Quarantine Tales Week 5

Masquerade Queries by Marilyn Woods

What’s behind your mask? I ask


Do you hide, reveal

just how you might feel


Leer or sneer 

fallen tear


Sideways grin

hair on chin?


What’s behind your mask? I ask


What lurks there behind

the voice of your mind


Curl of lip

muttered quip


Muted snort

crumbs from torte?


What’s behind your mask? I ask


A curse from your mouth

under nose due south


Safe from spit

hiding a zit


Tune you hum

wad of gum?


What’s behind your mask? I ask


We’re told mask a must

think it good or unjust


Black, grey, blue

or colorful hue


Mark of fashion

sterile passion?


What’s behind your mask? I ask


Do you speak soft prayer

behind mask you wear


Hard to smell

or orate well


Your eyes smile

hang in a-while?


What’s behind your mask, I ask


Hope for swift ending

mysterious date pending


Cover your face

obey with grace


We’ll get by

did you just sigh?


What’s behind your mask? I ask.

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Easter by Oliya Maicoh

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Rituals for a Tomorrow by Gleb Boundin

with a list of priorities i go walking

in the shaken city. i can hear the birds

more clearly now. i can turn into a 

cloud, actually. a spell i learned recently.

i just pull the fog around me like a 

cloak that makes me seem to be

six feet from where i actually am.

like a stranger i press into unfamiliar

curves in the pavement. 

                        here i cross a fortress

crouched in doctrine pose and i

want to know the agony of its other lives,

when it was just a young balcony 

on a european evening, but i just

add its door to my collection

of very good doors and move along.


the city was shaken because

for the first time in decades, everybody

had the same dream. it went like

so: everyone gathered in wash square

to town hall with death. 

                         death was giving

a powerpoint presentation about

the two dollar bill. teach us

how to build a house, you coward

someone shouted. i am the only

carpenter in this town, replied death.

everyone awoke with homesickness.


there was no america anymore and therefore

no reason to vote for president of

a country that no longer existed. there is

no president of whatever’s next. 


later in the dream death relented,

disappointed that no one paid attention

to his thoroughly-researched and actually

very fascinating presentation, and said

to build a home, 

                                you just have to pick


                                                                       a point


                                            that you can

                   draw a circle



i stop in the middle of the 

street, trace a halo above me,

and fall into the sky.

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(Up)rising by Cynthia Ruse

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Cigarettes in Solitude by Brianna Schaar

She sits on the traffic block with her knees pulled up

Looks down the street and savors the silent burn in her throat

She dissolves the quiet with her breath


That smoke is mine

I’m the only one who ever saw it live

I’m the only one who ever loved it

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2020 by Deanne Leber

Don’t touch me it spreads. My taffeta pores. My chiffon freckles. My velvet tips. I can wear my skin

like a hazmat runway gown. I can wear my skin to hold my soul in. I can wear my skin inside and out.

Like you say you know me. Wiping words away with sanitized fingers. I ask if they need toilet paper

and we cry and wonder why they hadn’t been selling smaller packets. Within everyone’s reach. And

none of it makes sense until they say it’s a pandemic. And then. They say it’s a pandemic. I don’t

know what I’m going to wear. If I can’t wear my skin. Can’t take my skin anywhere. What can I wear.

Don’t touch me it spreads. On the train everyone is elbows out on the train everyone’s skin is out on

the train I don’t know what to wear. If what I wear is over my face and over my neck and over my

belly. If what I wear is over the seat and over the door handle and over the train tracks. If what I wear

is a mirror of the six o’clock news. If what I wear is vitamin tablets and up and go. I’m sorry. I have

to go. I can’t catch the bus. I can’t catch the train. I can’t walk beside you. Don’t touch me it spreads.

I have to take off my taffeta fingers. Take off my chiffon toes. Take off my velvet eyelids. I sit in a

room full of clothes. I sit in a room full of clothes for every day that doesn’t need skin. I wipe away all

signs of pores. I pause. I am a single piece of cloth stretched over bones. I wear me as though I’ve

known me my whole life. I live this as though I’ve been preparing for this my whole life. Don’t touch

me it spreads. All the soft spaces. All the shy corners. Fold into themselves. Elbows out. Fingers in.

