Rules For A Plague Year. A poem by Jesse Pikul

Do not
dry your tears. You cannot touch your face.
Let them dry or hold them.
Risk of exposure outweighs shame.

Do not
think of Italy. Do not think of Spain.
Do not think of Washington. New York.
Beadle County.

There are rules.

-Regarding the Spread of COVID-19-

Do not
listen to the governor
when she says there is no community spread.
Your friend in the next town has symptoms.

Do not
acknowledge the shape of the United States
is outlined in infection clusters
as the entire world turns red.

Do not
consider exponential growth
and how we are flying blind into that curve
or who the crash will kill.

-Regarding The Practice of Social Distancing-

Do not
look at me like that
when I dodge six feet away.
You need to listen, please listen.

Do not
breathe near me.
I will not breathe near you.
Apart, we will all keep breathing.

Do not
realize you are no more alone
than you were before. Self-isolation
is your native habitat.

-Regarding Proper Hygiene-

Do not
leave the car unsanitized.
Keys, phone, gear shift, steering wheel.
Wipe it twice. Four minutes to kill.

Do not
spare the washing. Twenty seconds.
Nail-beds, knuckles, get your wrists.
Counting out happy birthday to me.

Do not
picture it on every surface,
Pervasive, invisible and undetected.
Just wash your hands.

-Regarding Familial Bonds-

Do not
cross the driveway to hug your father.
The time for that has passed,
and when you had it, you argued.

Do not
dwell on their trips to the store.
They keep Clorox wipes in the car.
They say they wash their hands.

Do not
imagine them alone in a hospital hallway,
when the ventilators run out
and no visitors are allowed.

-Regarding The Allocation of Resources-

Do not
look at the pantry or the bank account
and consider cut hours and closures.
The government may provide relief.

Do not
weigh your therapist’s fee against the internet,
though you cannot continue to pay both.
You need connection.

Do not
consider rats in an overcrowded cage,
and remember that they eat each other.
We are not rats.

-Regarding The Natural World-

Do not
notice that the CDC is unclear
if cats and dogs are vectors.
They have already begun to starve.

Do not
remark that the air is clearer
even here where it always was, how still,
the world feels like Eden.

Do not
think of mountain lions in Boulder,
birdsong in Hubei and regret that
this is what you wanted.

-Regarding Mental Health-

Do not
admit spring may go missing
and summer may follow in lock-down.
You have windows and books.

Do not
let the feeling of a scream rise
in your chest. Close your eyes and
turn the music louder, louder, louder.

Do not
forget to count. Five, four, three, two, one.
See, feel, hear, smell, taste.
You do not want this moment, but it’s yours.

There are rules.

Do not
think of Bergamo. Do not think of Madrid.
Do not think of Seattle. New York City.
Beadle County.

Do not
dry your tears. You cannot
touch your face, let them dry or hold them.
You cannot touch.

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