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April 2020

Plague Poems #8

PandemicMoi

Cranky this morning after yesterday's encounters. So there's this:

Cover Up

Fashion statement or
cosplay for survival?
All the cool kids are doing it.

The DIYers are making their own
of every style, from
elastic ear-looped to tie-in-back,
to the full out Plague Doctor
like the Venetian Carnival
in steampunk leather,
Halloween latex,
or home-school cardboard
with lesson plans.
The less crafty among us
improvise with
long-sleeve tees, bandanas,
old nylons.
Designers offer
bright-colored fabrics
in bold patterns—all
to keep us from spreading
our poisonous spit
everywhere to everyone.

It’s not all fashion.
Some of us are desperate
for the medical- and construction-grade
versions, unlovely as they are,
because that’s what
the professionals need and
what the heroes wear
or the folks who
were smart or lucky or who
might die without them.

So now you can stop
mocking/fearing/hating
the woman in the niqab
who has always worn it to protect
her modesty, her reputation,
her way of life,
because her faith
asked her to.
You look just like her in that get-up
of a long-sleeved T-shirt
wrapped around your head.
And now you can stop
following black people
wearing medical masks
in the midst of a pandemic
around the grocery store,
like a racial profiling jackass.
And stop blaming Asian-Americans
for taking precautions
before it was cool.

Because contempt
for your fellow humans
is now bareface(d),
running, biking, shopping
with your sneer
clearly visible,
your ignorance plain to see,
your breath spewing time bombs and
spit flying like shrapnel
without regard for your neighbors.

Get a mask.
Nobody
wants to see
your infectious face.

‒28 April, 2020, Brooklyn
©Lee Kottner, 2020


Plague Poems #7

PandemicMoi

I've been on a tear and wasn't sure what to post today, but I see the anti-lockdown assholes are at it again, so here's this:

Life, Liberty

For Dr. Lorna Breen (1971-2020), who survived COVID, but not treating it in the New York-Presbyterian emergency room in northern Manhattan.

Sunny today and 62,
the sky blue, leaves
unfolding like origami released
against it
as Spring eagerly erupts
after a week of cool rain and clouds.
I see only slices of it
from my windows,
under self-imposed
house arrest, voluntarily
immured like some anchoress.
Always a bit of a recluse,
staying at home has not been
much of a burden for me,
but I understand the difficulties
of sharing small spaces
with more than just an uppity cat—
the need for the touch of breezes,
for sunlight on the shoulders,
for the sense of unrestricted
space to move around in,
for some relative quiet and the presence
of others not contemptuously familiar
or dying.

My co-workers, whom I see in the ether
of the Internet each day,
mail occasionally to say they are going out
to exercise their kids, or dog, or themselves,
or just to get out while they can,
and come back with furious tales
of the unmasked and the too-close,
the heedless and the self-absorbed.
The missives sometimes sound too much
like Captain Oates’s self-sacrifice to the arctic blizzard.
I imagine the blizzard of virus particles
swirling in the air outside from an uncovered cough
and I stay inside,
in the luxury of assisted, privileged isolation,
listening to birds and helicopters
and sirens.

I think of Patrick Henry,
of World War II fascist fighters
like my dad, and
of all those forced
to go outside right now
to keep me safe, fed, comfortable
enough to keep propping up the economy
—and out of an emergency room—
like some pampered princess
on her mildly annoying pea,
and the people who are treating my sick friends
in crowded hospitals in New Jersey
and London and South Carolina:

It was my liberty or my death, knuckleheads,
not the death of others traded
for a superficial liberty
to do whatever you please, regardless
of consequences,
or liberty in death, unless
you have seen too much of it
and cannot face another,
not knowing
when it will stop.

What will you do with your liberty
when those you love are dead
of your gullibility, your ignorance, your faux patriotism,
of your inability to be temporarily inconvenienced,
or to sit with yourself or your kids or your mate,
or to lie in the bed you’ve made?
Who should die for you?
Do you know who has?
Are you counting them?

