earthweal weekly challenge: FLATTENING THE CURVE


Hi friends,

Sherry Marr here—Numbers of those affected by the coronavirus change by the hour, and are rising rapidly. As of my final edit at 9 a.m., Sunday, March 29, globally we have 685,913 known cases, with 32,239 deaths.

In Canada, we have a total of 5,886 with the virus, and 63 deaths. My province of B.C. has 884 current cases, with 17  deaths.

On Friday, I was shocked to hear that the United States already has more cases than China had, now documenting 120,000 infected, reporting 2100 deaths. Infectious disease specialists predict a very dire spread of this voracious virus in the U.S.

This is very alarming. I worry for my friends and neighbours to the south. I worry for us all. Stay in your two-metre bubbles, kids.

Clearly, self-isolation is the only way to flatten the curve and slow this voracious monster. But it took too long for enough people to get the message.  A week ago, Vancouver, B.C., parks and beaches showed up on the news with hordes of people out enjoying the sun, oblivious. It was outrageous. It has gotten better since. Officials were in tears on the news, begging people to stay home, fearing our health care system could well collapse under the weight of what is to come.

Prime Minister Trudeau himself is in self-isolation, working from home, as his wife Sophie has the virus. He appears outside his front door every morning for his daily briefing, and works on facetime the rest of the day. I am pleased that the Canadian government is doing its utmost to take care of us and help us through this time. Leadership is clear and active, with constant updates. (My sympathy is with my neighbours in the U.S. at this time. I am glad state leaders are taking the reins and doing what needs to be done.)

On the graphs, the curve is spiking steeply, with no sign of it leveling, and by the time this posts, the increase will be definitive. Officials exhort us to practice social and physical distancing, in a desperate effort to flatten the curve. (In Italy, cases went from a thousand in one week, to 40,000 the next week. Canada was at the thousand mark as I began writing this last weekend. It has since doubled.)

Tofino is, as always, taking a leadership role. Before mandates were issued, the mayor requested tourists to not travel here, to wait till this is over. Resorts and small businesses and restaurants voluntarily began closing their doors. Tourists already here were asked to leave.

Tla-o-qui-ahts took action early, meeting traffic coming through Sutton Pass, on our only highway in. Locals and essential traffic were allowed through; tourists (many of them from the U.S.) were asked to turn around and go home. They have closed off their communities to non-residents in order to protect their vulnerable population.

Tofino hospital (photo: Joseph Bob)

Our small Tofino Hospital has ten beds, two ambulances and ONE respirator. We service Tofino, Ucluelet and all of the Nuu chah nulth reserves on the West Coast and on outlying islands. Our front line workers will be stressed to the max and beyond with what they know is coming.

Our local representatives are doing a remarkable and reassuring job of keeping us informed. Local front line workers and essential businesses are doing a heroic job of taking care of us. But they are not allowed to tell us whether it is in our community or not. The head doctor at the hospital is requesting permission from the provincial health officials. Knowledge helps us look after ourselves even more pro-actively.

The Canadian government has earmarked a financial package totalling $82 billion dollars, to help individuals and small businesses survive the lack of income involved in work stoppages and business closures. Wow. The government has set aside $55 billion in tax deferrals for businesses and families.  Families will soon feel some assistance with increased monthly child benefit payments. Low income singles (me) and families will receive a higher GST payment in April. Further financial mortgage and housing relief measures are being taken, and workers who do not qualify for Employment Insurance benefits can apply for direct payments without a wait period. One MILLION Employment Insurance claims were filed this past week. That is a lot of households who don’t know how they’re going to pay the rent.

(The Credit Union where my sister is a small business manager immediately announced that all loan and mortgage payments are suspended for six months.)

Yesterday the streets of Victoria, down-Island, usually jammed with tourists, were empty. Two major hotels, including the famous Empress, closed their doors. So many hourly wage earners have been laid off in all sectors.

My own daughters are self-isolating, as am I. My son is an essential service worker.

Industries are being asked to start producing health supplies, such as respirators and masks, that are in short supply across Canada. I am impressed by how government has stepped up to take care of those of us with the least resources. But I wonder what will happen as this continues long-term. They keep telling us this is a marathon, not a sprint.

How is it in your part of the world? How is your country doing at flattening the curve?

