A Beginning to a Pandemic Love Story
What are the pads of fingers against the broadness of a back, 
how does one absorb the depth of a freckle,
limp into a sea of dark curls without drowning?

Hands bloom from the center of a laugh that she has finally opened to receive— 
blood petals tethered to bone laid neatly with skin that learns first to search
for more skin: a cheek, fleshy and rosy filled with joy sounds,
the stubble of a chin shadowy and tickling the underside of new sensation.

These new hands are fierce in their expansion, 
like the sturdy wings of a hawk, made for distance.
The shimmer of the old hands rest in the moons of new fingernails, 
a bit tender to the touch, their fallow memories hollowed out now.

Somewhere in the depth of this loving she remembers the feeling
of receding into the anxious stories that lined the walls of the silent end of the phone, but here these velvety moments are sumptuous in their offerings—
full meals of glistening fruits and tender plump pastas smothered in rich sauces 
that titillate her senses out of their gray corner.

What else could be laid bare here in this hall that grew her back to touch, to feel, to hunger? She fills her new hands to fill her ready mouth to fill her aching belly to fill her awakened body.

Blending in a Costa Rican Beach Town During a Global Pandemic
When I arrived the word virus had not become 
a thing passed around every kitchen table.
I walked these mango lined streets with a lilt in my heels 
searching the treetops for monkey families
and smiling at the fruit sellers hawking papaya 
and watermelons on the side of the road. 
buenos dias buenas tardes buenas buenas 
My locs and dark skin easy camouflage
on this tropical shore allowing me to blend 
in with the birds of paradise and palm trees.

We will wait to bloom again, and when 
the aloe plants on my terrace sprout 
little red teardrop flowers on a tall stalk
and the passing rains make the green of the trees 
even more audacious than before, our town
opens up like a hibiscus in the morning sun. We won. 
We beat back the invisible threat to a zero sum.

But we celebrated too soon, made eyes with each other too quickly.
Too quickly we gathered around round outdoor tables
to have coffee and chisme, and now we are dying again.

As I leave my house with a bright white N95 mask covering 
my lips, I am immediately outed as foreign.
I can see the eyes of the few fruit sellers, but more importantly 
I can see their lips scrunched into confusion, they thought
I was one of them, but now I am outed as other. 
There is no stopping for buenos dias buenas buenas
I move quickly to the sterile space that is the supermarket 
greeted by masked attendants with hand sanitizer.
Here I purchase goods in cans that I will wipe down
and bags that I will spray with Lysol. All fruits are washed 
down with soap and water, and my hands are washed down 
while singing my abc’s yet again to make sure
to destroy any virus that might be lurking 
on my skin after being out in the world. 
This is my new knowing of paradise,
a feeling of safety gone slightly crooked.
When did I become a carnation or worse a hornet’s nest? 
When I wear the N95 mask, it is difficult to breathe.
When I think of not wearing the mask, it is difficult to breathe.

I long to blend in again, to be like the explosion of flamboyan flowers 
that canopy the sky on the main road. They are expected here,
as expected as the bougainvillea, hibiscus, and aloe flowers.
One day I buy a cloth mask from a man who has 
set up a card table outside of the supermarket. 
The brilliant red covering hugs my face in a smile.
Perhaps now I can be a flower, a hibiscus gone rogue, 
perhaps now I will be okay.

Turning Loss Over to Open
If there are multiple worlds, then last night I lay with you, 
ran my finger along the stubble of your jaw, and
kissed you until we disappeared into each other's skies.

                                        Did you feel the eclipse?

If there are multiple worlds then Don Lucio is still waiting for me 
to show up with a bottle of the finest mezcal
so that we can laugh into our tragos and forget the world.

                                        Was that a libation?

If there are multiple worlds, my twin uncles are still a pair 
ribbing each other over a birthday cake that could be
a fire hazard for all the candles.

                                        Can you hear us singing?

If there are multiple worlds, J. is still being fed 
on the laughter of her dearest love who runs
his hand over her shaved head while she runs hers over his.

                                        Did we just crack open?

If there are multiple worlds
then there is still the possibility for us to spill into each other, 
to be waves of joy that vibrate across each other’s surfaces.

                                        Is that me crying? 
                                        Can you hear me? 
                                       Can you see me?

                                                                      Where did everyone go?

Raychelle Heath is a poet, artist, teacher, and digital nomad. When she isn’t writing, you can find her engaging with the wellness community as a certified Kripalu Yoga, Yoga Nidra, and Mind Body Meditation instructor. Her chapbook “Between Tea Leaves and Tree Leaves” was published in 2003 by Thrift Press. She has done numerous poetry readings, and has taught numerous creative writing workshops. When she isn’t writing, you can find her engaging with the wellness community as a certified Kripalu Yoga, Yoga Nidra, and Mind Body Meditation instructor — teaching yoga and meditation across the globe — the Marshall Islands, Mexico, and Costa Rica.

These poems are a part of our ongoing series exploring isolation, exile, and “The Everyday Pandemic.” With the arrival of COVID-19 new realities emerged. Isolation became ubiquitous. Everyday movement suddenly came with great risk. The spaces that once brought order and safety became malleable and uncertain. Throughout this series it is our hope to create an alternative conversation to the dominant COVID-19 discourse: one that captures the daily toll of life through the pandemic from the perspective of writers and artists who are familiar with the experience of isolation and 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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