‒April 29, 2020, Brooklyn
©Lee Kottner 2020


Plague Poems #6

PandemicMoi
Hunted

Every morning
I wake to the dawn ruckus of birds,
and the cat beside me,
her tail lashing
in the desire to be outside
and kill.
But this morning I wake late
and the cat is off
stalking water bugs
beneath the sink instead,
the sky is full daylight
but grey with rain,
and there is only
the lament of mourning doves
and a vague memory
of the tik-tik-tik-tik
of nearby lights changing from
red to white to red to white
in that hour
before dawn.

Something passed over
in the night,
touching me only with sleep.

Who’s to say why
I was not prey,
though I have been hiding
for 58 days now,
creeping out at night
to take out my trash,
skittering around the corner
—gloved and masked like a thief—
to forage for food every few weeks,
furtively washing my clothes
when no one else is,
opening the front door
only when I’m sure I will find
just a package and not
my fellow humans
waiting.
And washing, washing
like Lady MacBeth.

Perhaps one killer
in the house
was sufficient threat
for now.
The other one will eat me
when I’m dead.

‒April 27, 2020, Brooklyn
©Lee Kottner, 2020


Plague Poems #5

PandemicMoi

Briefing

“And you don’t have the right, frankly, to take … people who are literally putting their lives on the line and be cavalier or reckless with them.”
‒New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo, April 25, 2020.

And if not for yourself and your family

then for your neighbor’s kid with leukemia
your friend’s friend with the new kidney
for the workers making
your inconvenience
merely inconvenient
the people making a different
sacrifice
more dangerous than yours
the grocery clerks and restockers
the delivery people
bringing you food
and masks and cat litter
bringing you the Amazon snake oil
of possessions
to make you feel better
in your isolation
until the EMTs and the ambulance
come to cart you
hacking and fevered
to a stroke or a ventilator
or a frigid mortuary truck
that last hauled frozen food
like you’re so much meat
to a data point in the statistics
or leave you to a small room
with your family
to sweat it out
and fucking pray like you haven’t in years
or ever
like the nurses and doctors and orderlies and respiratory therapists
pray every single moment of consciousness
to save your ass
and their own
and the bus and subway drivers and cleaners
the bank tellers and pharmacists
the garbage collectors
the police and firefighters
the engineers at the power and water plants
the folks keeping your internet going
and the gas stations open
where you fondle the handles
not knowing where they’ve been
or who touched them before you
without gloves—

For Christ’s sake, for Allah’s, for Buddha’s and Krishna’s
for the sake all the small and large gods of the world
but Mammon—

Stay. The. Fuck. Home.

‒26 April, 2020, Brooklyn
©Lee Kottner 2020


Plague Poems #4

PandemicMoi
Day 56

No one is chasing us
through bombed streets
or trying to systematically
hunt us down and murder us

except for this virus
like a mine bobbing in the droplets
of our own spit, or a mace that
cudgels the careless and arrogant,
which we can outwit
by holing up like
the Frank family
sans Nazis and
plus grocery and liquor delivery
and Internet.

Don’t say you can’t take this anymore.

Six weeks is nothing
in wartime.
Ask the Afghanis
and Syrians, the Somalis
and Congolese,
the grandparents and great grandparents
who fled Europe
with only what they wore,
or who lived nightly
in terror of bombs
dropping on their houses
and beloved cities.
Think of their years of uncertainty,
how much sweeter
stability and peace were
when they found them again.

Think of yourself as called
to this moment in history
as to a vocation.
It is our turn to
practice lovingkindness.
It takes so little
to save someone else
in this invisible conflagration,
this firestorm of infection,
this slow-motion earthquake
of the Old Ways:
soap, twenty seconds of diligence,
a mask, a temporary resistance
to the human need for
proximity and touch.

Our calling now is not to fight
except with words
against the ignorance
that could destroy us,
and to resist
returning to the world
that spawned that ignorance
and the poverty of thought and time
and compassion
that led us here.
Our calling is
to learn patience with
ourselves and others, learn
compassion for their fears
and our own, learn
to be with ourselves
and ones we love
and don’t yet love
in a new way
for an unknown time
that—if we allow it—
can reshape not only us
but the world
for the better.

