Poem- Pandemic Time

(I’ve never felt the need to put a content note on a poem before, but this one may be rough for folks. Feel free to skip.)


Pandemic Time

I’ve never lived through a war
but I imagine time moves differently
for those on the front lines (long,
tense stretches of preparation and boredom,
punctuated by frenzied action)
moves differently for those waiting at home,
watching the clock tick impossibly slow

pandemic time is different
it’s splintered all around us
teachers stay up late into the night,
learning new technology, writing
lessons plans that are obsolete by morning
administrators restructure everything
then do it again, and again
we’re all playing catch-up here

it sounds so good, work from home
play video games and watch tv
learn a language, learn to paint
we’re trying to cram it all in
how can there be so much time
and yet it is all I can do to get out of bed
some days; an hour working in the garden,
digging muck, planting seeds, is slow time,
often it’s all that returns me to sanity

workers at every level get up early
the workload has doubled, and the children
are at home and must be fed somehow
or the work is gone, laid off, and now they’re
standing in line for groceries, six feet apart and
waiting for their turn, hoping for milk and eggs
and bread, hoping there’s enough left
in the account to cover the bill

hospital administrators argue triage plans
in endless meetings, tick tock tick tock
the doctors on our new front lines
try to rest up as they wait for acceleration phase
but people still keep getting sick of all
the other things: breaking bones, bursting
appendixes, babies coming out the wrong way
— help me! — no downtime for the docs

or the nurses, or the staff, or the paramedics
who prepare for the surge, check PPE (like any military
they rely on the speed of acronyms civilians
never need to learn, in ordinary times), try to remember
to breathe, stagger home to bored and restless children
who must be reminded not to hug mama, “You have
to wait, baby,” but children have no sense of time

there are no soldiers and civilians
when it comes to pandemic time, which drags
when it doesn’t race (a slow cough slips in
impossibly short minutes to drowning)
we are all in this together, a world event,
unprecedented — together, and yet apart, each
in our own separate experience of this trauma

little broken time machines

my husband is distracted by the children’s
need for lunch; for one blessed moment, he’s back
in normal time, healthy time — but I dreamed
last night that he was leaving me, a long, foolish
dream of another woman, but of course
I was actually terrified of losing him; as his
clock ticks along, mine is frozen, waiting for
the bell to ring, the clapper to be muted
the axe to fall

pandemic time has shattered all around us
and though one is racing and one is exhausted
and one is frozen and one is puttering along
we’re all hurting, all at the mercy
of what’s coming, what’s already here,
though we don’t know the full damage,
not yet. Wait.

March 31, 2020

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