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.
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
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.