Toes under. Don’t touch me it spreads. I don’t know what to wear. So I’ll close it all down and sleep.

I’ll sleep for two weeks. I’ll sleep with my clothes in piles on the floor. Sleep in a room filled with

clothes that are dying. My clothes are dying. My skin can’t hold my clothes anymore. My skin can’t

hold itself anymore. My skin is so lonely it folds itself inside itself. We’re all shedding our skins. In

rooms across the world our skins are falling to the floor. Our skins are clinging to clothes. Our skins

are whimpering. Don’t touch me it spreads. And we don’t know what to wear so we sleep and we

sleep and we sleep. For fourteen days. Don’t touch me.

I don’t know how this poem ends.

I don’t know how it ends.


The Complexity of Now by Abigail Lambert

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Our Own Plague by Velid Beganovic Borjen

No one believed, even two months ago,

the globe could just


It did. Our daily lives suddenly

moved indoors,

shut themselves out. We went 

underground like marmots,

merely peeping through

our screens and window


each from our own groundhole.


Conversations turned digital

almost in their

entirety. By law in part, in part

of our own choosing, 

the social beings found

their salvation in



We’ve been reading poems to each other,

working from home, learning to cook

for one person instead of more, 

visiting nothing 

but food shops, walking around improvised

(of masks), not used to keeping

the distance, but being reminded

of it every moment of time

anywhere we go.


If we could touch, how quickly

would we forget?

My town still has a hill called Leper.

We remember.

How shall we look back on this

in talk seventy years from now,

the beginning of the next nineties?

Will there be a city

in Wuhan, 

in Lombardy;

a hill in Mostar, in Seattle?


What shall survive in toponyms?


Where shall one continent end and

another begin? (Where

does one continent end and another


The sky has cleared, for a

while, like an insight.

See, we can give up so many things.

It won’t last, but it spoke to us,

for a second,

like a single star and the sound

of distant machines whirring

at night.

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Tell Me How by Terri Drake

Tell me how to want what’s left 

bereft of you of secrets whispered 

between us in the rain which came

so steadily true as the wind across

the ridges across the bridges suspended

from belief grief hunkered down hungry

for the body in all its states of decay its

taste on the tongue the scent of onion grass

you laid down on in the field the rough draft

of your skin the thin line between us tell me 

how to want the empty field your echoed house 

the lines crossed out no not this not this 

tell me how to want this strung out world gone

viral spiraled toward disaster plundered

habitats species-jumping RNA that could destroy

the human race what are we racing toward

if not oblivion our faces blotted out 

like the sun in mid-day eclipse

we stood and watched with awe tell me there’ll be awe 

again the slick fawn birthed in the meadow its

wobbly body determined to stand determined

to not be prey dear Jane dear god 

if there’s a god I pray 

for its survival and my own

A Pandemic View by Alexandria Faulkenbury

It starts this way. A small window blinks in the corner, almost out of sight. But it’s so insistent, so demanding.Read me! Watch me! Click me! So, you do. It’s as you suspected. A little unnerving, but it’s a tiny, far-away view. Too remote to bother you much. Even so, it plants a seed of worry, so you leave it open in the background, just in case. Every time you look, it grows a little. Surely it will close itself with time. Yet, before you can pick up the groceries, the window opens wide on the world and swallows it whole. Now you’re stuck, and there’s nothing to see except the view from your own windows, which are in desperate need of cleaning.

At first, you revel in this unexpected lull. You hungrily gather the discarded hours. You luxuriate in the lack of alarms and the liberal addition of elastic to your wardrobe. You resolve to clean the dirty windows and everything else. 