‒April 25, 2020, Brooklyn
©Lee Kottner 2020


Plague Poems #3

PandemicMoi

Black Horses

I hear them in the night
when the flesh is weakest,
somewhere at a distance,
our little crossroads
of small houses and
apartments hardly taller
mostly spared
until today.

This one, brazen,
stopped right outside, silently
painting my walls red/white/red/white
under the storm-grey skies,
the driver and partner
masking and gloving up
like highwaymen
but carrying two tackleboxes
like fishers of souls.

It used to feel like help was coming
to see the strobes of light
come up the street and park.
Now it’s like seeing
the black coach-and-four of the Cóiste Bodhar and
the hearing the siren wail of the Bean-Sidhe.

And yet I called out the window
to thank them
for wading into a building
like a leper colony,
afire with infection,
only to be relieved, later,
to watch them leave again
without a passenger
and no hearse behind them—
no one overrun
by nightmares
this time.

‒April 23, 2020, Brooklyn
©Lee Kottner, 2020


Plague Poems #2

PandemicMoi
Psalm

The day before Easter.
Astarte’s season,
before the branches are so heavy with leaves
that there is no sunlight
below them,
only a dappled, cool shadow,
and skies are bluer and wisped with
high frivolous clouds
limned in spring sunlight.
My neighbor, who is a poet
in Polish and English,
calls this the
coming out of darkness:
out of winter’s short days, growth pushing up
out of the dark soil, buds furling
out from the closed knobs of branches,
the weak little chick peck-pecking
out of the wet dark of the shell, and she herself
out of the dark hopelessness
of her Lord’s death
into the light of His resurrection.

Six feet apart, we talk in the courtyard,
I in my mask and nitrile gloves,
she with her cigarette
and apron from the Easter meal
she’s cooking, each food a symbol,
as a third neighbor, eighty-seven, joins us
wearing green woolen mits
to take out her trash.
We stand in the spring sunlight
pouring down on us,
Jew, Buddhist, and Catholic,
faces turned to the bare branches
not yet in flower.

Tomorrow I’ll bake leavened bread
and break it alone
in my quarantine of sunlight
not knowing what shadow
summer might bring us.

-April 12, 2020, Brooklyn
© Lee Kottner, 2020


Quarantine Thoughts, Part 2: Science Will Save Our Asses

PandemicMoiI got a private message from a FB friend recently that basically said she felt insulted because I argued with her about the folk "cures" and preventions that are going around the Interwebs (esp. Facebook) for COVID 19. She's learning to be an Ayurvedic therapist and feels, somehow, that this is on par with the level of knowledge that microbiologists, immunologists, epidemiologists, geneticists, pharmaceutical and organic chemists, and MDs on the front lines of treatment are bringing to the COVID 19 table right now. Imma just say it: older is not necessarily wiser. 

The argument was over this piece of disinformaton (with my comments in brackets), which Snopes has debunked piece by piece:

Doctors are reporting they now understand the behavior of the COVID 19 virus due to autopsies that they have carried out. This virus is characterized by obstructing respiratory pathways with thick mucus that solidifies and blocks the airways and lungs. So they have discovered that in order to apply a medicine you have to open and unblock these airways so that the treatment can be used to take effect however all of this takes a number of days. Their recommendations for what you can do to safeguard yourself are ...

1) Drink lots of hot liquids - coffees, soups, teas, warm water. In addition take a sip of warm water every 20 minutes bc this keeps your mouth moist and washes any of the virus that’s entered your mouth into your stomach where your gastric juices will neutralize it before it can get to the lungs. [gastric acids do not kill it; it's been found in feces. Liquids must be 133° F—hot enough to scald you—to "kill" it.]

2) Gargle with an antiseptic and warm water like vinegar or salt or lemon every day if possible [only bleach, alcohol, and soap "kill" it. These gargles do nothing.]

3) The virus attaches itself to hair and clothes. And detergent or soap kills it but you must take bath or shower when you get in from the street. Avoid sitting down in your home and go straight to the shower. If you cannot wash your clothes daily, hang them in sunlight which also helps to neutralize the virus. [You do not need to wash your clothes every day or shower every time you go out. Nobody is doing this. Just don't shake what you've worn outside as it releases the virus into the air.]

