The temporary exhilaration
of things upended, rules
suspended, the longest
snow day ever. Not that
we don’t have responsibilities,
exactly, but they’re different,
heroic. Even the little things—
cleaning the bathroom,
bringing in the mail,
picking up groceries
in a parking lot—
require a kind of courage.
But all too soon
the pandemic pales,
grows tedious and routine,
the return to normal
now the rebellion.
No more shutdowns,
we shout, we must have
our haircuts and essential
services, the bars
and restaurants, the gyms
we never go to anyway.
What kind of wuss are you,
afraid of something
you can’t even see?
it will be
that kills us.
Charles Grosel is an editor, writer, and poet living in Arizona. He has published stories in Western Humanities Review, Fiction Southeast, Water-Stone, and The MacGuffin and poems in Slate, The Threepenny Review, Poet Lore, Cream City Review, and Harpur Palate, among others. The Sound of Rain Without Water, a chapbook of poems, came out in December 2020.
Today I walked around the patch of desert
full of fan palms and cactus.
I have love on my mind as I often do these days
and ponder goals almost as old as I am,
with hopes too big to carry all at once.
I start out early in May knowing how fast
the heat comes on here and living in a troubled country,
with all the restrictions, the pandemic, isolation is
the practice now, a regular way of life for us and a way
to survive, and thrive following our stay at home plans.
The cactus blooms this time of year, its yellow
flowers with cups like angel’s wings, papery
to the touch. I wait for them and all their crazy
blooming at the start of the giant bouts of heat
that come on and off in the desert summer
and always it’s time to run for cover, when
even the tough-skinned lizard in my garden
hides under the aloe plants as long as needed.
That’s how it is now, longing for what is not there
any more and walking with what still is.
The mesquite trees covered in pods,
green with new life, one pod as a time.
And I remember the kiss on a day like this,
one that seemed like it could never end,
not for any reason, no, no reason at all.
Who wouldn’t hope for it to come back again?
As it is, I plan to propagate the lavender
later today, each small cutting slipped
into the fresh earth, all its dreamy purple
life to come by September, what will come
back all aglow in the morning light,
one purple bud after another.
Charlene Langfur is an organic gardener, a Syracuse University Graduate Writing Fellow and her most recent publications include a series of poems in Weber, and poems in The North Dakota Quarterly and the Inkwell Journal.
My legs are tingling
Is it just in my head?
An imagined symptom
Spurned by an infected world.
It’s the word no one wants to say
Anyone around us could be
Carriers of a disease
An invisible enemy
That we are at war with
Ourselves to avoid
Each and every body, surface, sneeze
It could all be
Trapped in our homes
That have become our prisons
Some of us break out
For space to breathe
Space to be
But even a walk in the park is a risk,
Calculated or not.
So, we ask ourselves ,
What if someone coughs,
Or touches something,
That I might touch
Spreading the invisible
Even strangers become enemies
Because of the microscopic
Because of droplets
That might be in the air
That might make us sick
That might make ME sick
Or make me a carrier
An enemy to those I love
But I have to get out
Have to escape my prison home
My legs are tingling
They need to move
Just like I need to breathe
Is it a symptom?
Am I infected?
It started before
The world became infected
With a virus
And its omen
Andrea Fingerson is a writer, a teacher, and child of God. She has taught in the Moreno Valley Unified School District for the past fourteen years. During that time, she earned an MFA in Creative Writing, with a focus on Fiction from Cal State San Bernardino, studied art at Moreno Valley a college, and figured out how to teach remotely. She loves learning, literature, and her miniature schnauzer puppy, Annie Elliot.
Deenaz P. Coachbuilder Ph.D., is a retired school principal, adjunct professor in special education and consulting speech pathologist. She is a visual artist, writer and environmental advocate. Deenaz’ poetry, essays, and commentaries have been published regionally and internationally. Her books of poetry, Metal Horse and Shadows: A Soul’s Journey and Imperfect Fragments, have been received with critical acclaim. Deenaz is a wife, mother, and adoring grandmother who lives in Riverside California, Seattle Washington, and Mumbai, India.
telephones ringing, and chatter invading my focus.
I watch my husband play with our German shepherd
while we shelter in place. Spared
the process of unemployment,
an underlying condition and loneliness,
I try not to think about the rash decisions
to flatten the curve, the widespread
consequences intended or not.
At the dining table, I tap away on my laptop.
Wind chimes sing, sway a spring tune,
nestlings chirp new life on the front porch,
and the washing machine spins my pajamas
clean for work tomorrow.