It has been heartening to watch world leaders come together to fight this common foe. (I only wish they would come together around the climate crisis with the same dedication and focus. Maybe after the virus abates, they will.) Most people are following directives around social distancing (staying home, avoiding crowds, keeping two metres between oneself and another person). It has been astonishing to note how many ignore the directives, putting others at risk.

We have become such an entitled species; it is disappointing to see how many All-About-Me examples we have heard about on the news: like the couple in Kelowna, B.C., who bought up the entire meat section of a chain store.  (There could be a whole other conversation about the connection between our meat-eating, the terrible lives of factory animals, and the climate crisis.) People were still gathering, so as of  March 22, malls, parks and beaches were being closed. There will be steep fines for noncompliance with physical distancing.

Because we have become such global travellers, all of the first instances of the virus in Canada were related to people coming back from travelling. But now travel has been restricted; ominously, more cases are now coming from community spread.

All over Vancouver Island, we are watching businesses closing, airline, bus and ferry service being reduced, only essential services continuing. People are working in solidarity to try to keep themselves and each other safe.

By the time this posts, I am wondering if the mandate will have advanced from social distancing to sheltering in place. I suspect that is not far off, judging by officials’ frustration at public noncompliance. But people are becoming more aware, as the days go on.

I have been staying home, since I have a compromised immune system. I have been out only twice, for groceries. I hope to not go out again for the next while. I take in the fresh air on my balcony.

Right now, our CoOp reserves the first hour of the day for seniors to shop, to minimize our exposure.  A guard stands at the door to let only we elderly through. (I don’t need to show I.D. LOL.) It’s peaceful with so few of us in the store. I am happy the cashiers, on the front lines and very exposed, wear rubber gloves. I am so grateful to them for coming to work when they are nervous. May they stay safe.  I bought extra groceries the last time I went, so I won’t have to go back, just in case we get to the point where our only grocery store gets closed. Right now, they are on reduced hours.

These times bring out the best and the worst in human nature.

The Italians were first to inspire us, singing from their balconies at six every evening. My heart lifted at the sight and sound of them, that first evening, so beautifully sharing songs and smiles with the world. It fell next morning, when I saw the long line of military trucks hauling away the bodies.

People in Greece and Spain and Vancouver, B.C.,  applaud on their balconies to thank the health care workers and front line people looking after us in this crisis. Some howls have even been heard in Tofino and Ucluelet. Our debt to the doctors, nurses and health care professionals has never been more clearly demonstrated, as they risk their own lives to keep us safe.  Some of them, sadly, world-wide, have succumbed to the virus.

On TV, health officials BEG us, sometimes in tears, to stay home, the only way to flatten the curve. The trajectory of how quickly and exponentially this virus moves is terrifying. From one day to the next, from one week to the next, this virus spreads in frightening leaps. Those who ignore this advice are risking other lives along with their own.

Of concern is the homeless population, who have nowhere to self-isolate. In Canada, the North West Territories, in the first weeks, had no incidences of the virus, and tried to prevent all non-essential travel to keep out the virus. Sadly, on March 21, the first case was documented. Around this time, the virus showed up in South Africa. The spread in both Africa and India will be difficult, if not impossible, to control, given how many people live closely together, lacking adequate shelter and resources.

Amazingly, China spiked and not only flattened, but conquered the curve in their country by enforcing very stern measures. This shows it can be stopped.

But in many of our countries, accustomed as we are to our “rights and freedoms,” governments are faced with a harder task, asking people to comply and trusting that we will be responsible. So it will take longer for them to take the next step, giving the virus more time to spread.

Of special concern are the homeless, as well as First Nations communities, many of which lack clean drinking water and access to medical care and basic medical supplies. These communities will be hit hard.

People are staying home here; the village is quiet. We writers are fortunate in these times. We have our poetry community online; we have a platform for sharing our feelings and thoughts; we have friends around the world to stay in touch with.

This is scarier than any science fiction book or movie predicted. We feel helpless in the onslaught, but we do what we can. I am being careful. But I live in an old apartment building. How many other residents will be as careful? How many germs are lurking on the railings going downstairs, on the door we all go in and out of, in the laundry room?

How are you weathering this threat? In your comments, tell us how things are in your area, in your country, state or province. How are you doing personally? What are you doing to get through self-isolation? Do you know anyone who has come down with the virus? How are they doing?