4) Wash metallic surfaces very carefully bc the virus can stay viable on these for up to 9 days. Take note and be vigilant about touching hand rails, door knobs, etc. and keep these clean in home home [This is true.]

5) Don’t smoke [this is true in general.]

6) Wash your hands every 20 minutes with any soap that foams and do this for 20 seconds [You don't need to wash your hands every 20 minutes. Only if you've been outside or touched things that have come in from outside.]

7) Eat fruits and vegetables. Try to elevate your zinc levels [Maybe this helps, maybe it doesn't]

8)Animals do not spread the virus to people. Its a person to person transmission. [This is true.]

9) Try to avoid getting the common flu as this already weakens your system and try to avoid eating and drinking any cold things. [Getting the flu or anything else doesn't weaken your immune system. If you get too many things at once it might stress it though. Eating and drinking cold things don't affect you one way or the other; that's a holdover from Chinese folk medicine and they have a different definition of hot and cold foods that has nothing to do with temperature.]

10) If you feel any discomfort in your throat or a sore throat coming on, attack it immediately using the above methods. The virus enters the system through the throat but will sit in the throat for 3-4 days before it passes into your lungs. [The virus does not sit in the throat for 3-4 days. It immediately enters the mucosal tissue in the mouth and nose and starts replicating itself.]

In addition ...

Experts suggest doing this simple verification every morning: Breathe in deeply and hold your breath for 10 seconds. If this can be done without coughing, without difficulty, this shows that there is no fibrosis in the lungs, indicating the absence of infection. It is recommended to do this control every morning to help detect infection. [Fine. whatever]

The problem here is that the pathogenesis (how the virus infects and proceeds to make you sick) is not just factually false for this virus, but the recommendations are starting from a baseline assumption of some immunity. We've been exposed to cold and flu viruses for years and have some immunity even if those viruses mutate a bit. They are still cold and flu viruses, and we already have some antibodies to them floating around in our bloodstreams from exposure and vaccines. The blueprint for more antibodies is already programmed into us.

For this virus there is nada. Nunca. Nothing. Squat. Fuck all.

Those pre-existing antibodies from other corona viruses don't help. Our baseline means nothing right now. This is an entirely new species. It doesn't matter how healthy our immune system is because it has nothing to work with. We are starting from zero. None of these things mentioned above will help us produce antibodies to a brand new pathogen any quicker. Perfectly healthy people with well-functioning immune systems are getting this and are totally overwhelmed by it. Something similar happened with the 1918-1919 Spanish flu. It was the healthy people it really pummeled, overactivating their immune systems. We were terrorized by that virus for much the same reason that we are being terrorized by COVID 19: there were no vaccines to jumpstart our antibody production. We're at the mercy of this corona virus as we were at the mercy of Yersina pestis, the cause of the Black Plague—except that we now have Science on our side. 

When we talk about a "healthy" immune system, we're talking about one in which all the component parts function as they should. That's a lot of different kinds of cells, and a lot of complex processes. While it's true that being healthy in general, and eating real food that's good for you probably means your natural processes are getting the fuel they need to work as they should, that's no guarantee you won't get sick, because you can't guarantee you won't get infected with something. Some vitamins and minerals, which are best gotten through diet and not supplements, directly contribute to the healthy functioning of your immune system, but the way you boost it is to get vaccinated.

Vaccines provide the blueprint for possible future infections and prime the body to start producing the specific antibodies in large enough quantity to overwhelm and shut down the invader when it starts showing up in large quantities in your body, whether it's bacterial or viral. Without a vaccine for a pathogen, you have to fall back on treatment and support. For a totally new pathogen, finding a treatment is a bit hit or miss. You have to look at the symptoms and decide what's causing them, then match that up with an existing pharmaceutical that treats a similar problem. That may or may not work because you might have the wrong cause, or there's a different mechanism causing that symptom. Failing successful treatments, you can only support the body physically while it fights like hell to produce enough antibodies on its own to kill or deactivate the invader. In the worst cases of COVID-19, that can mean ventilators, because the most horrifying and critical symptom is the production of bloody mucous that floods the lungs. Sometimes the support is enough. Sometimes it's not.