Chris Wood is a lease analyst by day, student by night, and writer in between. Chris grew up in Florence, KY just across the river from Cincinnati and now lives in Tennessee with her husband and works for a REIT company. She is currently earning her bachelor’s degree and has poetry published in Conch.es, Poetry Quarterly, Haiku Journal, and Three Line Poetry.
L.B. Sedlacek’s latest poetry books are “The Poet Next Door” (Cyberwit Press), “The Architect of French Fries” (Presa Press), and “Words and Bones” (Finishing Line Press.) Her first short story collection, “Four Thieves of Vinegar & Other Short Stories” was published in February 2020 by Alien Buddha Press. LB’s poems have appeared in numerous journals and zines as “Adelaide Literary Magazine,” “Harbinger Asylum” “Cloudbank,” “Dash Literary Journal,” “Pure Francis,” “The Broad River Review,” “Mastodon Dentist” and others. Her short fiction has been published in such places as “October Hill” and “The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature.” She teaches poetry at local elementary and middle schools, publishes a free resource for poets “The Poetry Market Ezine,” and was Poetry Editor for “ESC! Magazine.” LB also enjoys swimming, reading, and playing the ukulele.
In lock-down there is nowhere to hide. You can keep going to the shops, well yes, but when you get there everyone is watching everyone else. Keep your distance! Imagine a spy in lock-down. No freedom to suddenly blend into a crowd, to push through passengers on a platform, hide on the train then walk out into another city, or perhaps onto the train, but–straight out the other side–into those gathered to travel in the opposite direction, go with that flow, or move on out of the station altogether, free at last, the tail having lost your trail.
The children and I have been playing I Spy. One o’clock, on the dot: beans on toast, a cheese sandwich, a piece of savoury pie. To follow: an apple or banana, or a biscuit, if there’s one left. My drink is tea and the children suck juice through straws. We never I Spy our food, or our clothes, or the second floor balcony where we sit. Every lunchtime we sit and eat and we paint the picture out there.
T is for tree. P is for pavement. L is for leaves. R is the road that runs down the side of the square. S is for seeds, scattered over the pavement – the flying kind, little pairs of wings. S is also for the square. P is for parking. B is for bird: where? It was there, you missed it!
I try to weave silent letters into our game.
M is for moorish architecture. P is for politician. There is of course not one in the square, but I was plagued by I is for inconceivable; how the pandemic caught us up and will leave us go.
The children see her, they said she was K: K for key worker; but by the time they’d said that, she was gone.
W is for woman.
W is for window! The square is boarded on three sides by flats with windows. S is for sun reflected in the windows, splashing in their eyes. R is for rubbish, cylindrical bins, stainless steel and placed around the pattern of the square. C (every now and again) is for: Oh there’s a car! R is red car. B is blue. G is for grey.
W is for woman. T is for tall. C is for her coat, heavy for the time ofyear. W is for walk. S is forscarf. Some lunchtimes it’s wrapped around her face.
R is for rain. T is for tree. S is for pavement covered in seeds. The flying kind.
F is for a foggy moorland cottage. A woman in long skirts is huddled proud and punished, her face has a cold look yet glows like a stove. She stays with her husband in the cottage. It is a romantic scene. Romance helps us cope with such bitter weather; there are always hidden hearts in a landscape so barren. Perhaps romance is born from drudgery. A life without letup needs to find some way of being a lighter
Being. Although it is the relation of the husband and wife that is
Bitter – as well as the weather that hangs over the distant crags, swirls in the early morning, unfurls its news of the growl that lives in the mountains.
W! W! W! The children shout, but I’m slow on the uptake. Anyway it’s a false alarm – a repeat I spy. They gaze and munch, always on the lookout.
In freezing weather she pulls her shawl tight. The cover makes it difficult to see her stoicism as shut away she breaths, walks the moorlands, while her husband is working. He attacks her body with his constant work, his inwardness. Cattle get fed – yet in the cottage the woman cooks the food and makes the beds – could he not have put a handful of straw down for her – cleaned the latrine, sloshed a bucket of water against the moorland stones? During medieval times cattle lived inside and helped with warmth. The cottage on the foggy moorland holds onto its hard frost, even though the woman kept a fire burning day and night.
She starts to sketch on stones with flint, sometimes scraps of paper she’d stolen – along with a pencil – from her husband’s table. Then, after the couple move to the city, she becomes a painter, finds herself acquainted with an art dealer who has a voracious passion for her still-life.
Her husband sits and shrugs, still working, knowing in the larger way of things nothing untoward could ever happen to him or to the world in which he lives.
His wife has other ideas.
One morning a lawman calls and serves the husband legal papers.
The woman is therein bound to live a single life, until the courts have ruled. She gazes at her lover from the back of a horse-drawn cab, as if it is forever, goodbye.
