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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 houseBarricaded behind drywall and black artI 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 freeLet me fly with my friendsI want to open the boundaries to physical touchWhen did I begin serving this prison sentenceWhy do I keep seeing other inmates escape their confinementWalking on beaches, going to church, having partiesEach one is like a bee pollinating flowersExcept they are spreading deathEven though us is included in virusThere is no need to include meMy obedience to this cell may not save meNot when so many escapees returnThey are ignorantly proud of their escapeBoastful about immunityThey tested sickness but some did not make it to graduation because they failed scienceDeath does not play chessSo their willingness to be pawns does not ensure that they will be takenThey opened up everyone to defeatDeath does not look for loyaltyBut if stupidly should skip in front of it Well, even death likes the flavor of low hanging fruitAs for me, I’ll just sit in this prisonWatching death play hula hoop with ignoranceWhile more volunteers line up to meet himDeath 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 thudand 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 cacophonyof 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 baubleand 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 treesand room to breathe
The blossoms beckon, blooming city blockscall my granny from a continent awayI send her pictures of the sidewalksDespite the time difference, I praythat I remember it regardless, thatmy remedy won’t wake her up.She misses springtime here, and forthe first time in seventy six yearsshe 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 soothingA lullaby of red lights, marble, limestoneand living room folding parties.
– A remedy of small children,sweet rain and a welcome stormA remedy of daffodils sprouting, dizzy spinning and an electron dance
My sister and I piss ourselves with laughterWe play pretend, put our wheels togetherPillows 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 nightthe Shema reminds me to keep it on my lipsI forget the words, the Hebrewforms 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 closedA Shabbat of lonelinessThe minyan consists of my mother and some memoriesMy own prayers and whispered pleas
– A remedy of peace,prayers texted to my rabbiof restless practice, rustling leaves,and a world repaired again
We relight the candlesMy mother recites the priest’sblessing, Butnone of us are priests or priestessesWe’re just souls on fire, faithful to an extentdressed in pajamas and princess dressesKept alive by prayer and hopewe open our throatsRefuse to let the smoke swallow uswe recall South African sunsetsLet the song rise and roll through usAs 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 storegoes throughout the aislesHe tries to remember my favorite snacks.knowing even if he chooses the right oneit will be the wrong one.
He’s not here for snacks, He is lookingfor an apology, nothing else can make us full.I’m too old for junk food, and he is tooold to understand, this is how love can starve.How daughters embrace famine.
Is it hard to say I’m sorry, because you admitSomething? Surrender? Sorrow? Not rememberingsomeone’s favorite snacks? His fingers passes my phoneNumber as he asks my mother for advice.
I am home trying to understand how weApologize in this house. How we wait out hurt betweenDinners, and hope if we give pain enough rides toThe mall, the outing will be enough of an outlet to reset.
I always remember the gifts, and never the humilityAlways feeling undeserving of this since he gave mehalf of my life But has been chipping away at itwith every conversation neglected.
Every announcement of “if you don’t pay rent”Then he don’t pay attention to when I cryThat he has exhausted my heartbeat.
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My father comes home never saying helloBut throwing me my favorite snacks, and I accept.Since this is the only way we know how to forgivein our house.
We give distant apologies we hope will add upTo the real thing since it be a technique that was neverPassed down. It be a redemption in practice. Traffic on the wayTo holy, and several trips to the grocery store.
“Sideways” by Gregory Luce
The rain’s blowingsideways so even the dogwon’t go outsideand you retreat backinto the apartmentand brood, maybean extra cup of coffee,dog stretched out sulkingat your feet. Idling, bodyrooted to the chair, the mindhas to go somewhere as energypools and accumulates.You watch the dog’s tailrise and fall and thumpthe floor like your heart knockingon your chest from the inside.You can almost feel the bloodcoursing through your bodyand the nerves firing their signalsone to the next along the greatnetwork from brain aroundto brain again. One deep breath suspendsall 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 lifeI surround myself With fertile power
These budsAloneWhile in Isolation
Are worthyOf a widow’s dower
“THE SOCIAL DISTANCE” by Kim Roberts
The fashionable looks this seasonare bandit or surgeon. One senatorcloaks his face in a Confederate flagthen feigns surprise when some are offended.
On the fourth yahrzeit of my mother’s death,I think of her, unable to read lipsthrough 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 noteslike glorious thunder the only thingtransmitted through the air.
“The Balance” by Halim A. Flowers
Kapitalism has diedor at least stood stillAs the Mother Earthkept spinning and moving and dancingFor she doesn’t have to cry as much anymoreThe iron horses have settledAnd the commercial birds no longer soarSo now, the dolphins can play on the shoreof Sardinia and the filth has disappeared from the waters ofVenice, along with the void of polluting people.
The air can finally breathe andthe wind can winAnd we can all be concerned how wetouch one another again
Sad that so many had to dieFor the Mother Earth to no longer cryFor so many to finally liveIn a world protected from the insanity of our collectiveMatricide
The markets are closedThe traders and merchants are at home discovering that they have little to nointrinsic value to exchange when currency is lostThe places of worship are empty and the callers to prayerare silenced, forcing people to carry God with them inside of the temple of their own souls
Sad that we had to be confinedFor the sun to shinethrough, as we were imprisoned to our homeTo gentrify the layers of the ozoneFrom the stratifications of the messThat our social constructs created for those that have lessNow we all wear masksFor Mother Earth to breatheFor everything else to live free…….
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.