This interlude is brief. Father Time has tricked you. There’s no extra space on the clock. It only looked that way from afar. Up close, life still competes for your attention, alarms or not. So, you open the kitchen windows to let in the light and maybe a shred of extra time (you never learn). You brew strong coffee and resolve to teach the four little eyes staring back at you. And the learning goes on, until it doesn’t. You wonder if you should just close all the windows up tight and go to bed until this is all over. Instead, you pour a cup of tea and ask “Who wants to make cookies?” to keep from crying and pulling out your unwashed hair. 

Hours later, you finally shower off the dull rub of three day old clothes. The round window in the bathroom is fogged over with condensation. You can’t see out. Only the blue end of day light seeps through, and you think maybe this is a metaphor. But then the water runs cold and someone needs a snack, so you towel off your hair and all those silly notions with it.

Morning arrives again, as ever. (How long will it keep doing that?). With it, another Crayola rainbow to hang in the front window, a symbol of the hope and resilience you don’t always feel. As you’re pressing tape to glass, you see your neighbor out walking again. He’s worn his blue hat today. You prefer the green. I need to get out more, you say, accidentally out loud. You chuckle at your own joke and head to the kitchen to sort out another meal for four.

  And all the while your bank account dwindles and death looms large and the blanket of uncertainty smothers you like the heavy pile of wet leaves you half-heartedly rake to keep busy while the kids chalk masterpieces on the sidewalk. The widows, still dirty, shrink. The scrap of the world they show looks further and further away. But you keep straining your eyes against the view until it looks like nothing. Until it makes you weary from looking. 

You try a different window. One not bound by the limits of your square yard and pot-holed street. At first it’s black. A view into blankness, which seems more of the same these days. And then, there you are. Illuminated a little harshly perhaps, by that cheap lamp in the corner, but otherwise intact. Other windows open and yours contracts, until you’re a grid brimming over with the joy of connection and the humming vibrations of other lives. How long has it been? How lucky to have this bridge across miles. A brief respite of cheer. But then there’s a freeze, a glitch, a burst of laughter you’re locked out of. It’s over, and there’s another blank window to try and look past.

For the fifth time in as many days, you wake to the continuous drum of rain against your bedroom windows. You would rather not leave the cocoon of your quilt and put your bare feet on the cold floor, but you do it anyway. There are tiny humans bouncing on your stomach, and you know sleep has fled this place. You get dressed and comb two sets of curly tangles (your tangles can wait) that cause too many tears for so early a morning. School is cancelled today, you tell yourself, and try not to feel too guilty about it. (Who can learn in this weather?) Instead, you plunge your hands into soft dough that smells of yeast and sugar. You marvel, for not the first time, at the miracle of rising bread. You hold onto this comfort as it steams up the windows, until all you can see outside is a streaky kaleidoscope of the wet, grey street. 

And then the sun grows tired of playing second fiddle and decides to put in an appearance. And you throw open all the windows in a rush of optimism. And all your to-do lists get tossed in the backyard grass with your shoes. The warmth soaks you through and whispers that it knows you’re doing your best. You serve cereal for dinner on the back porch. You don’t want to miss a minute of this light, this tiding of better things to come. Little hands scatter seed for baby birds and you squeeze the hand next to yours and think, for the briefest moment, that maybe things are as they should be. 

Too soon, purple twilight washes the widows you’ve left open, and the cold creeps in while you’re brushing your teeth. You crawl into bed and your feet are freezing in your wool socks, even though it’s April. No matter, you tell yourself. Spring is coming. And with it, different windows and different views. You’re sure of it.

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Now I Have The Time by Karin Sanders

NOW, I have the time.

Now I’ll write that book I’ve been talking about since the nineties.

            Now I’ll put those unused paintbrushes to work.

Yes, I’ll paint!

            I’ll open one of the beautiful cookbooks collecting dust on my shelf.

I’ll be a home chef!

            I’ll work out.

Now I’ll spend more time with my child

            who seems to grow inches by the day.

            I’ll be more patient.

            There’s no rush.

            He’ll be grown by tomorrow,

or the next day.

Now I’ll notice my partner 

            who never seems to notice me. 

            But, I’ll take a closer look.

I’ll do more of the things I never had time for before all this.

