Quarantine Thoughts

Plague Poems #24

PandemicMoi

And Then

As if things weren’t bad enough already
with us jobless and hungry, threat of ruin hanging over our heads
while our Great Leader does nothing,
locked in together like felons in a national jail
serving an interminable sentence
for nothing more than being vulnerable,
the damn cops killed a Black man. Again.

And it was finally just too fucking much for people to bear,
too fucking much death,
too fucking much brutality,
too fucking much anguish,
too fucking much fear.
Too. Fucking. Much.

So the streets are filled with the masked and marching,
braving the threat of one disease we cannot now stop
to obliterate one we can,
because to do anything else is to bend the neck
and bow the head to the claim
that some of you
are better than some of us
and deserve more air.

And the deaths are still rising,
rising like smoke from the crematoria
and the stench from the mass graves
and the wails of grief from the mourners still locked in our houses
rising in the streets like the shouted insistence that Black lives matter
and demands for justice
and warnings that without it there is no peace,
rising like the gas—again with the goddamn gas!—
burning eyes and throats and choking as sure as
a knee on the throat and lungs filled with fluid
and veins blocked with clots
until there is no difference
between the meanings of I can’t breathe.

‒June 8, 2020, Brooklyn
©Lee Kottner 2020


Plague Poems #23

PandemicMoi

Rising

Like the sourdough on our pandemic counters
fed and nurtured, punched down, cast off and culled,
rage is a heady medium.
Stir in incipient poverty, hunger and homelessness
with the fear of a weaponized strangling disease and
grief for the 100,000 and more it has already been allowed to kill,
add the seasoning of a white man kneeling on a Black man’s neck, and soon
we are all eating the hard, dark bread of the poor, the unseen,
of the Human Capital spent on cake for the few,
that bread made with the wild yeast of
yearning to breathe free,
without mask or shackle,
that bread made in ovens backed against the wall,
those ovens with fires that light torches
and Molotov cocktails.

—O and the ovens some of us were fed to
in other days, to purify the whitewash—

these are not those ovens,
this flame not those flames,
this smoke a sweeter smoke of the Old Way
burning,
this bread
the last bread made of ashes.

‒May 30, 2020, Brooklyn
©Lee Kottner 2020


Plague Poems #22

PandemicMoi

I'm in Facebook jail today for insulting white people, even though I am one and we are fucking stupid, so this is only going up here today. We'll see if it gets cross posted.  

[Edit: And the answer is ... Nope. Because I am offensive to some people. Poor little white snowflakes.]

 

The 100,000

Six full-page columns of unrelieved grief
in stark black and white for one paper,
“Second Coming” headline type for another.
Still, nothing conveys the enormity
of one hundred thousand lives
consumed
in this national dumpster fire of disbelief and inaction, not
the trenches in potters fields visible from space,
not the piles of coffins in funeral homes awaiting interment,
not the refrigerator trucks pressed into service as portable morgues
full of unclaimed and unclaimable bodies,
not the two-line obituaries of a mere one percent
of “human capital stock”
sacrificed to Mammon and Adiaphoron
stacked in neat rows of bold and Roman type
unbroken by a thousand-word picture
each one of them cries out for,
not the slap in the face
of black three-inch high numbers
heavy as a spray of blood
bludgeoning the reality
of mass death
into our thick skulls.
Nothing.

If you have a merciful god or gods
send up a sweet smoke to him or her or them
that they might turn away their wrathful faces
or at least mask them
because we won’t.

‒May 28, 2020, Brooklyn
©Lee Kottner 2020


Plague Poems #21

PandemicMoi

Ode

I see it through a scrim now
the blue sky, the trees in leaf,
and realize again that seeing
is not simply looking.

When you haven’t been outside
more than twice in 73 days
except to walk to the trash cans,
Outside becomes mythical, mystical,
a radically new place
as unreachable as deep space
and as filled with surprising beauty
amidst its dangers:
birdsong riotous in the sudden quiet;
air fresher than most of us remember,
and the sky so damn blue; Johnny Jump-ups
left to riot across the lawn,
reseeding themselves in a stealth reclamation
as we recede like a long tide.
Weather passing through.

