Pandemic Poem #32

Pandemic poem #32 is one of the ones that went dark and twisty immediately–but in the end, just a hint of hope, maybe. Maybe. If enough people want the cure badly enough to fight together for it instead of continuing to ignore our condition and just hope it goes away, or refusing to acknowledge it is everyone’s problem. Herd immunity against hate starts with each one of us insisting all of us deserve the same empathy and care. Can we do it? I’m enough of a dreamer to still like to think so. Time will tell.

(Reading tip: if you are reading this on your phone screen, turning the screen sideways will result in a correct placement of each line; otherwise, they are broken up in unusual and not especially poetic fashion.)


Pre-existing Conditions

What distresses most is the laying bare, the realization
that our exquisite national horror is now cast into sharp focus,
can no longer be masked by illusions of health and prosperity,
or hidden under tangled layers of social and political rhetoric;
that the true disease isn’t Covid-19,
that this pandemic has laid bare to the global gaze
the pre-existing conditions of a society
that has been disintegrating, rotting from within
for so long we stopped paying attention to those symptoms
stopped mentioning them to the doctor, stopped
monitoring them at all, because they’re so much a part of us now–
inequality, inequity, lack of empathy, lack of basic care
selfishness, greed, the undervaluing and erasure of anyone
who doesn’t serve a role or meet a need in someone’s life–
and even the healthiest among us is not recused, cannot escape
our shared social illness, must now acknowledge a grim truth:
we are all patients in the ICU and we are all dying from the inside,
in dire need of a vaccine against inhumanity,
desperate for antibodies and herd immunity from hate.


(Originally written 4/21/2020)


I invite those who are also writing creatively in response to the pandemic to share their words in the comments below. I am sharing the “poem-a-day” on Instagram and Twitter, as well; follow me @mridleyelmes !


About Melissa Ridley Elmes

Professor and writer; Unrepentant nerd; chaotic good. Author of Arthurian Things: A Collection of Poems. PhD, MFA. She/hers. Views my own.
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