Corona – The Thief of Ritual. A poem by Maria O’Rourke

Stealthily, it crept up on us.
At first, far away and disconnected,
another continent,
distant, like a man on the moon.
Then it smashed its way into our days,
stealing our routines
and everything we took for granted.
Our world was ransacked,
all our daily habits pulled asunder.
We were left alone,
violated and bewildered.

Who is this imposter?
How can we have been so vulnerable,
our guards down, pervious.
We who know so much and are so hard to fool?
Scholars and scientists
bewildered by its treachery,
wring their hands and plead with us
to run and hide
instead of standing up to fight.
Circle the wagons around the elderly and weak.
Lie low.

This thief’s guile
is to obscure itself in tenderness;
a touch might kill.
A hug, a lethal weapon,
Judas’ poison in a kiss.
Your very breath a threat,
may leave me gasping for air, ventilated,
dependent on the generosity
of young, fresh-faced nurses
who didn’t anticipate this.
It creeps around the hospital itself,

It thrives on fear.
Loves to see us scuttling,
gloved and masked,
holed up for our own protection.
It laughs at the arrogance of leaders
who underestimate its treachery,
and watches their expression change to terror.
They are afraid.
This thief plunders and pillages,
with no respect for borders.

And what of the dead?
Its trophies.
It steals our right to mourn,
cancels the cortege,
leaves the bereaved bereft
as the solitary corpses
pile up to be buried without ritual.
The graveyard is where it stores its loot.
A shameful misappropriation.

But it will not blackmail us.
No further embezzlement
will be tolerated.
We’re not hiding, we’re waiting.
Like the tree waits for spring,
calm and certain
that buds will appear
and winter will be defeated.
We will emerge, blinking, into the light,
and our fortress will be stronger than before,
tenderness our strength, not our weakness.
Victims no more.


Maria O’Rourke is currently studying for an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Limerick. Her background is in teaching. She is the mother of three adult children.

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