I told Brendan that he began this site at exactly the right moment, when we need to come together, to share experiences, fears, wisdom, hope – and our poems, as we write our way through the strange and frightening times we live in. Looking back at what I agonized over last year, I realize we were not as bad off then as we thought we were.

Sadly, it seems only when humans’ actual survival is threatened, do we wake up to the world we have made and the damage we have done. When Mother Earth’s message wasn’t heeded in wind and storm and fire, what is left is this terrible pandemic, in which the message is loud and clear: we are interconnected across all perceived boundaries of time and space and geography, with every other living being on the planet. What happens to one, happens to us all. The aboriginal people have known this for millennia, and have tried to tell us. We are suddenly hearing their wisdom now.

For your challenge, write about whatever aspect of this issue speaks to you: self-isolation, social distancing, fear of contagion. Or, conversely, you might write about our increased awareness of our interconnectedness, and how people are rising to the challenge, showing the best side of all we can be. There are many heroic stories we are not yet hearing. Maybe you know of some. I look forward to whatever you bring back to the communal fire.

Stay safe, my friends.



earthweal open link #13

Welcome to earthweal’s lucky no. 13 open link weekend. Specially loaded dice gleam on the felt: It’s your turn to take them up and shake, rattle ‘n’ roil.

Link a poem which feels fit for your mood’s moment, the time (strange and wild for sure) or both, be it new or up from your archival vaults.  Include your location in your link and be sure to visit your fellow linkers and comment.

Open link weekend ends at midnight EST Sunday night to make room for Monday’s weekly challenge. On March 30, Sherry Blue Sky takes over the reins again with a challenge she titled FLATTENING THE CURVE. Lord knows, we all have something to sing in the perilous chapel perched atop that uproarious hill!

Looking forward to walking in the wild of your songs.



This past several weeks my wife and I have hunkered down in the lowlands, doing our part to soothe and smooth the bat-virus beast unleashed by a delectable pangolin cowering in a wild meat market. Legacies grow stranger these days, do they not? Stronger too. (And we thought Australian wildfires could have no peer!)

Well, here we are again, torching the drama of a local disaster on the most global of scales, with all of the buffoonery and terror of Feast Night in Hell Kitchen: Surges of infection overwhelming hospitals, makeshift morgues hijacking ice rinks and refrigerated semis, politicians swirling in the surge of events like hapless dwarves (pointing bony fingers at each other with partisan glee), grocery aisles bare as Primavera’s tushie, less and less compassion in the eyes of our daily fellows as this painful  exercise demands ever more sacrifice and worry and fear. (Here in Florida, the drumbeat is Stay Inside If You’re Compromised, We’re Going To The Mall.) No one dares look too far down the lanes of consequence because the view is too scary—global recession? what of the poor? the homeless? homeland-less migrants? climate refugees? When will I find another roll of toilet paper?

And if that’s not enough, it’s HOT here in Central Florida today – 93 degrees—which coming in late March portends ever-hotter oceans and the resulting mega hurricanes. (Whoopie.)  Researchers are bringing back bad news from the Great Barrier Reef—a third major bleaching event in the past five years. Acre upon water acre of ghostly spines and desecrate ecosystems. And the largest king penguin colony in the world in the sub-Antarctic Crozet archipelago known as Pigs Island, is 1 million king penguins shy of the last count, the result, researchers believe, of a hotter ocean.

The age we call Anthropocene is grim indeed,  and the fun is just beginning. Can’t we just order up a different century from the menu of the ages? I’ll take the sixth century AD, please. The year 563—when my spiritual father St. Oran was buried in the footers of the new abbey on the isle of Iona— works fine for me.

In lieu of that, we’ll just have to keep our spectacles polished and keep writing down what we see. In some ways (though none of them so rosily affective), it’s like entering puberty or falling in love for the first time: Everything is fresh and new. Maybe dying is that way, too. Good thing we see the reality only so far down the line.

Now let the linking begin!


earthweal weekly challenge: SILVER LININGS


As the human tribe moves en masse indoors—hoping and praying to flatten the deadly coronavirus infection curve—the world outside hasn’t changed much at all. It’s a refreshing precedent.

Where I live in Central Florida, the virus outbreak storm is still gathering; most of the cases are in South Florida where more of everyday life has been locked down. Our county north of Orlando has only seen three cases, and there’s a smatter of rural counties further to our north which have seen none. Still, our state governor Ron DeSantis is ramping up the shutdown, closing bars and restaurants and beaches and locking down all assisted care facilities.