Even the light has changed,
filtered through glass and sheers,
fractured by blinds,
it flashes its constituent colors
like a shy flirt,
and paints itself wantonly everywhere,
now wearing the veil of curtains,
now filling your room like an empty glass,
never the same on each object it touches
and always changing them,
especially your face.

Other beauty emerges along with it
as the business of making money
stutters, grinds, stops.
There is art everywhere suddenly,
emerging from the shadow of commerce
(though it was always there)
out of the clearing smoke of dead factories
and burning banks,
the sublime, the absurd, the sublimely absurd:
empty trash cans, barren park benches, abandoned construction sites
overrun with gigantic flower arrangements in Manhattan,
a tugboat on the Thames blaring
“Always Look On the Bright Side of Life,”
the concert pianist and his instrument on a lone barge
in the empty canals of Venice,
the klezmer clarinetist riffing on his Brooklyn stoop
joined by a shofar,
whole neighborhoods singing,
singing from their balconies and windows,
show tunes and love songs and defiance and solidarity,
singing for our lives with
the Zoom choruses and bands, for
the new murals on hospital walls
thanking the people saving us,
and the photographers roaming the emptied streets
to show us the lonely architecture of our world without us
and the wild originality of our countenances
in our new masks—

and the hidden beauty
we’ll only see when we can open our doors again
to others:
the house filled with painted flowers,
the shawls and quilts and blankets and scarves,
the bread and beer we’ve learned to make,
the masterpieces of still life and portrait,
sculptures and glass and jewelry,
and all the creations that come out of us
when we go inside and close the door
to the world.

And the poems and stories, of course.
Because some of us have only words
to spin and weave and paint with,
to capture light
and hold up the refracting mirror.

Pay attention.

Don’t forget how to see.
Don’t close your eyes again.
Don’t open the door too soon.

‒May 20, 2020, Brooklyn
©Lee Kottner 2020


Plague Poems #20

PandemicMoi

Headspace

‒Day 78. Hat tip to Allyson Beatrice for her brutal honesty and a line too well-phrased to pass up.

How are you? No, really—
How are you?

A throwaway greeting, a social nicety,
grease in the community wheel.

Fine, fine.

I’m great.

I’m good.

I’m okay.

I’m hanging in there.

I’m not so great.

I’m more-than-blue.

I’m terrified.

I’m weeping uncontrollably at odd times

for no immediate reason except that
I’m in a fucking preventable pandemic,
living in a science fiction movie and
life is more uncertain than ever before
and I cannot wrap my head around its strangeness
despite all those years of exposure to the accurate fictions
and to the hyperreal warnings and
I don’t know when this will end
or how it will end and endings are always the hardest part
to get right.

I’m freaked out that there are so many people
doing stupid things that endanger us all,
so many people who think their
greed at the expense of people
they don’t think of as people is just fine,
so many who think a mask
somehow strangles their balls or makes them puppets,
so many who think their right to eat out
and get their nails done and go to the gym
is more important than others’ rights
to breathe and walk in the sun and just live,
and leaders who are just in it for their own ego,
not an altruistic, empathetic, responsible centimeter of bone
in their ravaged old bodies.

And because of them, I’m afraid I’ll lose or have already lost
everything I know, or someone I love.

I’m overwhelmed by sadness due to being just fine:
working from home in a pleasant, safe space,
ordering in and cooking, meeting the delivery people with massive tips
—from a safe distance!—
assuaging my guilt by trying to help others
with minuscule donations like putting my finger in the leaking dyke
of bankruptcies and mortgage defaults and homelessness and hunger
when the government that should be supporting us all has
merely taken our taxes and run, and the companies
they worked for rewarded their loyalty by absorbing,
amoeba-like, the cost of their salaries and benefits
to redistribute to their stockholders, not seeing or not caring
that deluge that’s coming when the dam of misery
cracks open
will sweep them away too
when the bodies wash up to their locked compounds
and batter down the gates.

