Tuesday, March 31, 2020

#PoetryBreak: When the Vacation is Over for Good

Wales (M.A. Reilly, 2014)

When the Vacation is Over for Good

It will be strange
Knowing at last it couldn't go on forever,
The certain voice telling us over and over
That nothing would change,

And remembering too,
Because by then it will all be done with, the way
Things were, and how we had wasted time as though
There was nothing to do,

When, in a flash
The weather turned, and the lofty air became
Unbearably heavy, the wind strikingly dumb
And our cities like ash,

And knowing also,
What we never suspected, that it was something like summer
At its most august except that the nights were warmer
And the clouds seemed to glow,

And even then,
Because we will not have changed much, wondering what
Will become of things, and who will be left to do it
All over again,

And somehow trying,
But still unable, to know just what it was
That went so completely wrong, or why it is
We are dying.
"When the Vacation is Over for Good" by Mark Strand, from New and Selected Poems. © Alfred A. Knopf, 2009.

Monday, March 30, 2020

#SOL20 - Symbols: Notes from the Pandemic


I haven’t been able to grasp the fullness of this pandemic and what it means. I understand what a pandemic is and yet, I am not fully aware of the personal, financial, and societal implications of the pandemic. Concrete symbols seem to carry far more influence than the chatter I hear on news shows or the stories I read online.

The Javits Center is located at the end of the street where Rob’s family business was located on West 36th Street in Manhattan. I can remember parking the car in the narrow parking lot next to Rob’s business and walking down the street to visit the Javits Center during the annual Book Expo, a conference that Rob and I went to.

Book Expo at Javits Center
Because I have tired myself walking the floors of that Expo, I have a sense of the largeness of the Javits Center. When I saw photographs like the one below that shows how the Javits Center has been repurposed to now be a 1200-bed hospital for COVID-19 patients needing care,  the reality of this pandemic becomes clearer.


Symbols matter. It’s the familiar places that have been transformed that most allow me to catch a glimpse of the pandemic in ways that unsettle the calmness I try to pull around myself.

In a similar manner, I was talking with a colleague who was working in a NJ hospital and she said that the most terrifying change in NJ hospitals was the recent introduction of refrigerated trailers, that are intended to operate as temporary morgues.

I see these trucks and I think Walmart delivery, not a temporary place to store bodies. This shocks me and in doing so, the bigness of what we are in and what is before us flickers a bit and I see clearly for a moment.


I think now that no ones really lives through a pandemic. Rather, we live each moment of each day and those days accumulate into weeks and those weeks will later be chopped up and assigned labels such as: beginning, apex, end. The neatness of naming will undermine the vast uncertainty we have felt.

For now, I know that time is surely relative. Since March 5th, there has been no 24-hour period that felt like a day. Where I work (which is actually in my home now), the pace is relentless, frantic. On weekends, the work continues even when I swear it won’t. I know I am not alone, nor am I in a critical field where life and death is being determined.

A field hospital sits on the lawn in Central Park where normally young, healthy bodies play sports, rest and read books, and picnic and chat. I have photographed there more times than I can count. The parking lot of Bergen Community College that sits opposite the high school I went to is now a drive through COVID-19 testing site. The Meadowlands Convention Center in Secaucus will open as a field hospital within a week.

All these symbols represent the seismic shift states are undertaking to better prepare for the massive number of sick and dying.

It is these shifts, these repurposing of familiar places that most help me to grasp what this pandemic is at this moment.

#PoetryBreak: Spring Storm

Scottish Rain (M.A.Reilly)

Spring Storm

William Carlos Williams - 1883-1963
The sky has given over 
its bitterness. 
Out of the dark change 
all day long 
rain falls and falls 
as if it would never end. 
Still the snow keeps 
its hold on the ground. 
But water, water 
from a thousand runnels! 
It collects swiftly, 
dappled with black 
cuts a way for itself 
through green ice in the gutters. 
Drop after drop it falls 
from the withered grass-stems 
of the overhanging embankment.

#SOL2020 - Sorrow Fell like Rain: Notes from the Pandemic

Rain Coming. (M.A. Reilly, 2020)

Today there was lightning and thunder. A deep, angry rumble that signaled what had already begun somewhere else in the region. Rain falling hard. A flicker of lights. A loss of power.