            All this.

            It will take time.

So, I have the time

            to learn more,

            pay attention,

            be more aware.

I will be self-aware.

            It’s time,

            and I have the time!


I wake up earlier now.

            So much time to do more.

The book!

            I have plenty of time to give it a go.

            Certainly, I can focus all my attention on it now.


            My son needs me.

            But, I’m cooking that recipe I’ve wanted to try forever!

            We should all eat together.

Working late in a zoom meeting?

            Ok, dinner can wait.

After all, I’ve got a blank canvas,

            and the paints are drying out.

But, let’s talk about us.

            He’s rather busy.

Perhaps, tomorrow we can make the time.

            Now doesn’t really work.


Quarantined in the Alt Dimension by Alex McKelley

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The Ice Cream Truck by Austin Manchester

Even though the world is fractured, and we can’t leave our homes and apartments, the ice cream truck still beckons us as it goes around the block.

     I don’t know if any kids go to it—I never heed its call, though I am always tempted—but its song always fills me with a bit of optimism.

     Optimism this is almost over.

     But it isn’t. It won’t be over for months, maybe years. And even then, who knows what life will look like? “New normal.” That’s what all the doctors and politicians say on TV.

*          *          *

At seven o’clock, every day, the neighborhood cheers. All five boroughs cheer. Some people go down three, four, five flights of stairs to honk their cars. They probably shouldn’t be going outside, but who can really complain? It’s only for two minutes, after all. Some people bang their pans with wooden serving spoons. Babies cry. Dogs bark. Sometimes the neighborhood, unplanned, sings “New York, New York.” It’s always been my favorite Sinatra song. I often wish I can sing like Sinatra. Maybe now is the time to learn. To sing poorly.

     A neighbor above me will yell, “Yeah! Seven o’clock!” and then woo real loud. I don’t think he knows what the cheering is really about. Or maybe he does, but needs to make a joke of it as a way of staying sane. Sometimes joking about the pain is the only way to shield ourselves from it.

*          *          *

The ice cream truck comes around when the sun is setting. I don’t know what time that is anymore. In the winter, when I could be outside, the sun always set before I was done with work. I would enter the subway under the morning dark and end the day below a different darkness.

      Now it doesn’t matter. I can pull down the curtains and it will always been night if I want the night. The problem is that I can’t enjoy the day.

      I know for sure the ice cream truck comes after seven. The cheer always precedes its arrival. I wonder if the front-line workers, the nurses and doctors and pharmacists and grocery store clerks who would be better off and safer on unemployment—I wonder if they are the ice cream truck’s only customers.

*          *          *

For about a week, a family of pigeons lived on our fire escape. My girlfriend named them Juan, Juana, and Juanes. Juan was the baby, and he would stay with his tail feathers pressed against our window while his parents foraged for food.

      Sometimes they woke us during the night, but we didn’t mind.

      Juanes was the biggest. He had a splotch of pink on the side of his neck. He would perch on the fire escape railing and keep watch while Juan ate. His stares said he didn’t like me, but that’s okay. I wasn’t going to scare them away.

*          *          *

My brother works at a grocery store upstate. Even with his hazard pay increase, he still barely makes more than the minimum wage here. I make a thousand dollars a week and I don’t work.

     I want to apologize to my brother. I want to apologize to the workers at the three grocery stores and two cafes that I still go to. You should be the ones with an extra six hundred a week, I’d say. And then they’d agree and we’d go silent.

*          *          *

There’s always someone—maybe the same person, I’m not sure—who starts cheering early. Always two minutes before seven. I call it “premature wooing.” Maybe his clock is ahead. But my clock is ahead by two minutes and I don’t prematurely woo. I wait until someone else cheers, and then another person, and then a chorus of cheers. That is when I add my voice.

*          *          *

Last night the ice cream truck drove down my street at 8:17 P.M. I wanted ice cream, but I did not go down. I checked my empty freezer and wished I had given in at the grocery store.

