was smeared with dogshit – I plucked an antiseptic wipe from the dispenser to wipe the handles before putting my fingers on the plastic. But when I walked into the store, I saw everyone wore a face mask. Only I did not have one. Self-conscious, as if I’d farted at the dinner table – sure, more than a faux pas, but I felt more embarrassed than anything – I scurried through the aisles, keeping distance from everyone else. Did they look at me as if I were a criminal? Those eyes over the masks seemed to accuse.
There’s a fancy new internet app. I hadn’t known about until the Plague hit. It allows my Senior group to meet online, each of us in a separate box on the screen. We’re all in a vulnerable demographic, most of us already having used up our allotted three-score-and-ten. Ten of us, our combined ages closing in on 750 years, we swap stories like the Florentines in Boccaccio’s countryside villa, escaping the Black Death, though it’s eight women and two men instead of seven and three as in The Decameron. We talk about social-distancing, grocery-delivery services, washing clothes and showering. “My husband Ted and I have sex about ten times a day,” bawdy Liz snickers, and everybody remembers their youth.
Third-year medical student on rotations, I’m working in the university hospital, pretending to be a doctor. That’s what it feels like, anyway. The hardest part? Actually listening. I’m following a patient with metastatic cancer, a man in his sixties who came in with huge masses on his neck – enlarged lymph nodes. The doctors want to know where the cancer started before it spread to the lymph nodes, to get some kind of clue about the prognosis. I just watch and learn. The patient doesn’t know yet he has cancer. We don’t want to tell him until we know something more about it. I’m only an observer now but I feel like I have a huge secret, an anchor in my heart, dreading having to break the bad news. I practice pretending I am dead, thinking maybe non-existence holds some kind of answer that words simply can’t contain.
©2020 Charles Rammelkamp
Editor's Note: If this poem(s) moves you please consider writing to the author (email address above) to tell her or him. You might say what it is about the poem that moves you. Writing to the author is what builds the community at Verse Virtual. It is very important. -JL