Today I heard 100,000 to 200,000 people will likely die from COVID-19 here in the United States. I understand those numbers as everyone I have ever loved who has died. 200,000 moms. 200,000 dads. 200,000 husbands. 200,000 brothers and sisters. 200,000 childhood friends. 


Grief alters us. Well before the coming death, we feel anticipatory grief. “The name given to the tumultuous set of feelings and reactions that occur in some people who are expecting death in a loved one. These emotions can be just as intense as the conventional sort of grief felt after a death" (from here). 

In the weeks before Rob’s death as I watched him slip further from life, I was mostly terrified. I found reasons to drive alone. I can still hear myself screaming, still remember how the sound was like something wounded, something dying and it filled the whole car until out of breath the sound lessened to cries and then whimpers and breathing and finally blessed silence. 

Today, we are wounded and terrified as beyond us, a wide void is opening. The incalculable loss of spouses, children, parents, siblings, friends, and of selves will fill it. A crypt we cannot name. A stone we cannot engrave.

Who I was four years ago ended in profound ways with Rob’s death. Knowing how that loss still shapes me, I find tonight that my body cannot hold the calculations of death before us. 
It cannot compute the pain. 
It cannot fathom the emptiness that such loss will produce. 

Waves upon waves of sorrow will rain down on us.

This is the history we fail to record when mass horror happens. We simply cannot bear such burden.

Four years later, I still feel the coldness of Rob’s hand between mind. I still hear the silence that grew louder between his rattled breaths. 

I still know how a heart that stops sounds.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

#poetrybreak, Let Them Not Say

Petals (M.A. Reilly, Dublin)

Let Them Not Say
 - Jane Hirschfield
Jane Hirschfield wrote this poem well before the presidential inauguration and without the event in mind. “But,” she writes, “it seems a day worth remembering the fate of our shared planet and all its beings, human and beyond.”
Let them not say:    we did not see it.
We saw.
Let them not say:    we did not hear it.
We heard.
Let them not say:    they did not taste it.
We ate, we trembled.
Let them not say:    it was not spoken, not written.
We spoke,
we witnessed with voices and hands.
Let them not say:     they did nothing.
We did not-enough.
Let them say, as they must say something: 
A kerosene beauty.
It burned.
Let them say we warmed ourselves by it,
read by its light, praised,
and it burned.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

#PoetryBreak: Hive

Untitled (M.A. Reilly)


 - Kevin Young

The honey bees’ exile 
     is almost complete. 
You can carry 

them from hive 
     to hive, the child thought 
& that is what 

he tried, walking 
     with them thronging 
between his pressed palms. 

Let him be right. 
     Let the gods look away 
as always. Let this boy 

who carries the entire 
     actual, whirring 
world in his calm 

unwashed hands, 
     barely walking, bear 
us all there 

buzzing, unstung.

From: Young, Kevin. (2018). Brown: Poems. New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. 

#SOL20 - Making a List: Notes from the Pandemic

The Burden (M.A.Reilly)

These are the people who are important.  They have always been important. We don’t pay all of them though as if they are important.

Custodial workers.
Garbage collectors.
Truck drivers.
Hospital technicians.
Medical researchers.
Police officers.
Fire fighters.
Grocery clerks.
Gas attendants.
Public transit workers.
Governors, their staff, and cabinet.
Mayors and their staff.

These are the people who are not important and yet they pay themselves exceedingly well, better than most of the country.

Everyone working on Wall Street.
Insurance executives.

These are the people who should be important, but have epically failed.

GOP Senators.
GOP Congressional Representatives.
President Trump.
Trump’s VP,  and cabinet.
The White House executive staff.
Lt. Gov. of Texas

Friday, March 27, 2020

#SOL20 - Exponential Threat: Notes from the Pandemic


#PoetryBreak: America

Sunday Afternoon (M.A. Reilly)


Although she feeds me bread of bitterness,
And sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth,
Stealing my breath of life, I will confess
I love this cultured hell that tests my youth.
Her vigor flows like tides into my blood,
Giving me strength erect against her hate,
Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood.
Yet, as a rebel fronts a king in state,
I stand within her walls with not a shred
Of terror, malice, not a word of jeer.
Darkly I gaze into the days ahead,
And see her might and granite wonders there,
Beneath the touch of Time’s unerring hand,
Like priceless treasures sinking in the sand.