     The last time I got ice cream from the truck was a year ago. The chocolate tasted off—it was tangy and vile and what I imagine dish soap would taste like. I don’t think the flavor was mixed properly. I don’t know. I don’t know anything about ice cream trucks, except for their songs.

     I ended up going to Baskin Robbins for my ice cream fix.

     Baskin Robbins isn’t open now. Almost nothing is.

*          *          *

My friend’s birthday is next month. For the past couple of years we’d bar hop around Astoria. This year I guess we’ll mix our own drinks at our own apartments, only blocks away, and have a socially distant party. That is, we’ll pray that our internet allows us to invite a half dozen people to a Google Hangout.

     I think my girlfriend and I will go to her. We’ll stand on her sidewalk and coax her onto her fire escape three stories up. We’ll sing for her, but she won’t be able to hear us, our voices hidden behind our masks.

*          *          *

It’s going to be summer soon. New York summers are always so wonderful. They’re sticky and loud and crowded. They’re lush with life. Friends and family visit and for just a few moments each day you allow yourself to not get annoyed by the tourists. When you’re with a visitor—your dad who wants to see you more than he hates the city—and you’re stuck doing touristy things, you’re no better than them.

     I wonder what this summer is going to be like. No one will visit. No strolls through Prospect Park, no picnics on Governor’s Island, no demonstrations in Union Square. No sipping on iced coffee in a café’s backyard with your girlfriend and a good book.

     Central Park may be even more of a hospital by the time August rolls around.

     We’ll still be needed inside.

      I realize that the season outside my sweating building doesn’t matter. My door could lead to the blue beaches of Puerto Rico or the cool castles of Scotland—and yet I would not open the door. Not until opening it ceased jeopardizing my neighbors.

*          *          *

One time someone yelled, “You can do better than this!” and the block cheered with more passion than it had reason to hold. That was a month ago. Or maybe a year. It doesn’t matter.

*          *          *

Tonight at seven, when the first cheer stirs us, I will lean my head out the window and yell as loudly as I can. I will clap, I will woo, I will bang my pots together. I will try to get the neighborhood to sing “New York, New York” with me, although I’m not sure if real New Yorkers like that song. I’ve only lived here for three years, so I don’t consider myself a real New Yorker.

      And then sometime after seven, with darkness creeping its way onto our streets and sidewalks, maybe I will go downstairs and get ice cream. I miss soft serve with sprinkles on top.

Penguin by Mr. Twist, Mark Dixon

A lone penguin sitting on the ice

Not falling through 

Comfortable on my bottom

But cold nevertheless 

But comfortable nevertheless with the cold

Not because cold is all I have 

But because cold is not so bad

By which I don’t mean a penguin likes the cold 

But that a penguin can’t complain at the cold

Because if he did he would not be a penguin 

Others would not consider him real

How many penguins complain about the snow?

But also he cannot complain about the cold when he’s alone

And no one is listening on the ice

Because if he did that he might cease to believe that he was a penguin himself

Because he might believe his own words

And if he did that he would feel even more cold on that block of ice

So, a penguin should be happy with a cold bottom

And at the first shiver along his spine

He should not let a frown cross his brow

But instead see the shiver as a sign of who he is because of where he is

He should say to himself

That a shiver is a sign of himself

And that if he did not shiver he would not be a penguin because he would be somewhere a penguin would not exist

And that way the penguin comes to terms with his life before he questions it 

For one simple reason

That by doubting your environment you are in danger of doubting yourself

So, I am sitting here beside solitude

And I will not say that I like that either

But I will never say that it would be right to complain

It is what I am

Now, at least

On the ice 

Patient there

Even content there if not happy 

At peace on the ice 

And likewise at peace with being alone

One day I shall flap my wings

And they will flap when the time is right

They will flap when there is an audience of one more

And when they flap they will flap loudly

And they will flap like the clapping of a thousand hands

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To Hug The Distance by Edward Miller

