By Patricia Spears Jones
That is the word of now
No hands held, no embraces
No last kiss on a beloved’s lips
No graveside wailing
No dirt thrown into the earth’s carved yawn
the pace of people departing is swift, too swift
& emotions are slowed down into a deep dulled blue a blue of
late twilight just as the stars demand attention, or that steel wool grey
of clouds auguring floods, thunder, the breaking of trees, houses, bodies
This cottage sits awkwardly on soft hill. The Japanese Maple now lovely
Before, it looked like a mistake. Dogwoods brighten the walk ways, white
As bridal gowns. And everyone keeps their distance. Safe distance. As if
We could with loneliness stop the virus.
And if we do, then the pace of people departing will decelerate
We will gather the gloom of this time and wrap it in a cloth of deep memory
We must care enough to claim this anguish and use it,
Ancestors used the blues—plucking grim knowledge from the every day
Repeated & loud chords mining the basso profundo of a road’s gravel slide.
Quarantine permits the asking of basic questions;
What will together feel like.
Who will teach touch?
What are we to make of our bodies vulnerable to sharing
that which is not seen, not heard, not felt
We see how wondrous the daily routine
School kids’ mad dash making the morning bell
Ignoring emails on your office desk top.
Standing in line at the post office
Our laughing at the corner about the time with and the how they
Come Unity the slogans once said. Come Unity
We need to sound each other. To sniff for humans nearby
To trace the arm’s skin, catching the scars.
Lonely served us well in a time of panic. When our skin,
Our mouths, our cough could imperil any other one—familiar
Our rituals for our swiftly departed will be that other side of this peril’
And other novel ways we will make for those we now welcome
Infants breathing the maddening air of this 21 st century—their story
Started in the shadow of death.
Patricia Spears Jones is a Brooklyn-based African American poet and author of A Lucent Fire: New and Selected Poems from White Pine Press and seven other collections and chapbooks. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize 2016 and won the Jackson Poetry Prize for 2017. Jones curates WORDS SUNDAY, a literary salon in Brooklyn and is a former Program Coordinator for The Poetry Project and served as a Mentor for the first year of Emerge Surface Be. Her plays have been commissioned and produced by Mabou Mines. She has collaborated with musicians and artists such as Jason Hwang, Ras Moshe Burnett, Lenora Champagne and Danny Tisdale. She is 2015 recipient of a Money for Women/The Barbara Deming Fund award and has received NEA and NYFA grants and awards from Foundation for Contemporary Art and the New York Community Trust. She has moderated or served on panels at AWP and elsewhere. She has residencies at Virginia Center for Creative Arts, Yaddo and The Millay Colony. She teaches for CUNY.