Claude McKay, "America" from Liberator (December 1921).

Thursday, March 26, 2020

#SOL20 - Liminal Space: Notes from the Pandemic

Memory is the Diary We all Carry (M.A. Reilly)

"...memory, including cultural memory, is always permeated and shot through with forgetting. In order to remember anything one has to forget; but what is forgotten is not necessarily lost forever” (Assmann 2010, pp. 105–6). 


After Rob died I could not see a possible future. I don’t mean this metaphorically. I was stuck, waiting for him to rise, like Lazarus, so that our lives might resume. Our lives, like many who have wed, were entwined. Rob was my partner for nearly my whole adult life. I did not know then that what rested in my hands all along was responsibility for my very life. 

I was white noise.
A boat slipped from its mooring.


We want to share possible futures, as such imaginings are reassuring.  Even now, four years after my husband’s death I have forgotten much, and yet I remember the possible futures we dreamed.

Three dominant memories remain:

·      The small city college life.
·      The wild coastal west of Ireland.
·      A small farmhouse in Vermont.


A pandemic calls into question any possible future. Fear creates liminal zones; spaces suspended between remembering and forgetting. We stutter-step through the days, harboring ourselves in our homes as best we can. At night we imagine those suffering.

Not far from here, people are dying. Mostly they are dying alone—sealed away from family and friends. Even four years later, the memory remains of holding Rob’s right hand between the two of mine as the pauses between his breaths lengthened until he breathed no more. I needed him to know, if by no other means than touch, that I went as far as I could with him. I was present.

Not far from here there are people struggling to breathe, unaided by machines. At each hospital, doctors and nurses are anxious, waiting for the promised shipments of masks, gowns, gloves and the blessed ventilators that do not arrive.


The President of the United States is responsible for these hardship, sorrows, and deaths. 
He told a worried nation to not worry. He told a nation that COVID-19 was a Democratic hoax, just like Russian collusion and the impeachment were hoaxes.  He told us that there were just 15 cases and soon there would be zero. He told us the pandemic would go away in April like magic. He urged people to mingle and to go to work sick. He urged people to fill pews in churches on Easter.  
He worried more about the economy than those people a few miles from here who struggle to breathe. He is deadly because he filters all events through a narrow, single lens: what effect do these happenings have on the life of Donald Trump? Nothing more matters to him. 
He is neither boat, nor mooring.


A pandemic is unforgiving.  Our responses to the uncertainty reveals what we value and fail to value.

In the years to come we will not remember all the details of these days. We may turn to records and even then, the recollection will be filtered by how we have lived. Many details will fade.  
Yet what we have forgotten will not be lost. The forgotten will find voice in the kind of country that gets built from the ashes.

Work Cited:

Assmann A. (2010). Canon and archive. In A Companion to Cultural Memory Studies. An International and Interdisciplinary Handbook, ed. A Erll, A Nunning, pp. 97–107. Berlin/New York: Walter de Gruyter. 

#PoetryBreak: Remember

Coming Undone (M.A. Reilly)


  - by Joy Harjo 

Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star's stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is.
Remember the sun's birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.
Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother's, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life, also.
Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.
Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.
Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
origin of this universe.
Remember you are all people and all people
are you.
Remember you are this universe and this
universe is you.
Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember language comes from this.
Remember the dance language is, that life is.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

#SOL20: Two Times: Notes from the Pandemic

Sleep (M.A. Reilly)

Where the two times meet, desperation. Where the two times go their separate ways, contentment. For, miraculously, a barrister, a nurse, a baker can make a world in either time, but not in both times. Each time is true, but the truths are not the same.  Alan Lightman, Einstein's Dreams


I didn't mean to do this. 

I actually hardly noticed at all, until the skin on the wrist where I normally wore the watch grew dry and tight from so much hand washing.  It was the dry skin that signaled a passing of time.

On the first day of self-imposed isolation, I left my watch sitting next to the bed. Eleven days later, I can say that it hasn't been back on my wrist since. 


Pandemics reorient us in time in ways similar to what grief does to a body.  In each situation we attempt to lessen the entropy that is felt by heightening what the body feels.

It was body time, not clock time that oriented me to the world. 


After the work meetings now conducted by phone or through ZOOM, or Google Hangout—I meditate.

