Viral Verses | Cover Story | Salt Lake City Weekly

April 22, 2020 News » Cover Story

Viral Verses 

Our readers' poetic reflections of pandemic life

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  • Derek Carlisle

April is National Poetry Month and has been for more than 20 years—but that's one of the few things that is typical about this particular April. While the world wrestles with the practical realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, artists have been wrestling with how to process this new world emotionally through music, painting ... and yes, poetry.

City Weekly asked readers to submit poetry inspired by their lives during the pandemic. In these verses, they've explored loss and discovery, isolation and connection, the urgency of this moment right now and how we might reflect on it years from today. We're grateful to them for allowing us to share their reflections with you, to remind us what all art can do: make us feel less alone in our shared human experience.

Scott Renshaw
Arts & Entertainment editor

By Mitch Sonntag (South Jordan)

Keys, wallet, phone.
I go to the grocery store.
I get milk, eggs, cereal, frozen food for dinner.

Keys, wallet, phone.
I go to the grocery store.
I wait in a line that wraps around the building.
I get milk, frozen meat, cereal.
Someone bumps into me from behind.

My throat hurts.
Just a cold. Just a cold.

Keys, wallet, phone.
I go to the grocery store.
I get milk.
The rice is gone. The flour is gone. The pasta is gone.

Keys, wallet, phone, mask, gloves.
I go to the grocery store.
I wait in a line that wraps around the building.
I wait my turn to be allowed in.
I get milk, rice, flour, toilet paper.
There is no pasta.
I feel victorious.

Keys, wallet, phone, mask, gloves.
I go to the grocery store.
I buy ingredients.
I make comfort food to celebrate.
Life almost feels normal.

I wash my mask for next time.

(Describing the street is easy since)
By Gleeson Ryan (Salt Lake City)

there isn't very much
going on.
the city is empty
but full of windows
and the occasional dog or walker
skirt each other.
the calmness and silence
imagines a blossoming chaos elsewhere.
the air is clear
except for where someone burned a steak
and opened their patio door to soothe the smoke detector.
someone is dying, someone is in love,
someone is bored:
humans carry on all their regular patterns indoors.
children stammer the apartment ceilings
someone breaks a glass
unstoppers a bottle
kisses their husband
can't sleep.
someone rails at the TV.
it rails back.
someone turns it off
calls their mother
wishes they could visit their mother's grave
or just learns to wait
and forget.

click to enlarge COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo

Pandemic Manners
(A Haiku)
By Shaunna Bingham (Salt Lake City)

COVID etiquette
Coughs, sneezes, spread diseases
Cover your mouth please

By Christine Nielson (Heber City)

Today I am Aphrodite,
my soul made of lover's curves
and my arms waiting for you.
Come to my bed, darling—
we will soar to ecstasy
while the forsaken world weeps.

click to enlarge COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo

By Ali Shimkus (Salt Lake City)

I miss edifices on old corners
On buildings downtown.
Urban planning at its best, and worst,
The lions placed out front
With their globes for good fortune.
Neon lights cascading on the cars as they pass,
Signs pointing in directions I could go if I wanted.
Cherubs and devils mixing in tattoo shop windows
With pinup girls and sparrows,
Bouncers blocking the bellies of bars,
The unspoken promise of an interesting time,
Pizza places ready to receive revelers
All hours of the night.
Marquees advertising bands I like,
But never made the effort to see,
A stone's throw from church bells singing:
A cathedral with gargoyles,
To remind me of my demons.

click to enlarge COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo

Love in the Time of Coronavirus
By Doni Faber (Salt Lake City)

Germs can rest now.
All our energy goes
to flattening the curve.
It is still a mystery
where the energy has gone.

Mounting an effort
to grocery shop
is Herculean,
laying in provisions
of masks and Clorox wipes
just to get there.
Just to survive.

If only we had virus vision
goggles and could tiptoe around
the corona of a virus.
Perhaps then our houses wouldn't be shuttered
like a Spanish city during siesta.

The Earth is telling us to breathe.
The Earth is telling us to rest.
And though it shrugs its shoulders repeatedly,
it will soon join us in our efforts.

Some day we will embrace again.
But for now, loved ones,
give yourselves permission
to slow,
to pause,
to rest.

click to enlarge COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo

By Cadence Summers (West Valley City)

How terrifying it is,
to live through something
surely destined
for the pages
a history textbook.