And I miss being in the presence of my family and friends
in the holy communion of sharing of food and words and air
and that ineffable, unnamable thing that’s there
when we are together in the same room, around the same table
in the everyday ceremony of breaking bread together.
I miss that moment of recognition and joy
when we are meeting somewhere and
they hove into view through the crowd,
the familiar, beloved face in the sea of strangers.
I miss the embrace of arms around my shoulders,
the comfort of the full-body hug,
the peck of lips, the brush of cheeks against my own
I miss the glow of their bodies next to mine
in summer sun, in restaurants, at my own table.
I miss even knowing
I can get on a plane, in a car, on a train or a bus
and go see them in their varied loving flesh
any goddamned time I want.

I’ve watched the spread of death across the world
and it has fucked me up something fierce.

That’s how I am.
You?

‒May 17, 2020, Brooklyn
©Lee Kottner 2020


Plague Poems #19

PandemicMoi\

Your Gun

Your gun
will not change the necessity of masks and gloves,
or make anyone want to stand closer to you again,
or cut your hair, or buy you a drink at the bar,
or serve you a meal in a restaurant,
or bag your groceries in any store.

Your gun
does not make you a patriot, and taking it into the statehouse
is still sedition, when there is no army at your back.

Your gun
will not save you
no matter how much you wave it around
or point it at others
or clutch it to your bosom
or use it to intimidate government officials trying
to save the rest of us.

Your gun
is—No, that one’s too easy, too obvious.
Never mind. Let’s just say

Your gun
does not make you a man, or even a grown up.

Your gun
will not bring back your children, or your wife,
or your job, or your home, or a meaningful life,
or give you any dignity in the eyes of beholders
or earn you a slot in either the Army or the cops.

Your gun
is powerless against this virus
but feel free to shoot as many holes in yourself as you’d like,
to test the theory.

‒May 12, 2020, Brooklyn
©Lee Kottner 2020


Plague Poems #18

PandemicMoi

Abyss

We used to go for months—
sometimes years
—without seeing each other,
without speaking, even,
picking right up where we left off
over dinner and drinks
when one of us flew into town.
These are the best friendships,
we insisted, then, the strongest, when
you’re not in each others’ pockets
all the time.

And now we can’t be.

At best, we must,
for the sake of love,
stand six feet away,
air hugging and blowing kisses while masked,
handing off gifts and supplies
(which have become the same thing:
yeast, flour, bleach)
like a ransom drop,
latex or nitrile between us,
shouting down the street a muffled
Goodbye! Goodbye!
thinking, I hope that’s not the last.

Even letting that thought
seep up into consciousness
feels like a betrayal, a jinx,
like asking for it.

I always thought
I’d be good at this,
being thrown into solitary
in some imaginary place
where I am persecuted for my beliefs,
whatever they are,

until I discovered I’m not,

even here in my own comfortable home.
Perhaps if it were involuntary, or
something more radical,
something more righteous,
an enemy less invisible and
more political, an act more heroic
than saving somebody else’s life
with a piece of cloth and shouting distance,
than saving my friends and loved ones,
than merely keeping the abyss
from devouring us.

‒May 13, 2020, Brooklyn
©Lee Kottner 2020


Plague Poems #17

PandemicMoi

Classified

While we are counting and grieving the lives we have lost—
each someone loved, each life valuable, so many unnecessarily gone,
unable to even say goodbye before death, to hold funerals, to bury them,
instead filing them away in coffins in refrigerated trucks
against the time, if ever, when we can hold the proper rites and ceremonies
—our dear leaders are classifying those lives lost for us:

Not regular people: the folks who slaughter and pack your meat
(send them back to work!)

Lazy, cowardly takers: anyone afraid to go back to work
before we have treatments or vaccines

Fortuitous collateral damage: Black people and other minorities, the
majority of the deaths (Hey! Worth keeping this plague thing going for, right?

People who will make our Dear Leader or his sidekick boy wonder
 look weak to wear a mask around:
WWII Vets
factory workers making those masks
patients and health care workers at the Mayo Clinic
personal staff
Secret Service members (just another kind of a bullet!)
the entire West Wing (until it’s too late)
their own children

The minions follow suit, threatening anyone who calls them out
for standing too close, not wearing a mask, or menacing others
with guns and germs.
Anyone who disagrees with them is unAmerican.

