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Living through a pandemic is something many of us have never imagined. The flow of life feels forever changed, and the crisis seems unending. In April, I began the process of putting together a poetry collection that reflected on life during the spread of the new coronavirus, believing in the healing power of words. I asked local poets to submit poems about how they’ve been feeling during the pandemic—how we’ve all been feeling during the pandemic. These are the poems they sent to represent those feelings. I hope they move you. —Kayla Randall

“Spreading Death” by Kim B Miller

I am locked in this house
Barricaded behind drywall and black art
I resisted these pretty prison walls but now I’m incarcerated
I don’t know why the blue bird sang but this brown one is singing because she wants to be free
Let me fly with my friends
I want to open the boundaries to physical touch
When did I begin serving this prison sentence
Why do I keep seeing other inmates escape their confinement
Walking on beaches, going to church, having parties
Each one is like a bee pollinating flowers
Except they are spreading death
Even though us is included in virus
There is no need to include me
My obedience to this cell may not save me
Not when so many escapees return
They are ignorantly proud of their escape
Boastful about immunity
They tested sickness but some did not make it to graduation because they failed science
Death does not play chess
So their willingness to be pawns does not ensure that they will be taken
They opened up everyone to defeat
Death does not look for loyalty
But if stupidly should skip in front of it
Well, even death likes the flavor of low hanging fruit
As for me, I’ll just sit in this prison
Watching death play hula hoop with ignorance
While more volunteers line up to meet him
Death doesn’t get tired so maybe we will get sick of dying

“The days blur” 
by Teri Ellen Cross Davis

The days blur as we self-quarantine, to make less work for others.
The days blur, the spot on the floor next to my bed, my feet land with a thud
and I am IT director, chef, housekeeper, nurse, and tele-worker all before 9am.
The days blur, my hand on backs, foreheads, my ears alert for coughing,
thermometer at the hip like a gunslinger.
The days blur, I touch my husband, so I don’t forget what it feels like.
The days blur from rain or crying, the world a watery vision framed by window panes.
The days blur until it’s midnight, 1am—I’ve waited out the cacophony
of children for a silence smothered in anxiety. Privilege is a house,
the hum of a deep freezer, a steady job.
The days blur and my waistband expands as my mind frays, needing a hem.
The days blur and the wound I am oozes, the scab yet to start.
The days blur and racists fight for the right to be served—humanity is a bauble
and capitalism has slashed the price.
The days blur as COVID types its initials on a new high score and doctors adjust the margins.
The days blur and when I finally walk out my door, the world will be less, not more.

“Remedy” by Gabriela Orozco

 –  A  remedy of upright trees
and room to breathe 

The blossoms beckon, blooming city blocks
call my granny from a continent away
I send her pictures of the sidewalks
Despite the time difference, I pray
that I remember it regardless, that
my remedy won’t wake her up.
She misses springtime here, and for
the first time in seventy six years
she lights the Shabbat candles alone,
her blessings warming an empty home

 –   A remedy of sunshine,
soft hands, and bike rides 

The silence of this city is soothing
A lullaby of red lights, marble, limestone
and living room folding parties. 

 –   A remedy of small children,
sweet rain and a welcome storm
A remedy of daffodils sprouting,
dizzy spinning and an electron dance 

My sister and I piss ourselves with laughter
We play pretend, put our wheels together
Pillows on the couch, anything to avoid this disaster: 

 –  A  remedy of sisterhood,
a shehechiyanu (how lucky we are to be together), a psalm and soothing balm 

My family holds me tight,
A hug wrapped in a place to sleep each night
the Shema reminds me to keep it on my lips
I forget the words, the Hebrew
forms itself into fragile shapes and twists.
I rip the blinds open, shelter in the holiness of light
I have no synagogue to go to,
The doors of the ark shuttered closed
A Shabbat of loneliness
The minyan consists of my mother and some memories
My own prayers and whispered pleas 

 –  A  remedy of peace,
prayers texted to my rabbi
of restless practice, rustling leaves,
and a world repaired again

We relight the candles
My mother recites the priest’s
blessing, But
none of us are priests or priestesses
We’re just souls on fire, faithful to an extent
dressed in pajamas and princess dresses
Kept alive by prayer and hope
we open our throats
Refuse to let the smoke swallow us
we recall South African sunsets
Let the song rise and roll through us
As I am blessed, my sister’s hands settle on my head,
I take a deep breath and hope for the best.

“Distant Apologies” 
by Mecca Verdell

My Father scans the grocery store
goes throughout the aisles
He tries to remember my favorite snacks.
knowing even if he chooses the right one
it will be the wrong one.

He’s not here for snacks, He is looking
for an apology, nothing else can make us full.
I’m too old for junk food, and he is too
old to understand, this is how love can starve.
How daughters embrace famine.

Is it hard to say I’m sorry, because you admit
Something? Surrender? Sorrow? Not remembering
someone’s favorite snacks? His fingers passes my phone
Number as he asks my mother for advice.

I am home trying to understand how we
Apologize in this house. How we wait out hurt between
Dinners, and hope if we give pain enough rides to
The mall, the outing will be enough of an outlet to reset.

I always remember the gifts, and never the humility
Always feeling undeserving of this since he gave me
half of my life But has been chipping away at it
with every conversation neglected.

Every announcement of “if you don’t pay rent
Then he don’t pay attention to when I cry
That he has exhausted my heartbeat.

My father comes home never saying hello
But throwing me my favorite snacks, and I accept.
Since this is the only way we know how to forgive
in our house.

We give distant apologies we hope will add up
To the real thing since it be a technique that was never
Passed down. It be a redemption in practice. Traffic on the way
To holy, and several trips to the grocery store.