Yesterday driving about (I was helping repair a deck at my in-laws’ house, torn out for a new septic field ), there was much less traffic on the roads—not gone, but nothing like normal—and many businesses I passed had empty parking lots. We aren’t on lockdown yet, but everyone is has been urged to stay home, and many are. (It remains to be seen how Floridians, itchy fellas who usually bust out for golf and art festivals and motorcycling and days at the beach, will follow the rules after hibernation is extended.)

The days was warm and dry, upper 80s already, the oaks a brilliant first green, scents of jasmine and orange bloom in the air. (Summer is going to be very hot.) Into a Lowe’s home and hardware store to complete a return and credit, many workers were wearing blue plastic gloves, and one or two shoppers wore masks.

On a day like yesterday, you could feel the spring tide fully approached, smashing through with heat and scent and certain blowsy brilliance: And not far behind, this other, far less visible yet far greater wave of viral infection, erasing much of our  human trace as we hunker down inside and wait for things to pass. One could sense an exaltation of the elements, as this spring was jubilant in to find humanity so diminished, its wave that much taller for how much it has made us ebb.

There is plenty to fear—commerce and finance come to a halt, unemployment, recession or depression, bills and commitments there may not be any money for, a father in law with dementia who may be moving in with us for a lack of caregivers. The grind and wear of relationships as all of this continues to scour the everyday peace. For who knows how long and whatever else may come, unanticipated and wholly unprepared for. (Spring rains continue to fall heavily, followed by an ever-more fierce hurricane season.)

Et cetera ad nauseum ad infinitum: All that drains into a bitter reservoir. But there is also this: Days are beautiful right now, are they not? Minted from a halcyon coin which spells the end of one human treasury for the resumption of greater one owned by the world. As industries shut down, carbon emissions ebb. Oil prices are depressed and gas is cheap, but traffic is thinning to a trickle. Smog clears over Los Angeles, Beijing and  London. The waters of Venice are running clear again. All of those are unexpected graces of this change in the human weather—only temporary and fraught with great economic uncertainty, but here for now.

This week’s earthweal challenge is Silver Linings. Write about the unexpected blessings of human lockdown. What are some of the mercies of our human defeat, temporary though they may only be? Time is reshaping, coming back to Earth. There are longer moments with the beloved beings and things, greater appreciation for the light and night, fuller apprehension of moments while they linger. Much of it may be imbued with deep sadness or fear or angst, but it is a deeply impressionable time and we ought to report it well and look carefully.

In the opening stanza of his Tenth Duino Elegy, Rilke reminds us that all spiritual growth has roots in suffering, and therefore pain is the great ground of transformation:

Someday, emerging at last from the violent insight,
let me sing out jubilation and praise to assenting angels.
Let not even one of the clearly-struck hammers of my heart
fail to sound because of a slack, a doubtful,
or a broken string. Let my joyfully streaming face
make me more radiant; let my hidden weeping arise
and blossom. How dear you will be to me then, you nights
of anguish. Why didn’t I kneel more deeply to accept you,
inconsolable sisters, and, surrendering, lose myself
in your loosened hair. How we squander our hours of pain.
How we gaze beyond them into the bitter duration
to see if they have an end. Though they are really
our winter-enduring foliage, our dark evergreen,
one season in our inner year–, not only a season
in time–, but are place and settlement, foundation and soil and home.

(Stephen Mitchell translation)

Let’s see if we can write a gratitude list of silver linings, and call that too our world.

— Brendan

earthweal open link #12

Welcome to earthweal’s open Link Weekend #12.

Link a poem that best suits your own theme or mood, be it new or oldie gold. Include your location in your link so we get a feel for the breadth of global reportage. And be sure to visit your fellow linkers and comment.

Open link weekend ends at midnight EST Sunday night to make room for Monday’s weekly challenge, which I haven’t figured out what it will be. (We may stay with pandemic a while, as it is doing the same for us.)

Join the campfire with a song!


Emily Dickinson’s writing desk

For the past 30 years my daily life has kicked off with an early morning vigil with the muses mid their tombs. Knocking down a cup to bold java while pooled in lamplight, I’ve read a bit of poetry and a bit of prose before writing.  I’ve delved into the vast res of human yearning, exaltation and explication, half of me excavating, the other half singing back.