I imagine the paragraphs
simple, concise, effective
how they will—without feeling—
enumerate the damages,
and coldly convey
the causes,

Longer works on the subject
may briefly remember
some of the fear
the stress
the uncertainty
but surely they will fail to tell it.

There will likely be no mention at all
of how essential we were to each other,
the way your hair smelled;
how your warm skin felt against my lips, hips,
and hands;
or the dreams we had—
happy and strange in the face of history made
laying warm in each other's arms.

How exciting it is,
what I get to live through
even if I only remember
how it felt to survive it
with you.

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  • Courtesy Photo

By Amy Rich (Holladay)

Smiles inside our masks
Waving across streets or screens
Spreading only love

Toilet paper found
During my Easter egg hunt
Thanks Easter bunny!

Wash your hands again
I don't care if you just did
Do it again, please

Social distancing
Is how we love our neighbor
And flatten the curve

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  • Courtesy Photo

By Jane Hillson Aiello (Centennial, Colo.)

I promised
Not because I had to
Because I wanted to be
Their person
Dependable, available

One week before the time
Would be my time
To come, settle in
I promised
To be there

Ahead of the arrival
Awaiting the promise
Of new life
Blossoming, like spring
I promised

To tend to my grandson
While his baby brother
Enters the world
A world away
From where we are

Now. I broke my
Promise. I cannot
Be their person
No longer dependable
Available to no one

Promise breached
My heart is broken
A baby will be born
Due dates. I cannot do
Dates - I promised

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  • Courtesy Photo

Silver Linings
By Blithe Anderson (Salt Lake City)

My right eardrum ruptured when I was assaulted by a man 8 years my senior
But it makes for good volume control at night
Deaf ear facing the ceiling, the low hum of the furnace disappears

I am confined to a small windowless room during a pandemic
My twinkle lights shine bright
And the morning light never wakes me

An earthquake shook my asbestos-laden home,
Stealing all sense of safety
But my furniture makes every place I land feel like home

It is Easter and there is no family get-together
But mom is making fancy potatoes
She gave me an Easter basket of candy and socks

I don't have an Easter dress to wear this year
But I've put on a colorful shirt and let my hair down
I have never felt more festive

Mom goes to work at the hospital after two weeks quarantine
I may not get to hug her for many months
But she is my hero

I said I'd never move back home
Yet here I am again for the sixth time
But I no longer feel shame

I feel gratitude, immense
For the silver
Lining my life

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  • Courtesy Photo

By Candace J. Thomas (Salt Lake City)

There is no more Normal
Normal is broken
We closed our doors to it and now it has disappeared

The sky turned purple to our eyes
The ground is gelatin beneath our feet
Emotions swing like yo-yos
Stomachs flip upside-down
Like specters in our own skin
Wearing clothes that no longer fit

Without Normal everything is Weird
Weird is upsetting and unnatural
Weird brings paranoia and anger
Weird judges our actions and watching our movements

Ready for us to touch
...and hug
...and kiss
...and eat
...and drink
...and love
...and share
...and do all the things our bodies find as Normal

But there is no Normal
We are unprepared for the world without Normal
Until Weird is normal and we no longer ask why the sky changed

Not noticing how it is not the sky but our own eyes
And Normal is ready to embrace us

click to enlarge COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo

By Erin R. Britt (Salt Lake City)

Daffodils bloom across the street
I see them from my window
Bathed in sunlight, unconcerned
I wonder if they know
Death so small that none can see it
Death that locks me behind
Glass and starves me of human touch
Or, knowing, do they thrill at basking
Stems uncut
Admiring my captivity

click to enlarge COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo

By Bryan Young (Salt Lake City)

Beyond the glass
spring dances.

Sunlight pirouettes across
mountain, valley, city
and stretches over
buildings to rival Babel's tower

Inside, winter rules
fists pounding tables
in icy demands for attention,
creeping carefully into every
isolated heart.

Summer waits
in sad repose.

And fall?

Fall is just a dream.

Back Away

By Norman Jenson (Sandy)

Death waits six feet away
on the lips of a man
with no mask.
Death waits six feet away
on the breath of a woman
with no symptoms.
Death waits six feet away
on young and old alike,
on their smiles on their
unmasked faces.
Some get a pass,
no symptoms,
mild symptoms,
but they're six plus six plus
. . . years younger
I raise my wrinkled hand,
palm out,
and say,
back away
back away.
I am like others
a person
sometimes afraid
back away
six feet away
keep me alive

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