Pandemic Poem #35

Pandemic Poem #35 came after I overheard several angry neighbors loudly discussing how the government needs to just cut out the nonsense and reopen everything because you can’t hold the economy hostage for a disease. There was a lot of joking about what lives matter sprinkled into that conversation, and I couldn’t help but think: you jerks, the reason you are here to have that conversation right now is because of the very government shutdown you are complaining about.  And that led me to think of all of the brave souls, and the ones desperately trying to keep their jobs, who can’t work from home and so did get up and go to work today–treating patients, monitoring social distancing, delivering things, selling things, trying to find a vaccine, trying to find better treatment, trying to understand the social and economic impacts and prepare for what’s next.

The truth is, I do not know enough about public health, government, or economics to speak with expertise on any of those matters–but I know that the people I respect and admire most in all of those realms are in agreement: Stay home. Flatten the curve. Find a vaccine. We cannot  beat this thing in any other way. There can be no business as usual without a vaccine. People will die needlessly without a vaccine. The economy is going to suffer with or without a vaccine, but without will be far worse. And in my worldview, any government that knows these things and doesn’t make every effort to protect citizens is derelict in its duty to serve and protect. The economy can be paused. Lifestyles can be paused. Life itself cannot.

(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.)


Lives, Interrupted 

There are those angrily insisting that the
world shouldn’t stop for the pandemic,
that we can’t hold the economy hostage
over an illness, that the country needs to
reopen: the pandemic is interrupting lives
they bitterly complain, interrupting lives.

You woke up this morning, had breakfast
brushed your teeth, made your ablutions
got dressed, or perhaps did not; went on
to a day’s activity, personalized to your
own circumstances and proclivities, all
while breathing in and out, heart steadily
beating its regular rhythms, brain thinking,
planning, dreaming, fretting, hoping . . .

All proof the pandemic is interrupting lifestyles,
not lives–save those cut short by its unchecked
spread, unable to hold out for a vaccine because
they were deemed essential to the lifestyles of
others. Those lives, yes, were interrupted by this
Disease, laying bare in starkest terms for us all
what matters and what we can truly live without.


(Originally written 4/24/2020)


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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