It will not help 

To mark your door with lamb’s blood

It will not be effective 

To grasp a crucifix

It will not prevent the inevitable

If you follow your instinct

Like a bloodhound fastened to a scent

Not this time

Best to hug the distance if you can

For this plague is already here 

Or at the next house 

Or down the street 

Or contained in the next town

Or just past the county line 

Or sprawled in droplets in the leaking big city

Coating a surface 

Inside a breath 

Enclosed in a cough 

Set free by a sneeze 

Who knows maybe its sits atop the breeze

Like an expert rodeo rider on a wheezing bronco

Who knows maybe it is 

Like a boomerang headed toward you

A drone above you

A seed in the ground beneath you

Who knows maybe it is

Like an ambulance in the rearview mirror behind you

Who knows maybe it is its own metaphor

But even when you are isolated 

And the virus is seemingly held at bay

It creeps into your consciousness 

As a possibility 

And keeps you awake at night

And makes you hide in bed all day

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Farmer’s Market by Carter Ayles

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Damn Doomscrolling Danny by Mack Brenholtz

This is all his fault. No one’s sure if Danny Darby had magic hands or a magic mind or a magic curse from hell, all we know is that they call what Danny did every day “Doomscrolling.” Doomscrolling is when you can’t stop smudging through bad news on your phone: earthquake, pandemic, warming, wilting world. 

Bad, bad, bad. 

Doomscrolling is when you get stuck staring at it all, unable to peel away from peering through your little glass doorway, and if you’re Danny Darby, you scroll every day: every time you’ve got a free moment to peek at spaceship Earth. How many dead? How many injured? Excuse me, he said what?

Lots of us do it, all the time. 

Only, if you’re Danny Darby, when you Doomscroll, all the dooms come true.  


  Ever drop a phone? Of course you have. We’ve all dropped phones, but have you ever dropped a phone in public? That’s a different story.

Passersby act like it’s a sick and broken child. Their faces say, “ooooo, oh no, that’s too bad,” and if they’re nice and brave, they might come over and ask, “aw man, is it okay?” and comfort you like they’d comfort you if old Uncle Burt were diagnosed with leukemia:

“Aw, jeez, maybe it’ll pull through, ya know? I’ve seen incredible things happen, man. Ever try putting it in rice? I’ve seen incredible things happen with rice.” 

Rice didn’t save Uncle Burt. 

It didn’t save Danny’s phone either. 


God, the thing smashed to pieces when it hit the asphalt, right there in the hard parking lot of the Ingles Supermarket under the hot Carolina sun, and when the phone bounced on the pavement, the people pushing their shopping carts at-least-six-feet away from Danny wore faces that said: “oooooo, oh no, that’s too bad. Is it okay? Maybe it’ll pull through. I’ve seen incredible things happen, man. Oh… ooo, damn that’s rough, not even rice can save it now, poor thing’s shattered to sprinkles.” 

Those shoppers ogled in their homemade masks while Danny cradled his phone like a sick and broken child, but none of them were nice enough or brave enough to comfort him, so they sped away with their carts to fight for the last roll of TP in the hygiene aisle. 

There in the parking lot, with a shattered phone and a frown and a cart filled with Lysol and dry goods, Danny found he couldn’t Doomscroll anymore. Nor could he order a new phone without a computer. 

All the shops were closed because of the virus, and so Danny put his shattered phone in his pocket, pushed his cart to his car, took off his mask and went home. 

Just then, everything in the world got better. 


     The sky cleared and the sun shone through. Countries stopped their warring. The mugger in the alley behind 5th and Main didn’t stab that guy in the throat, and the President said something gentle and loquacious. In the streets we hugged and loved each other, and in the nursing homes the virus vanished. All the old people lived, and in the Capitol Building in DC, they decided to save the planet and the whales and the baby seals and the stray dogs, too.

Everyone became themselves. We thought about things. We considered working jobs we enjoyed and marrying people we loved. Paradise became plausible. 

But Danny didn’t notice.  

Danny was upset. There must have been someone who’d commented on his post, but he had no way of knowing who they were. How many likes did that breakfast photo on Instagram have? Had anyone sent a sweet Snap? How would he set an alarm to wake up and not work tomorrow? Without a phone, life was a hopeless, gray, quarantined reality for Danny Darby. 

