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  • Writer's pictureKevin O'Keefe

Plague Poem

We washed our hands, oh did we wash them.

We became surgeons of tiny sanity

We scoured the Oracle for signs, for distractions

We peered into the bottom of tea cups for an ending.

We walked and fed our pets, we watched the sky for birds

We took things for granted, we were guilty of much

We watched stock indexes and death tolls rise from the same disease

never sure which deserved applause.

We left our homes alone, or with a trusted other, but not too close

We never shook hands, hugged or kissed

We held our breath around others, then filled our bellies alone

for which we expressed gratitude—mostly for not remembering.

It was always Black Friday, Maundy Tuesday,

Ash Wednesday, Monday, Monday or some other

There was nothing to distinguish one from another, except a mask

of grey or yellow or that it was too cold, then too wet.

There was no news, so the papers stopped publishing

new issues, only repeating the old ones.

We bought the papers just the same, in order to have something to do.

The ink slid off the page and onto our mayonnaise-slickened fingers.

We thought about taking up new habits—knitting, smoking, or shaving our heads

We traded gossip and played online bridge and poker

We tried to understand what made some neighbors raise a flag to death

When we felt adventurous we shopped or tried out a new recipe.

At times we fought with those closest to us, or stewed in silence

Once, we lusted after the mail man

Nearly all of us were scared, the ones who weren’t were the scariest

We left sweets on the neighbors porch with our ten-foot pole.

We considered and applied for new jobs

such as wildlife rehabilitator, washer/dryer repair person and delivery driver,

careers for which we had no skills or aptitudes.

We denied being shipwrecked by a deaf government

We gazed into the night, garbage cans, puddles, and saw no bottom.

We watched long movies or fell asleep with trashy novels on our lap

We made bonfires of banned books in our backyards,

to appeal to a blind Almighty.

We despised the clerk who told us what to wear,

the waitress who spit in our food on the take-out line,

the teacher who lied to our kids

We enjoyed watching a hollow lawyer melt

We longed for normal and knew somewhere, not only was it never coming back,

it would get worse.

In the beginning we didn’t understand, in the middle we waited for it to be over,

in the end it we said was worth it,

but not that much, and at what cost?

When we died we hoped oyster mushrooms would sprout from our eye sockets

We dreamed ink from our permanent record would drip into a blue bottle found buried in the junkyard

We fantasized that the stars would form a phalanx and the path between them clear

but that was impossible, after all we’d forgotten.


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