“Sideways” 
by Gregory Luce

The rain’s blowing
sideways so even the dog
won’t go outside
and you retreat back
into the apartment
and brood, maybe
an extra cup of coffee,
dog stretched out sulking
at your feet. Idling, body
rooted to the chair, the mind
has to go somewhere as energy
pools and accumulates.
You watch the dog’s tail
rise and fall and thump
the floor like your heart knocking
on your chest from the inside.
You can almost feel the blood
coursing through your body
and the nerves firing their signals
one to the next along the great
network from brain around
to brain again. One deep breath suspends
all movement for a lingering moment,
then the flow resumes.

“In This Short Life” 
by Regie Cabico

How much—how little—is within our power—Emily Dickinson

In this short life
I surround myself
With fertile power

Lilies,
Jasmines,
Gardenias

These buds
Alone
While in Isolation

Are worthy
Of a widow’s dower

“THE SOCIAL DISTANCE” 
by Kim Roberts

The fashionable looks this season
are bandit or surgeon. One senator
cloaks his face in a Confederate flag
then feigns surprise when some are offended.

On the fourth yahrzeit of my mother’s death,
I think of her, unable to read lips
through all those masks: the muzzled world.
On the sidewalk, we try a new geometry,

but some repeatedly fail their math.
Paper products become the new currency:
my love brings me two boxes of tissues.
I try to imagine an innocent time

when we could stand under strobe lights,
heat rising from a herd of bodies, bass notes
like glorious thunder the only thing
transmitted through the air.

“The Balance” 
by Halim A. Flowers

Kapitalism has died
or at least stood still
As the Mother Earth
kept spinning and moving and dancing
For she doesn’t have to cry as much anymore
The iron horses have settled
And the commercial birds no longer soar
So now, the dolphins can play on the shore
of Sardinia and the filth has disappeared from the waters of
Venice, along with the void of polluting people.

The air can finally breathe and
the wind can win
And we can all be concerned how we
touch one another again

Sad that so many had to die
For the Mother Earth to no longer cry
For so many to finally live
In a world protected from the insanity of our collective
Matricide

The markets are closed
The traders and merchants are at home discovering that they have little to no
intrinsic value to exchange when currency is lost
The places of worship are empty and the callers to prayer
are silenced, forcing people to carry God with them inside
of the temple of their own souls

Sad that we had to be confined
For the sun to shine
through, as we were imprisoned to our home
To gentrify the layers of the ozone
From the stratifications of the mess
That our social constructs created for those that have less
Now we all wear masks
For Mother Earth to breathe
For everything else to live free…….

The poets:

Spoken word artist Kim B Miller’s poetry is her heart expressed in words: opinionated, thought-provoking, and real. She is an award-winning performer and writer who has been the featured poet/speaker/facilitator in several states, and she has written several books. Miller is honored to work with Diabolically Haitian on her poetry program at a women’s prison as a poetry class facilitator. Her website is kimbmiller.com and she is iamkimbmiller on all social media.

Teri Ellen Cross Davis’ second collection a more perfect Union is the winner of the 2019 Journal/Charles B. Wheeler Poetry Prize. She’s been awarded the 2020 Poetry Society of America’s Robert H. Winner Memorial Prize and the 2017 Ohioana Book Award for Poetry. She’s the poetry coordinator for the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Gabriela Orozco is a D.C. native and a junior at School Without Walls. She takes inspiration and pride from her heritage as a Jewish Latina daughter of immigrants. As the 2019 DC Youth Poet Laureate, Orozco reads her poetry and leads youth poetry writing workshops across the city. She has received a National Gold Medal and American Voices Medal in the 2020 Scholastic Arts and Writing Awards for her short poetry collection, A Conquistador’s Currency, Echoes from the Quarry.

Mecca ‘Meccamorphosis’ Verdell is an author, actress, teaching artist, and poet. Verdell first garnered national attention after winning Brave New Voices, an international youth poetry slam. Since then, Verdell has been traveling the country performing, teaching, and building upon the intersection of activism and art. She is currently crowned one of the top five poets of the world by the Individual World Poetry Slam. Verdell is a voice for Black women everywhere.

Gregory Luce, author of Signs of Small Grace, Drinking Weather, Memory and Desire, Tile, and the forthcoming Riffs & Improvisations, is the 2014 Larry Neal Award winner for adult poetry, given by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. In addition to poetry, he writes a monthly arts column for Scene4 magazine. He is retired from National Geographic, works as a volunteer writing tutor and mentor for 826DC, and lives in Arlington.

Regie Cabico is a pioneer of spoken word poetry, winning top prizes in three National Poetry Slams. He has appeared on NPR’s Snap Judgement, HBO’s Def Poetry Jam, and TEDx Talk. He is the publisher and producer of Capturing Fire Press & Summit, and a founding board member of Split This Rock. He is single and lives on top of a Trader Joe’s.

Kim Roberts is the author of A Literary Guide to Washington, DC: Walking in the Footsteps of American Writers from Francis Scott Key to Zora Neale Hurston, and five books of poems, most recently The Scientific Method. Her newest book, an anthology of early DC poets called By Broad Potomac’s Shore: Great Poems from the Early Days of our Nation’s Capital, will be released by the University of Virginia Press this October. Her website is kimroberts.org

Halim A. Flowers is an artist, writer, designer, and criminal justice reform activist. Flowers was arrested in D.C. at age 16 and sentenced as an adult to two life sentences. His experiences as a child in the adult prison system were filmed in the Emmy award-winning documentary Thug Life In DC. Flowers published 11 books before his release from prison in 2019, after serving 22 years. He was awarded the Halcyon Arts Lab and Echoing Green fellowship awards in 2019 and the Eaton DC Hotel Artist-Residency in 2020. His current artistic focus is his visual arts PhotoPoetry practice.