The incredibly complicated, solitary human being
—a pandemic diptych
Perhaps she is a student, worrying the degree—here, outside the service 
bay, beside the lot of shiny, stickered cars. No one near except this woman 
on a bench, who leaves as I approach, who thinks perhaps that I could kill her 
just by breathing. I’ll never know. Her half-masked features hieroglyphic, 
the fabric mantle like the plexiglass at Super Fresh or headshots in the thumbnail. 
I want to say something that’s positive—like, we’re all in this together but 
she’s leaving, answering a dash light or a flat, a small repair,

like a haircut means we’re far from desperate, right? Inside the lounge 
the tv drones, users on their phones and likely with potential to infect despite 
the Clorox wipes, ubiquitous dispensers of Purell, Brady-bunching meetings. 
I’m bored with board games, tic tac toe and bridges made of toothpicks. 
I’m sick of hugs without the squeeze. Kisses without cheeks. Vodka crawls 
from table to the sink. Even as he speaks, I sip the air the service
tech is breathing. He says he had it early—fever, nothing since. 

The haircut
it’s obvious:
he wants to mate, less
dangerous he thinks than 
de-feathering chickens
cutting up the tenders
delivering groceries to the rich
front-lining pizzas
remember: The Fade? The Hard Part
Comb Over? more
likely to impress than
hooking up in fours to spare the ventilators
strapping corpses to the beds
digging graves to landscape victims
just a trim to sharpen up
a signal of good health
hair grows and grows, he knows
after he’s dead

400 lights
The before times are ending —Willie Perdomo
The news lights up tonight like paper lanterns. They pulse and flicker, wheel
into existence. Lights
that shore the Lincoln Memorial
reflecting fleets of recollection. Black
death. Thousands
without wake, without carriage
How to spare the rest? What survives the rippling
lights? gives rise
to name and form? Black
grief, inhabiting the flesh. The howling toward grace
What resurrects? Fear
like an ignition

Kathleen Hellen’s latest poetry collection is The Only Country Was the Color of My Skin. Her credits include two poetry chapbooks, The Girl Who Loved Mothra and Pentimento, and her award-winning collection Umberto’s Night.

This poem is part of our ongoing series exploring isolation, exile, and “The Everyday Pandemic.” Throughout this series it is our hope to capture the daily toll of life through the pandemic from the perspective of writers and artists who are familiar with the experience of isolation or exile. With this in mind we’ve collected stories, poems, nonfiction essays, and digital art from writers and artists from all walks of life and from all around the globe.

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