Billionaires and shareholders and financiers agree:
Arbeit macht frei, especially when it is free
of liability, protection, or any care for your workers’ welfare.
We are just sacrifices for the growth of their portfolios.

If there is an actual war against this disease, in this country,
(and how our Dear Leader, the coward, likes that metaphor)
the front lines are hospitals and labs
and the real designated Heroes are there, toiling,
weeping, inadequately protected for the sake of our Dear Leader’s ego,
laying down their own lives for fellow citizens and other humans.
Meanwhile, Doctors Without Borders flies in
from some other third world country
to lend aid to Native Americans
who are not real Americans,
and should go back where they came from, after all.

There are not enough tests for all of us, but our dear leaders
get one or more every week.

We are not worthy.

‒May 12, 2020, Brooklyn
©Lee Kottner 2020


Plague Poems #16

PandemicMoi

R.I.P. Gem Spa. 

The layout will play merry hell with my linebreaks in the first couple of stanzas. Holler if you want to see how it really looks on the page.

Asteroid, After

Here when I arrived 34 years ago
at the corner of St. Marks and Second—
the walk over from the edge of the Village at
Cooper Square was a bazaar and gantlet of books
and comics and records and platform shoes and head shop
paraphernalia and cheap Mexican silver jewelry and sunglasses
and that crazy crack house that masqueraded as a community center
and tattoo parlors and vegetarian restaurants before they were cool and night
markets of stolen goods recycling through the neighborhood and all-the-time markets
of smoke-smoke and other recreations, holes in the wall with music and poetry and a wall
of sound from open doors and the bars closing at 4 a.m. and pizza parlors open all night, and
the egg creams with neither egg nor cream but all of New York inside a fizzing chocolate glass

from Gem Spa—

the Punks and Rockers and immigrants and college kids, the lost tourists, the runaway misfit souls
who found home, Lou and Allen and Patti, and their audiences and acolytes, and us, and later, the off-
spring of those Punks and Rockers and immigrants and misfits, stealing sodas and smokes and porn mags, buying a lotto ticket and an egg cream to make up for it.

Neighborhood icon and landmark,
neither crack nor heroin could kill it,
nor AIDS nor NYU,
though lord knows the banks tried
(what a valuable piece of property,
that corner),
saved once from oblivion, and now

gone again.

Little places are dying out, and the ordinary people
who make a neighborhood. It’s the opposite
of the asteroid hitting the earth
and wiping out the lumbering behemoths
(though some of them are keeling over too,
already old and sickened by the Internet)
leaving the scampering proto-monkeys
to hunker down in the ash and cold
and wait for the climate to warm up again,
all the while growing the brains and brawn
for survival in a new world.

After this is over,
will we hand over all the empty storefronts
suffocated by the tourniquet applied to our streets
to the people who don’t live here
who will rent them out to boardrooms in Kansas
who think they know just what New Yorkers need?

I’m afraid of what the City will be like
on the other side of this,
that I won’t know it anymore,
and worse, won’t like it.
Times Square was just a start,
the erasure of poetry
on the marquees of the peep show houses
a harbinger of the death of whimsy
to make way for Disney.
No neighborhood is safe
from tourists, but any place safe for them
is not worth living in.
There should be real dirt, the sharp edges
of real life,
not Naked Cowboys and Elmo grifting for Chrissakes,
to keep them from moving in.

Still, Gem Spa looked on slyly
while the East Village devoured alive
that Gap store across from their corner,
and up the street Trash and Vaudeville laughed
and flipped them the finger, then soldiered on
in their steel-toed Doc Martens
after the ashes of Downtown
settled like fallout and the waters of the East River
rose to wash them away.

We can do this.
Swallow hard. Hunker down. Wait.
And then
let us sing Patti and Fred’s winter’s tale
of vagrant hearts prevailing.
Seize the air rights of sky
until the behemoths are
gone again
and it’s just us monkeys.

‒May 10, 2020, Brooklyn
©Lee Kottner, 2020


Plague Poems #15

PandemicMoi

It's Friday, and Tiki Bar will be open later. PM me if you want an invite.