But outside of Danny’s driver’s side window, the birds rode on smogless skies and chirped in crisp and perfect air. People shook hands and then shook them again just for fun. Bakers pat their floured aprons and unshuttered their fragrant shop windows, and kids clung to Mom’s dresses with donuts in their bellies and frosting on their fingertips. 

All the other good things happened too. 

The world went back to business, only kinder business this time, and life felt a lot like last year. 

But Danny Darby didn’t notice. Danny Darby went home. 


     At home, he checked the price of phones. Damn, phones were expensive. Because of the stupid virus, it would take a week or more to get a new phone. Amazon Prime had become Amazon standard. How brutally unfair. 

     The lettuce Danny had bought wilted on the countertop while he scrolled through vibrant visages over white, photos of photos of phones. One week: useless. Two weeks: useless. Three weeks? Are you kidding me? Useless, useless, useless. 

     Danny was so distraught, he didn’t even hear her come in. 


     Linda was still wearing her nurse’s scrubs, that angel. She would’ve asked him what was wrong, but she was way too excited to notice. 

     “Honey,” she yelled, busting into the dreary at-home office and ripping off her mask: “you’ll never believe it! It’s gone! The virus is gone! And there are parties in the streets and it’s the roaring ‘20’s again, only, everyone’s got food and healthcare’s this time. We’re sheltering the homeless, handing out puppies on the sidewalks. People aren’t being arrested for petty crimes. The Italians are taming the dolphins in the Venetian canals and training them to— Danny?”

“It’s my phone,” he mumbled, swiveling around, “I dropped my friggin phone on the sidewalk again.”

She offered her condolences for his sick and broken child. “Oh dear,” she said, kinder than the Darby she’d married, “didya forget about the spare?”

And Linda opened the desk drawer next to where he’d been moping and handed Danny the spare phone she’d ordered just in case. 

Danny’s eyes lit up like the lovely, living flowers outside his office window. 

“Oh, but isn’t it wonderful?” Linda went on, “it’s like none of it ever happened at all: we’re having sports instead of wars and candy-canes instead of hate, musicians and poets have never been more inspired, and everyone’s baking bread and reading books now.” 

“Yeah, yeah,” grunted Danny. 

He slipped the SIM card into the slot and the spare started right up. It whirred and buzzed and cooed. And no one’s sure if Danny Darby had magic hands or a magic mind or a magic curse from hell, all we know is that as soon as he started scrolling, all the doom came back to Earth: panic, pandemic, heartache.

For two days it was March of 2020, for two days it was bad, bad, bad… and then Danny Darby dropped his phone in the toilet and everything in the world got better again.  

On Sale by Pasquale Trozzolo

I’m scared

Worried all the time.

I hide it well — sometimes.

I worry about how much

I worry — publicly now.

Worry and I are

Well acquainted. 


But not close.

My biggest fear?

Not worrying.

That’s terror.

It feels right — scared.

I was made for it.

Perhaps I can capitalize — 

Sell it.

Would you buy my


Wild Horses by Jordan Swift

The rain from the grey sky dances on the metal roof of the Urgent Care, blowing sideways through the holler behind the medical center. Nice weather has been a rare commodity this week and he can feel the side-effects. The sun has turned into a different kind of outlet for him the last two months. He now looks at it differently. Thinks about it differently. Outside is not taken for granted anymore. Outside has turned into a privilege.

Charlie was hesitant to get his allergy shots this year, despite local officials endorsing that a mask will keep you healthy in public. Fifty days in quarantine, but it didn’t take Charlie long to see that we have a global media issue upon us. Where honesty is found inside of our truths, lies also wreak among the rose-petaled curtains draping what is false and what is not.