C! – C! – I’ve got one. C is for clouds!
Oh yes! There – clouds – visible just, through the canopy of trees and the shelter of the tall buildings.
Pleased to have found a new piece to our picture, we clear the dishes and go inside.
Ian Bishop teaches Philosophy and English in schools and colleges in Kent UK. His work has been published in Orbis, Interpreter’s House, Adelaide Literary magazine.
They didn’t used to. Or rather, they were less chatty. A few homes showcased signs in their windows of rainbow colors or pinks and blues to denote LGBTQA allies. When I was younger, there was a sign with a dog in a detective coat letting children know if they needed help they’d be safe in that particular home. Signs bearing messages like “Hate has no home here” in seven different languages are pinned for a sidewalk passer to view. “We Call Police” signs demonstrate a kind of warning, a visible household dynamic. Every political season, last names show up on yards or in windows to denote favor.
Not all houses talked. Just like not all cars are decorated with bumper stickers of uncouth messages such as DTF or Honk if You’re High. The talky houses and cars were typically people who wanted to flaunt their viewpoints, stage humor.
My mother told me it was unsafe to adorn your house or car with signals, connotations, like posting a sign in the yard that says, “Home of a Bobcat” immediately is an indicator that you have a high school student in your house. Or car stickers of stick figures that aim to mirror the actual number of members in your family are types of clues my parents certainly wouldn’t want known to the public. Who needs to see that information in a world that is already too intertwined and unsafe? But I always enjoyed the things to look at as my homes and cars remained quiet.
Now more than ever, though, I see signs or decorations on houses shouting silent encouragements, like “We’re All in This Together,” or “Smile,” or other directives.
I never thought about houses talking before. Now, they have a lot to say.
But sometimes they don’t talk. Sometimes there is just the adornment of a lopsided rainbow that a parent proudly hung up for pedestrians to see, a piece of art from their child. Or there’s a painting of a flower from an at-home art project flaunting itself in the window. There’s this cliché about how a picture stocks a thousand words but I find the images in the windows more cryptic because they are less political, almost as if to say, “Take me as you will,” or simply, “My child did this.” Something for a walker to view as they leave their home briefly for an errand.
While stuck working from home or staying inside, we’ve transitioned from the political talky houses kind of people to encouraging everyone to post visuals on front lawns and windows. Balloons by the dozen curl along home railings as though yelling that it’s someone’s birthday. Some people have put out of place holiday blow up decorations on the front lawn just for fun. The class of 2020 is united by their urge to stay home yet they still seek the recognition they deserve. More signs are posted for celebratory reasons and recognition as the world locked itself up during a global pandemic, demonstrating how much humans seek attention, normalcy during times of uncertainty, and, in my opinion, perform small acts of kindness as we navigate new territories. My city’s mayor is frequently found peeking out of windows via a life-sized cardboard cutout or her figure printed on paper as if to say, “Don’t be here right now. Stay inside.” A few months ago, seeing her in the windows would have been rather odd. Now, she’s a figure of rules and regulation.
Restaurant windows are the chattiest, begging passersby to order take out. To go beers, to go food, to go cocktails, to go specials, to go courses, to go growlers, to go hand sanitizers. Yes, we’re open.
Restaurant window talk is a more familiar entity. Prior to covid-19, the windows lured you in with open signs or signs of what beer is on draft or the allure of their signature quesadilla pizza or home of the giant bloody mary topped off with a whole chicken. But these days, the signs I see are there as if to say, “Help us or we’re doomed.”
The windows of my apartment are empty. I’ve been thinking about if I should place something there, but my mother’s reserved German roots nag at me. Keep your politics to yourself. Don’t share too much about yourself before getting to know someone. In these times, though, it feels like I should place something for someone to view in a similar fashion of how I smirk when I see a sign of reassurance or applauding medical professionals, much like how cities now pause at 8:00 pm and clap to motivate nurses and doctors. I mull this over, what to place there, because what one posts in their own window, in any kind of time, feels like it says a lot about the self, just like how outfits are an outward flaunt of style.
When I see something deliberately placed on someone’s house, even now when it’s more common, I wonder what’s happening inside the house. Perhaps the someone who posted a “Hate has no home here” sign, meant to encourage immigrants that they are welcomed in a country that so often doesn’t welcome them, is living in a home inhabiting an abusive spousal relationship they cannot very well escape while the world is on hold. Or someone with a “Stay Home” sign visible for outsiders may be someone making up their own rules and not following guidelines. I think I’m using the signs as a distraction for all the horrible ways the world is being affected right now. When I see a sign telling me to smile, which in real life is a command that when spoken aloud to me I find repulsive and sexist, I do smile and don’t put my focus on the unemployment rate, the number of people sick and dying, the domestic abuse facing many victims, violent racism, the lack hope in this world. Rather, I hope the person who posted something reassuring or pleasant is placing it there to make me realize that this too shall pass, is a visible demonstration of the good left in this overly connected and chaotic world.