Lord knows how the habit came to me; my father’s intellectual interests were closely akin to mine, but it was my mother who was the early riser, reading her Bible and writing her prayers. I suppose I ride the early dolphin due to both of them

For decades I’ve written notes in journals and cobbled poems, first in comp books, then straight into a computer. (The median step of first writing with a pen seemed unnecessary by 2008, when I inherited my dead brother’s laptop.) My shelves have filled with must-keep books on mythology, psychology, folklore, ancient history, criticism, novels and, of course, poetry. I dunno, I walk in my study and sense a vibrant chorus of dead voices, delving, praising, roaring, hushed. Maybe it’s just all those moments I read something and said Yes! and wrote something down, to keep it closer in mind or sing it somehow back.

Around  the year 2000 my wife needed space for her growing sewing business, and that study morphed into a co-working space. The main desktop space (two work surfaces on three file cabinets) are taken up with her embroidery machine and serger and packed all around are bags of fabrics and pillows. I yielded my workspace to her, moving into the living room for my daily work, loading a cabinet out here with stuff for present work and used the study for overspill, packing extra books into the closet or upstairs in the attic.

In my hurried former professional life, stuff has been tucked away for eventual filing for decades.  Needless to say, it’s a cramped space: But finally unemployment has given me a chance to do some reclamation in there, throwing out old drafts of poems (printed out our in the comp book they were first written down), photocopied research dating back to the 90s, extra copies of stuff I’ve created at my various jobs. Four boxes with books I just know I’ll never touch again headed for the public library used book nook, and  ten hulking black garbage bags went to the curb. After decades, I’ve got my share of that room organized and in place. You could almost feel the breath of breadth return to the room.

But part of me has been silently lamenting the massive jettison. I’m not sure I would ever return to any of it, but still some essential part of the conversation feels diminished, maybe even lost. Songlines are built over millennia, and reconnoitering them took a lifetime I’ll not have the chance to repeat. It felt like letting a dreamed-of life go. There were folders of research for degrees I’ll never work for again, stuff for classes I’ll never teach, criticism I’ll never write, mythological studies I never found any local presence for.

Maybe there’s an acceptance in that letting go. Certainly I’ve made my wife’s job easier should she have to tackle all that in my absence. The stuff which remains feels more essentially myself.

The thicket is trimmed, the great tree thinned: Such measures do prepare one for coming seasons, and Lord knows what this next one will bring. Having banished some ghostly possibilities of my accumulated self,  I do feel more on my feet for the stiff breeze of changes now coming at us from every direction – no job, no prospects, virus closing in, an entire human globe going on lockdown.

Still, there is work to do—more daily forays into the Deep, more exchanges here at earthweal, new vistas of marriage (Lord help us). We’re getting to know our neighbors a different way. I’m discovering AA can survive on Zoom meetings. Daily life in the uncertain has its edges of fear, but it also yields new possibilities. I got that study finally organized.

I was reading from a 2004 study journal this morning – pulled from a shelf now lined with them—and read an Emily Dickenson poem I had copied out in full. As back then, I heard an old voice affirm something in my own, and reminded me of the great chorus of which all poets are a part:

The feet of people walking home
In gayer sandals go,
The Crocus, till she rises,
The Vassal of the Snow—
The lips of Halleluja!
Long years of practice bore,
Till bye and bye these Bargemen
Walked singing on the shore.

Pearls are the Diver’s farthings
Extorted from the Sea,
Pinions of the Seraph’s wagon,
Pedestrians once, as we—
Night is the morning’s canvas,
Larceny, legacy,
Death but our rapt attention
To immortality.

My figures fail to tell me
How far the village lies,
Whose Peasants are the angels
Whose Cantons dot the skies.
My Classics veil their faces
My Faith that dark adores
Which from its solemn Abbey
Such resurrection pours!


I thought I had copied the poem out of a volume of Dickinson’s poems from my library which was one of the older volumes in my collection, one I had bought back in college in the ‘70s. But the numbering was different, and I actually found it in a 1942 Little, Brown & Co. volume edited by Martha Dickinson Bianchi and Alfred Leete Hampson—one which my mother had when she was attending Duke University and gave to me when she found out I was writing poetry with daily passion. Now that she’s gone, if feels like her voice is an added resonance on that other side where Dickinson’s poems all went, a place all of us pedestrian poets will eventually go to sing in the vast Choir.