Happy Hour

Every Friday
they flash like fireflies
onto my screen:
Boop! A new face,
caught unaware and pleading
(please work please work please work)
before the connection goes live
to four time zones and
a half-dozen or more shifting urbanities
—Greenville, Chicago, Oakland, Augusta,
Winnipeg, Lansing, L.A.—
New York City
the hub of a web of friendships
suddenly tenuous and fragile.

Week one it was still novel
like the virus itself,
sheltering inside and
using the tools of the masters
to keep us connected
in our own houses.
We dubbed the screen arrangement of ourselves
the Brady Bunch, still lighthearted
—but so socially distanced it was painful—
the meaning of the pandemic
still unclear and surreal,
its impacts still occult.

Weeks two and three contained a
restlessness under the joy of new faces,
of books, recipes, trenchant analysis, even
a defiant merrymaking
in the face of lives
ground to a halt—quarantine
like sand in the gears—
and in the hands of a murderous, incompetent fool.

By weeks four and five
some of us were fractious, or
making mad plans
to build our own green screens
to fill with fantasy backgrounds
to entertain each other and fool ourselves, or
hanging string lights
to make it feel like a real party
here at the end of the world,
all the while
beginning to fray and break
as sheltering began to feel like
lock-down,
as the body count mounted, and
refrigerated trucks appeared in rows
outside the all-ICU hospitals,
ice rinks were turned to morgues,
and graves were dug
on public lands
across the country.
It was all so medieval, remarked
the medievalists amongst us,
so Monty Python, said others,
in a horrible way,
laughing uneasily
in our gallows humor.

The weeks dragged on.

At each gathering,
some of us wept, for ourselves
and at the kindnesses of others. The rest tried
not to. We all
clung to each other,
opening our arms wide
in our Hollywood squares,
blowing kisses as we disappeared
one by one:
alone together
at the Friday Night Zoom! Tiki Bar Happy Hour
in the COVID-19 Pandemic
in the 21st Century,
never knowing which one
might be our last.

‒May 5, 2020, Brooklyn
©Lee Kottner, 2020


Plague Poems #14

PandemicMoi

Disillusionment

Not that kind, where everything you thought was good
is revealed as vile and evil.
Well, not exactly.
More like the scales falling from our eyes,
the idea that we will simply
Go Back To The Way It Was
When This Is Over,
slowly dissolving like hoarfrost on a window
under the warm, even breath of our enforced slowdown.

What if
you are trying to teach your own kids while
holding down a full-time job in a room less home office
than bare spot on the kitchen table
gaming the food deliveries twice a day or
scuttling out for groceries and meds like a cockroach into the light
and cooking at least one full meal every single day
while trying to keep the house from becoming
an unlivable sty with your kids and mate always underfoot
in a space far too small for 24 hours of that—and
what happens when your job is gone
and there are no other jobs,
only real work?
What happens if school is forever remote
or tailored tutoring for each student?
What if you are forced to sleep a little later,
eat a leisurely breakfast
while you read the news,
then take the dog out for a walk
and nod at your neighbors through the mask
and from six feet away exchange greetings and gossip
before you settle down to power through the tasks
that must be done instead of just looking busy?
What if you can pay to have your groceries or meals delivered
by people whose choices are more than risking their health
for a pittance or never working again? Like you.

There has to be something different.
There is something different, now, between
the false extremes of ever-working and the total collapse
of unmitigated and unfettered rampant cancerous greed.
Easier to imagine the dystopia than the utopia. But try.

First, we need to ask ourselves
how we lived before
in the daily commute, the road rage
that wore us out before we even arrived,
the time we spent trying to fill eight hours
with work because we were stuck there stuck there stuck there
because our boss is a control freak who must see us
with our head down every single moment of the day
while we’re eating at our desk or daydreaming or actually
working. Why did we put up with that when

in this moment, with no one watching, we begin to unfurl?
We let the tension ooze out like matter from a lanced boil
and stop poisoning us and our relationships.
We let the dog, the kids distract us
and get up from the table or the new desk
to peel an orange and separate the sections one by one
savoring the bright flavor like the captured sunlight it is,
pour the tea from the pot with a Zen focus.
Slowly, slowly, the nightmares and uneasy sleep pass
and we wake when we need to, as quickly as we need to,
diving right in or stumbling toward caffeine and toast.
We stay up late, late or rise absurdly early,
time zones irrelevant, the word “deadline” becoming a shifty thing,
robbed of urgency. Is anyone dying? No? Not so pressing, then.
And the people who make this possible—warehouse workers,
stockers, delivery drivers, cooks, cashiers, tellers—
their importance should transform them too,
from disposable cogs in the Amazonian behemoth
to stones in the foundation because is it not clear now
that nothing happens without them? That you cannot
sit in your kitchen and compose economic forecasts, or
sociological studies, or environmental impact statements, or
papers on the physics of space-time, or poems
without their care in their duty to all things that
you have learned to take for granted?