I find myself remembering and fixating on the rainbow picture painted by someone’s child.
Activism is defined as campaign to create political or social change. A five-year-old distracting himself with art to distract us from unpleasantries can suddenly feel like a moment of activism in a world in which we are adjusting.
What is going on inside the talking houses? And what pulses people to post things on their homes or cars? Perhaps it’s as simple as a small act of activism, to bring recognition to something we’re all traversing, connecting homes and neighbors and strangers, and to realize a message we’ve all heard but often forget: we are not alone.
Sophie Amado graduated with her MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing at Columbia College Chicago, where she taught undergraduate writing and rhetoric. In 2014, she received a Fulbright grant to Madrid, Spain to teach English to high school students. Her work has appeared in The Rumpus, Gravel Magazine, and more.
His hands trembled as he reached for a shopping cart. He had avoided life for the past five weeks. Now, wherever he looked there were threats. He saw it in the way people veered to the left or the right. He saw it in their eyes.
Past sliding doors into an open area designed to protect customers from winter blasts and summer bursts. He walked around stacks of bottled water, boxes of mac and cheese, and sugared cereal, then to a second set of doors. Clerks who had once smiled now resembled bank robbers – their faces covered and eyes swerving. One employee pointed to a sign.
Hold out your hands.
A glob of cold gel descended.
Rub your hands together.
Have a good day.
There were new rules: Don’t look but stay alert. Eyes down but see what’s in front or sneaking up behind you. No contact. Avoid the other. Don’t touch. Don’t even let them breathe on you.
Follow the signs. Brightly colored cards with bold print. Words. Sentences. Decals.
Do not move forward until called.
Only two people beyond this point.
The decals on the floor echoed the signs.
More words on signs and decals.
You are required to …
Wait until …
Unspoken rules: Avert. Veer. Dodge. Unmentioned rules he had internalized years earlier. Behaviors so ingrained they seemed autonomic. When a familiar face approaches – Stay alert! Should a friend draw near – Be on guard. If a child runs by – Beware. A sneeze, a touch, a rushed exhalation – A problem. Other folks – all folks really – threats, menaces, oppressors maybe, or just something to fear as if dodging bullets or knife thrusts.
The smell of disinfectant blanketed the produce aisle. Fresh produce on the right, pies and cakes on the left, meat counter farther down across from the bread and just before the frozen seafood, then turn left.
Is the pharmacy open?
Go straight ahead. All the way to the other end and turn left at the milk. Pharmacy at the very end. He walked as if in a fog – cautious, eyes alert, then, at the final moment, mirror the person oncoming and glance away.
Past the cereal and prunes, he sighted the coffee section. He had stocked up on everything except caffeine.
A family of four rounded the corner bunched together. They didn’t stray from one another as in the past, when a husband without the grocery list would mutter items as he wandered to the next aisle while his wife looked at the coffee and their children lagged behind, or ran away to be found later in the candy aisle pleading for some brightly wrapped item.
Walk around the mother, avoid the children, turn head, nod at the father, pretend to look at the coffee pods so his back would be turned when the father passed.
Remain wary of simple touches from those who may have brushed another. He felt intimidated by slight coughs, bullied by breath from strangers. There were asymptomatic carriers everywhere. Cut right, then left as people approached. Zig, then zag. Go straight. Be elusive. Be alert. Recognize pattern. See the gap. Find the hole. Breakaway. Move forward. Stay alert. Repeat.
He approached the pharmacy, refills in hand, ready to repeat words said innumerable times when he needed prescription refilled.
What he saw, he had worked to forget. The pharmacy tech in a blue uniform, name tag prominent, cloth over mouth and nose, voice muffled. His reflection in an acrylic u-shaped barrier – a thirty-inch-high splash guard with a six-inch ledge separating person from person from the threat each carried.
He read the same words as years earlier, when, after months, he was taken from a small room – a tomb really, led through narrow hallway into smaller rooms with concrete walls, and a window with a ledge. He was directed to wait on the opposite side of the window where a man in a blue uniform, insignia and badge prominent, raised his hand and pointed to a sign.
Do not move forward until called.
His hands trembled.
Thomas Elson’s short stories, poetry, and flash fiction have been published in numerous venues such as Calliope, Pinyon, Lunaris, New Ulster, Lampeter, Selkie, Pennsylvania Literary Journal, and Adelaide Literary Magazine. He divides his time between Northern California and Western Kansas.