So there you go—much to remember and celebrate as the invisible comes to roost with us all. Maybe it’s a footing of sorts—an Abbey, from which such resurrection pours!

Works for me.

earthweal weekly challenge: PANDEMIC

Detail of fresco by Luigi Vacca on the plague of 1630


Thoughts for the post began on a later-afternoon walk though my little town in Central Florida. The day was bright and warm, upper 80s, breezy with spring busting out from every seam. Hard indeed to think about global pandemic and looming catastrophe on so fair a day, but that’s the weird nature of what we’re going through. It’s nowhere to be seen yet everywhere at once. So through this happy green proscenium, let us begin this drama of disaster …



For reality spirals, you can’t beat the half hour on either side of US President Donald’s Trump’s address to the nation the night of March 11. In that short shrieking span you got: An NBA basketball game getting canceled because a center for one of the teams had come down with Covid-19; former Alaska governor and VP candidate Sarah Palin feverishly twerking in a bear suit on The Masked Singer; Trump announcing that Covid-19 was “a foreign virus” that had started in China and banning European travel (causing stock futures to swoon); Tom Hanks announcing that he and his wife had contracted the virus while in Australia; and the NBA later announcing it was suspending its entire basketball season.

“What I wouldn’t give for a dull moment,” CBS Late Night host Steven Colbert tweeted. The next night, Colbert performed his show to a studio empty except for a few staffers who tried laughing hilariously at every joke. This week the late night shows are cancelled.



In our media-saturated gaze, pandemic is coming at us with nightmarish slowness (like a molasses tsunami) and then all at once.  And it’s weird, weird, weird—do you find yourself struggling for apt ways to describe it? The visible surfaces appear this way in a 3/14 piece in the Washington Post:

The new life — few are yet willing to call it a new normal — is working at home and becoming starved for contact with even the people you avoid at the office. It’s walking down the sidewalk and examining pedestrians to see whether they might cough in your direction. It’s streaming movies and news saturation, bored kids and calls to check on elderly parents. The dregs from the back of the pantry and a stiff drink at the end of another day of life, suspended.

Dan Zak of the WaPo grappled with the paradoxes of coronavirus this way: “To mitigate, we must collaborate. To collaborate, we must separate. One nation, under quarantine, trying to ‘flatten the curve.’”



One world, actually. Night curfews in Manila. Schools closing in Jakarta. The virus spreading now in Africa. Bars, restaurants and shops closing in Madrid and Paris. Oslo’s main airport banning all foreign travelers. Personal protection and testing supplies vanishing fast in Australia.

Those poor weathercasters. They look absolutely befuddled offering forecasts absolutely devoid of the real news.

Government responses vary from capable to flaccid to criminal.  South Korea is testing about 15,000 citizens daily, isolating most affected areas and keeping people informed on how to respond and where the virus is spreading. As a result, the coronavirus mortality rate in South Korea is less than one percent. On the other hand, Iranian officials have stayed mum about the disease and its spread, causing the outbreak to spiral. And in the United States, only 11,000 people have been tested—the smallest percentage of testing among developed nations—and there remains small capacity for processing tests, despite false claims of the American president to the contrary.



I classify pandemic is an Anthropocene phenomenon. Climate change is a threat multiplier, magnifying local epidemic malaise into global pandemic disorder. Human mobility is a multiplier, too.  A pangolin steps in infected bat shit, is rounded up by poachers and shipped to a distant market in China where the virus leaps from animal to human. Thanks to human overpopulation and mass connectiveness, the virus has the perfect transmission vehicle. With some 1.6 million known viruses and more emerging from shrinking wilderness and melting permafrost, it’s no surprise that the 21st Century is has seen three pandemics so far. Climate change also increases the chances for pandemic through rising heat and humidity and medical infrastructure damage due to catastrophic weather. And for all the bacteria and viruses we know (and most we don’t), we still don’t know how a few degrees Centigrade will deviate their behavior in us.

What we do know about climate change is that the longer we wait to take aggressive action to slow it down, the worse the magnifying events. We’ve seen a dramatic uptick in drastic weather events due to inaction, from flooding in the Florida Keys, the United Kingdom and Jakarta, wildfires from record heat in Australia and heat waves across Europe. They come at us in serially multiplying fashion, with each year somehow hotter and worse than the previous.