So many things becoming clearer now, so many
lies we have lived by falling away.

Don’t pick them up again.

‒May 6, 2020, Brooklyn
©Lee Kottner 2020


Plague Poems #13

PandemicMoi
On the heels of the realization that T-Rump is trying to kill us because he knows he can't get re-elected now, this seemed appropriate:
 
Curse
 
April 28, 2020, 3:55 p.m. EDT: After three months, the United States hits 1 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, one-third of the world’s total. By 5:40 p.m., 58,640 Americans had died—352 more than in 19 years of the Vietnam War.
 
What wall will we build for this?
Will it be pieces of that rusted steel
joke at the southern border, dismantled and
the names of the dead etched in acid
or carved through with fire?
 
I no longer have the words for this.
There is not enough articulate invective
to rain down
what this man and his minions
deserve in their exploitation and failure.
Even the careless recommendation
of cake to the starving
does not meet this benchmark of cruelty and
sadistic disregard for human life.
 
The war dead already mock him
in his cowardice.
But we too are in a war, and too busy
trying to live without the help
that is going to those who don’t need it
to have time for mere outrage.
It requires something cosmic:
 
—a lightning strike,
burning him up on the spot,
his corpulence catching fire
like one of Nero’s torches
on his Virginia golf course
 
—a funnel cloud reaching down
from the blue heaven of Florida
to sweep him into its bosom
and drop him from 10,000 feet
at Mar-a-Lago
 
—a meteorite, just a tiny one,
the fiery iron core all that’s left
from its trip through the atmosphere,
like a bullet through his head
outside his tower on Fifth Avenue.
 
And a timeless internal moment
of the utter awakening of his conscience
to the facts of his deeds
and their consequences
to torture him
beforehand.
 
‒April 30, 2020, Brooklyn
©Lee Kottner 2020
 

Plague Poems #12

PandemicMoi

Lucky

Lucky I moved before this happened,
so I’m not cooped up
in a run-down, over-subdivided, low-ceilinged fourth floor walkup
with my sullen roommate’s two cats shitting everywhere,
and a stifling eight by ten room
for work and privacy
to share with a fractious calico
of my own.
Lucky my new place is rent stabilized
and still affordable
so I don’t have to go on rent strike.
Lucky I am not still teaching
four classes at three colleges in two states
and trying to get them all online
on different platforms
at the same time,
knowing this is the end
of my precarious teaching career.
Lucky I have a job
that allows me to work from home
and sent me there early on
with technical support and assurances
of continuing employment—
lucky enough to be able to share
my puny stimulus check
with friends who haven’t yet gotten
their unemployment checks
or welfare.
Lucky I’ve got a good computer
to work from during the day
and Zoom with my friends for a small fee
and stream entertainment from
at night, when I’m restless and sleepless
and scared.
Lucky to have picked
a low density neighborhood
where I get an ocean breeze and
hear carillon bells every day at six
and only the occasional ambulance
taking the sick and dying to the hospital.
Lucky I have great healthcare
if I do get sick,
so a ventilator wouldn’t bankrupt me
if it didn’t kill me.
Lucky I’m white,
and my doctor would take me seriously
if I needed a test.
Lucky I don’t need anything more
than a handmade cloth mask
and lots of soap to stay
uninfected.
Lucky I can afford
to have my groceries
and nearly every other need
from liquor to cat food to vibrators,
delivered by people
less lucky
than me.