Common sense should tell you that if gargling and good food and not smoking and avoiding the flu were enough to prevent getting this, we wouldn't have an out-of-control pandemic. People like to think they can do easy things to avoid terrible consequences because we're all basically lazy and it gives us a sense of control. Good news! In this case, you can do some easy things to avoid getting sick:

  1. Stay the fuck home. If at all possible, don't go out for groceries or anything else for the next three weeks, especially if you live in New York (we're kinda fucked right now). Isolation will stop this virus dead in its tracks. That's the best case scenario and it's not going to happen. The best we can hope fore is keep it from overwhelming our medical facilities. Staying home is literally the best thing you can do. 
  2. If you do have to go out, wear gloves and a mask, don't touch your face, and stay at least 6 feet away from other people. I know the evidence for cloth masks is uncertain right now but here's something else to think about: a mask reminds you to not touch your face, and it keeps other people safe from you by catching the moisture from your breath. It's also a reminder that this is serious business.
  3. When you get home, or when you touch anything you or other people have brought in from outside, wash your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds after you've disinfected what's been brought in with a bleach solution or wipes (or Lysol), or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol in it. If you're wearing gloves, peel them off so they turn inside out, and for God's sake, don't throw them away in the parking lot of the grocery store. Who do you think is going to have to pick them up, and why are you spreading your germs around more?

You won't kill the virus doing any of these things, but you will thwart its spread or deactivate it. I use the word deactivate because viruses, bless their freaky little selves, are not living things. They are molecular constructs built to deliver RNA or sometimes DNA to the interior of a host cell to hijack the host's replication machinery and insert its own genes to make more of itself rather than the host cell. In the case of the corona virus, there's a lipid (fat) shell, holding together little protein molecules that bind with the surface of the host cell and let it penetrate the host. When you wash a greasy pot with soapy water, the grease breaks down and washes away. Same thing with the virus. When the soap breaks the lipids down, the virus falls apart and the mechanism by which it enters a cell becomes inert. Deprived of moisture, it dries out and falls apart, also becoming inert. So you want to either break down the lipid shell or dehydrate it. Soap, bleach or alcohol are the only things that do this.

So if somebody is telling you to use vinegar or peroxide or some other non-toxic "natural" cleaner, wake them up. I've been moving from some of the more egregious chemical cleaners to less toxic ones; I clean my windows with vinegar instead of Windex, for instance. But I keep bleach and alcohol in the house to disinfect surfaces and really ugly wounds (like cat punctures), respectively. This is a mean virus and it needs to be dealt with harshly. Bleach, soap, alcohol. This is what the scientists tell us, and they've been doing their damnedest to keep us all safe. The other people telling you other stuff? At least some of them are out to make a buck. Some of them mean well but don't have any scientific basis for what they're saying. Some of them don't believe in science, and those are the most dangerous.

Rigorous, science-based medicine and hygiene based in germ theory are the new kids on the block, relatively, but the track record for them is a hell of a lot better than anything else we've come up with in the last 6,000 years for just about any acute and infectious disease and condition that you can name: typhoid, yellow fever, polio, measles, mumps, scarlet fever, rubella, chicken pox, small pox, intestinal ulcers, cancer—you name it. Anything that was a scourge to humans before germ theory and antibacterials and antivirals, western medicine has done a great job of getting a handle on it. So great that people have forgotten what it's like to live just like we're living now: in terror of something that we can't see without a microscope. People who got AIDS or were at risk for it remember, but the treatment and prevention of it have been so successful in my lifetime that the younger generation has never experienced that terror, either, and has too often thrown caution to the wind. That's the beauty of science based medicine: it's its own worst PR. But no other theory of health successfully found the cause, explained the mechanism, and developed those treatments and preventions. No other system is going to do it now. Peer reviewed, systematic, replicable science is going to save our asses.

Unless you can explain the actual mechanism of how what you're touting works on this virus and its symptoms in the body, just sit down and let the experts save lives. Stay at home, sanitize with bleach or alcohol or soap, wear a mask if you go out, and wash your damn hands in the meanwhile.