So if the slo-motion nightmare vibe is creeping up your back, its just a grander echo of humanity’s slow response to the greater problem. Researchers are calling coronavirus “climate change at warp speed,” and the slow response to the threat by governments around the world have resulted in a dizzy daily cascade of events, with markets tumbling, collective life fragmenting and the specter of infection casting an invisible pall over dailiness. It’s still distant here Central Florida—three days ago when I started this write, there were only 11 cases in all of Florida, a state with a population of 22 million (by Saturday, the count had climbed to 52, and today it’s more than 100)—but three weeks ago in Italy, only 300 cases had been reported, and now there are more than 20,000 infections with a death toll passing 1,400.



And how quaint these numbers will seem in the coming weeks, when it’s too late to have done more right away.

We are now witnessing the blossoming of the pandemic. Satellite images show mass gravesites being built in Iran. Large gatherings are being banned everywhere. Broadway theaters are shutting down, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade has been cancelled. Spring training for Major League Baseball has been cancelled. March Madness is no more. The Summer Olympics hangs by a thread. Conservative pundits says it’s all a plot to dethrone a sitting Republican president. Conspiracy theorists in China and Russia say that the pandemic is bioterrorism, with the virus created in some secret U.S. lab.

Is your head spinning? I don’t know if it’s just me in my strange new phase of unemployment — how differently days now pass — but the approaching pandemic is so hard to understand and rationally react to and prepare for. The media loudspeakers bray now by the hour with new Big News. (On March 12 the Dow Jones Industrial dropped nearly 10 percent last Thursday, closing down 2,352 points, an all-time record daily decline.) (The next day stocks rose almost as much.) Hard indeed to stay away from the media sites, from Twitter …

And what to do? I’ve stocked up slowly all week on groceries, with a few extra meals ready to be thrown together if we’re in isolation, with plenty of hand sanitizer, wipes and, yes, TP. My wife and her sister need to figure out care for their father who has advanced dementia and is due to go into a facility in a few weeks. (Now we find out the facility is on lockdown.) I can’t tell if potential employers aren’t returning my calls because they are dealing with the crisis or if they just don’t damn need me. Trying to figure out how we’ll eke this out.

And what shall we do while in quarantine? Great opportunity to hunker down and write, of course, but with a world fraying everywhere, what else to expect? Will humanitarian efforts grow in response to disaster or will fear for our personal comfort cause us to wither? Will governments use the opportunity to advance their goals dealing with climate change, or will suddenly cheap oil become license to burn, baby, burn?

Epidemics are no respecters of art. Hans Holbien and Titian died during the Black Death,  Anton Checkhov died of a tuberculosis epidemic which swept Russia in the 19th Century, and the Austrian artist Egon Schiele and French poet Guilliame Apollaire both fell victim to the 1918 Spanish flu.

And yet there are creative responses. William Shakespeare is believed to have written King Lear, Othello, Measure for Measure and Macbeth while the theaters of London were closed during the 1606 recurrence of the plague. (In the background of that, remember that Shakespeare’s son Hamnet was claimed by an earlier plague in 1596). When the Great Plague hit in 1665, Isaac Newton, then a student at Trinity College, used the enforced social distancing to retreat from London to the family estate Woolsthrope Manor where he carried on his studies alone, without the interference of his professors. He would call it his annus mirabilis or “year of wonders,” developing calculus and gazing out at an apple tree in the back yard which formed his ideas about gravity.

I’m hoping our quarantine-enforced backyard vigils will help us to reconnect with something beyond our isolated, fearful homes. Look around and the world is beautiful; it’s full spring here in Florida, and all is a-flush with virginal greens and sweet scents. But it’s hard to keep focused when the invisible sky looms closer.



For this weekly challenge, write a poem (or several) about how pandemic is affecting and afflicting things locally for you. How are rhythms changing? What are you finding out about yourself in sweeping crisis, or how modernity is handling this? What unexpected dimensions are coming to view? How is climate change in play? Where are the hidden packets of gold? How is your voice, cadence, rhythm, rhetoric or poetic changing in response? If you were a traditional healer, how would you restore balance? What are the jeremiads of despair, the psalms of hope? Is there a song which is breviary and bestiary at once?

Any news would be greatly appreciated. From what I can tell looking around right now, this pandemic is seriously challenging so many assumptions of human existence and art. Looking forward to your take.

— Brendan