‒May 3, 2020, Brooklyn
©Lee Kottner, 2020


Plague Poems #11

PandemicMoi
 
Psychosomatic
 
All it takes
is going out to do the laundry
and some fool there,
unmasked and ungloved,
folding his clothes
on the table,
or my super,
cheerful and oblivious
of physical distancing
starting to fix the dryer
right next to the one
I’m unloading
while my back is turned—
 
and every follicle of my hair
is filled with invisible fire ants,
my tongue and lips
burning like I’ve eaten jalapeños,
an itch like poison ivy
consumes my face and hands.
If I were an anxious person
this would be hell,
but I manage to shake it off
knowing I cannot actually feel something
measured in nanometers
invading my cells.
 
I worry, not that I’m a hypochondriac—
after all, the threat is real, the symptoms
varied and changing—but that others aren’t.
Worry more, I want to tell them.
Better to become temporarily neurotic,
afraid of outside, and germs, and
touching others, of going out without a mask,
of others standing too close, and to be
constantly washing everything,
than to bring
Death home with you
for a visit.
 
When it’s over,
better we all have a few scars
than holes
in our lives.
 
‒April 30, 2020, Brooklyn
©Lee Kottner, 2020

Plague Poems #10

PandemicMoi

Conspiracy Theory

For Laura McCormick

How quickly we are usurped.

A few weeks in our own zoo
banging on the cages,
occasionally escaping to spread germs and havoc
—and look!
Not just squirrels and rats and foxes
and raccoons and coyotes and bunnies
and bears and ducks and geese
who already cohabit easily
and otherwise with us, but

lions sprawling on South African golf courses,
sunning themselves on the manmade savannah,
rhinos and elephants strolling through Nepal and Thai towns,
taking shortcuts formerly denied them,
deer herds lounging on the green in East London
where the best forage is,
kangaroos hopping down empty Adelaide streets
because they can,
ostrich flocks reasserting themselves everywhere
because they’re pushy birds anyway,
elephant seals sunning on the quays of Argentina
and some poor sod’s small sailboat
like it’s a party, man,
cougars prowling yards from Colorado to South America,
reclaiming their native grounds,
wild boar foraging on the streets of Paris and Arizona,
sheep on the merry-go-rounds in Scotland,
some rarely seen ring-tailed creature in the striped crosswalk in India,
otters, capybara, mountain goats frolicking
in the middle of cities—
reasserting their ownership.

We have always thought this world was ours
with our opposable thumbs, our big brains,
our upright posture, our tools and weapons.
But our fellow inhabitants
have been sending in the occasional bear or fox or coyote
to challenge that notion—more often, lately—as they see us
wobbling on our hind legs, less sure of ourselves than before,
muttering about climate change, and hot zones, and “that lab in Wuhan.”

Don’t blame the pangolins,
or the Homo sapiens in lab coats. All this time,
it’s been the bats
brewing our demise.

‒May 2, 2020, Brooklyn
©Lee Kottner


Plague Poems #9

PandemicMoi
Cassandra

Sometimes, knowledge is a comfort,
sometimes, a weapon. Sometimes
it brings its own tortures in reminders
of lessons unlearned,
whether you are oracle or prophetess,
historian or social scientist.
You see the previous, familiar patterns,
the churning and the change
but not the outcome.

Knowing how contagion and immunity works
tells me that this is the fabled New Normal.
How long it lasts
depends upon the character
of the wee vicious beastie
that jumped the genetic wall
between humans and animals,
if it’s constantly mutating, seasonal
and recurring,
or mostly a one-off, stopped dead by vaccines.
We won’t know for months yet,
or longer. But it’s not
disappearing. Learn to live with it
if possible.

And too many books about the Black Plague
and the decades after it
tell me this will be a Turning Point
to a New Society,
though of what kind I cannot say.
(I predict
masks will become fashionable,
handshakes fall from favor.
Kidding. Sort of.
Those are mere customs, not
social structures.)
Even now, though, the voices of laborers
forced to throw themselves into the maw
of an economy that already eats them alive
are growing louder as they balk
at being counted expendable
on the balance sheet.
Upheaval is coming.
There will be no going back to Normal.

Welcome to Interesting Times.
Buckle up.
That’s the best I can tell you.

‒May 1, 2020, Brooklyn
©Lee Kottner, 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