ANTIVIRAL COCKTAIL: A SEQUENCE
1. Body Armor
We make our own masks: sand dollars
tied behind the head with kite string.
We make our own gowns: red crosses
Sharpied on ponchos
in a rain foretold.
When my country had no body armor for its troops,
it told them, You go to war with the army you have.
I live in the richest country in history, or so I hear.
There are no green zones, only shrapnel
we cannot feel or see.
We go to work with the bodies we have.
2. An American Nurse Foresees Her Death
I stepped out of a kill-zone shaped like a bedroom
then went home to sleep in my garage.
This hand that sponged the fever off a body
waves at my kids through the living room window.
I text my husband through a weeping wall.
The scrubs go in a Mommy hamper
I warn my kids away from
with a Crayola skull and crossbones.
The face on the laptop doesn’t let on
how the knuckles sanitized raw bleed in blue gloves
and “lunch” is an apple between codes.
When the shift ends, if it ever ends,
I ghost the perimeter of my own life
and set the alarm for four thirty in the morning.
The enemy doesn’t want me working.
The enemy wants to grant me days of rest,
a bed of my own
in a kill-zone shaped like a break room.
Nurses I know are nursing nurses
through the never-ending fevers
ending them. That will be me soon,
one or the other, or one then the other.
At sign out last Friday, we didn’t say
bed numbers. We said first names.
3. A Plague of Crows
Corvids in a row, leeching power from the power line. Corvids
dissecting my roadkill-mound of mind. Corvids
battling, handwing shadowplay in withered elms.
The hands vanish, the darkness stays behind. Corvids
watching old men shuffle off to the crematorium,
their bones, bricks baked to build what fever designed. Corvids
insidious. Corvids nesting in the breast, the breath,
summering at every bloodwarm birdbath they find. Corvid
bogeymen to chase the kids indoors with.
Corvid invasion, the hunters shooting blind. Corvids
forty days and forty nights. Corvid orgy, corvid
elegy, mourners dressed to the nines. Corvid
carnival, Day of the Dead, skull and feathers,
showmen with no organs left to grind. Corvids
in the churches, parishioners in triage. Corvid
conquest: blackened map, surrender signed. Corvids
dive-bombing us to snatch our masks into the elms
and leave us gasping god oh corvid god be kind.
A virus is the ultimate
from body to new
body like lifesbreath
through the mouth
or nose, breathing, breeding in
a private bloodwarm springtime.
April really is the cruelest month,
choosing who will breathe
and who will not, who will seed pod
and Godspeed the virus
and who will stop
dead. A virus is a melody,
catchy. Our lungs are flowers
by its genetic pollen
as we speak, flaring
petals of fever.
Our tongues still have power,
so we sing to, sing
through our malady
from Tuscan balconies
like souls in Dante
waiting out purgatory,
and it’s catchy, it goes viral.
A mind still glowing from the kiln
of death anxiety
is a brick to build with.
A mind still growing in the chill
of maybe there will be no spring
this time sings to, sings
through its purgatorial
quarantine like a soul
in Dante. But if this
is purgatory, that means
there’s a heaven just ahead.
And it’s been waiting there
for all of us as long
as we have waited here
for a new earth cleansed
with breaths and breaths to spare,
a new earth masked and gowned
in nothing but the bright blue air.
—from Poets Respond
April 9, 2020
Amit Majmudar: “This sequence is about the lack of protective gear for healthcare workers during this global pandemic. I myself am a practicing physician, but my main concern right now is my sister, an infectious disease physician who currently runs Cook County’s HIV clinics in the South Side of Chicago. She is on a list of physicians to be called up for duty in the field hospital set up in Chicago’s McCormick Place Convention Center. I worry about her exposure and her family’s exposure a lot. These related poems, though not specifically pertaining to her, have emerged from the welter of emotions surrounding this catastrophe.” (web)