Dinner is over.
Dishes are done.
The house settles like a contented cat around me.

There is nothing but a single word I learned to chant four years ago, until that word like time and space dissolves.

#PoertyBreak: Small Kindness

Ordinary Angels (M.A. Reilly, Dublin, Ireland)
By Danusha Laméris
I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk
down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs
to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you”
when someone sneezes, a leftover
from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying.
And sometimes, when you spill lemons
from your grocery bag, someone else will help you
pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other.
We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot,
and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile
at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress
to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder,
and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass.
We have so little of each other, now. So far
from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange.
What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these
fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here,
have my seat,” “Go ahead — you first,” “I like your hat.”

Danusha Laméris is poet laureate of Santa Cruz County, Calif. Her next book, “Bonfire Opera,” will be published by the University of Pittsburgh Press.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

#PoetryBreak: Sorrow Is Not My Name

Counting (M.A. Reilly)

Thanks to Brian Mooney for sharing this poem. 

Sorrow Is Not My Name

—after Gwendolyn Brooks
No matter the pull toward brink. No
matter the florid, deep sleep awaits.
There is a time for everything. Look,
just this morning a vulture
nodded his red, grizzled head at me,
and I looked at him, admiring
the sickle of his beak.
Then the wind kicked up, and,
after arranging that good suit of feathers
he up and took off.
Just like that. And to boot,
there are, on this planet alone, something like two
million naturally occurring sweet things,
some with names so generous as to kick
the steel from my knees: agave, persimmon,
stick ball, the purple okra I bought for two bucks
at the market. Think of that. The long night,
the skeleton in the mirror, the man behind me
on the bus taking notes, yeah, yeah.
But look; my niece is running through a field
calling my name. My neighbor sings like an angel
and at the end of my block is a basketball court.
I remember. My color's green. I'm spring.

      —for Walter Aikens

#SOL20 - The Obscene: Notes from the Pandemic

After (M.A. Reilly)

Tonight, I caught up on news.  Panic seemed to rule, as did the obscene. Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick told FOX News TV watchers that he preferred death over life if that meant getting people "back to work." Patrick told commentator Tucker Carlson,

So my message is that let’s get back to work. Let’s get back to living. Let’s be smart about it. And those of us who are 70 plus, we’ll take care of ourselves, but don’t sacrifice the country. Don’t do that. Don’t ruin this great America.”

Patrick equates getting back to work, which in this case would likely create thousands and thousands of deaths, with getting back to living. He makes a dangerous proposition, one no one in service to the people ought to ever make, sound like a patriotic gesture that a John Wayne character might make in a film.

But this is not a film. Like it or not, this is a pandemic and we cannot control it by bluffing or bellowing like an idiot full of sound and fury. Patrick should step down. He is reckless, unAmerican, and his advice will get us killed.

Patrick's suggestion that America go back to work and ignore the Center for Disease Control's advice that the "best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus" reinforces the President's rambling nonsense about the cure being worse than the virus.  Trump announced in a two-hour blab-fest that he would re-open America for business in “weeks,” not months. 

So what happens if Americans go back to work like the President and Patrick are suggesting? What happens if Americans thumb their nose at COVID-19 and John Wayne their way back to work in order to boost the imploded economy?

See all that blood-red? That reflects the percentage of people who would likely be infected by COVID-19 by July 1, 2020 if we did as the President and the Lt. Gov. tell us we should do: Stop staying home and go back to work. Without control measures, the outbreak might sweep across most of the country by early May. By mid-May, it is estimated that new cases of the virus would reach 500,000 per day. 

The America that Patrick claimed to love would be no more. The economy would not have recovered and would now be in even worse shape as the country would be faced with out of control health needs and too few options to actually treat the sick.

More people would die because the President and his crony thought tough talk would effect a virus.

Patrick's question,  ‘Are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren?’ is faulty. There is no individual in this scenario. His actions to return to work will affect scores and scores of others who will affect more and more people until the map of the United States is blood-red and our faulty decisions bleed that red across Canada and Mexico and from there it just travels on and on. 

That is the nature of a pandemic. It doesn't respect borders or border walls. It behaves as viruses behave looking for opportunistic ways to proliferate.

The advice from Patrick and the edict from Trump represent the forward way for a pandemic to claim a globe.