It’s a twenty-five-minute drive from Charlie’s cabin in Utica to the Urgent Care in Livermore. The towns in between each town remind him of old Western movies he watched as a kid with his father. The feeling that people live there even though they are still deserted. Charlie felt that as he drove by ‘closed down’ shops he frequented as a kid. Wilkerson’s Pharmacy, Jay’s Burger Drive-In, and the lone Subway sport matching ‘closed’ signs. Joggers scatter the main streets of Livia, Livermore, and Utica. While Charlie cruises, he waves at old friends and new ones emerging trying to use exercise as a replacement for the theft of their daily lives.

“It took fifty days for America to get serious about these damn masks,” he says over the red Jeep Cherokee screaming down the decremented two-lane highway.

Everyone at gas stations has them on, drivers cling to them while circulating roadways. The debate has become a flame that social media turned into gasoline for. Conspiracy videos circulate the web in a heavy fashion. Arguments range from disregarding of the virus to comparisons with the Plague.

Two days later after work at the horse farm, Charlie’s phone begins to buzz. Once away and inside of his red Jeep Cherokee, he scrolls through Tweets and feeds of the breaking news. 

“Handshakes will be highly advised against, frowned upon, and slowly (but surely) removed from how we greet one another,” he reads.

This has come as no surprise, Robinson has been talking about it for weeks, but it still shocks Charlie. Right before his eyes the nation is changing. The new normal is being re-written. Sitting on the tailgate of his white Tacoma, Charlie feels his grips tighten with seeing the world change. For permanent, not temporary. He makes the decision right then and there to not let this define him, per say. But he still can’t help but think of how it will go on to define an entire generation. An entire society. 

A culture.

A voice comes from behind him with a hand on the shoulder to follow, “You a’right boy? Lookin’ a little meek. Lik’a damn ghost in the face,” says Charlie’s boss, the head stableman.

“Good as I’ll get Robinson. Good as we’ll get. How’s Scarlet doing after we changed—“

Robinson takes a drag from his Kentucky Spirit, “And damnit boy I just got the call. I just did. And you gon’ get mad again, but Reuger ain’t been feelin’ well. I told him take it easy, but you know his ass don’t stay home. Doc’ said giv’um two weeks and he’ll be back on the farm. Doc’ told me they are advising against handshakin’ and ‘ats’a a good damn idea. ‘Ats’a man’s hello. Told Reuger I’m sure gon’ miss ‘at pretty smile but imma’ miss ‘at red Chevy of his even more. 

“Guess we’re alright since we work outside?”

“Doctor said that, yea’. Problem is I got a new trainee comin’ in tomorrow. Need you to train his ass up. Show ‘em how we do things. Show ‘em the ‘Brookhill Farms Way’,” Robinson flicked his Spirit butt on the ground and smashed it with his steel toe. “Getcha’ rest too, gon’ be a long week. A man got all the strength, but ain’t worth a damn if he don’t take care of his mind.”

Charlie wakes up and immediately throws himself out of the bed. A creature of habit, he likes to fill his mornings with music, marijuana, breakfast, and coffee. In that order, sequentially followed up by sitting in his recliner and reading the news until it’s time to leave for work. This has been hard lately considering the quality of news to read. Famine, disease, wildfires, and murder all scatter the headlines without the slightest mention of a good deed. Yet, today’s bold letters are such that of a different tune. There are no data reports of dead bodies or re-counts of confirmed cases. No conspiracy whistle-blower theorists trying to reclaim a title they never held to begin with. There isn’t a single report about the dying economy. But to the contrary, Charlie pleases his eyes and fills his mind with promising stories of good Samaritans, scientific discoveries, sports scores, and even movie listings. To his surprise, the 7-day forecast reads ‘Eighty and Sunny, No Chance of Rain’. Today’s paper has none of the bad stories that conquer the kingdom of headlines. For there is no room for that.

Today’s paper is full of everything good.

He is the first to drive these roads since sunrise. His morning commute is something Charlie looks forward to every day. His favorite part of the day. The time when Earth is beginning to awaken itself. The time when fog hovers just above the flat Western Kentucky countryside. He pedals the accelerator to the floor and like trotting in fallen snow, his red Jeep Cherokee makes the first impressions onto the new morning. For he watched the sun bring light to the trees. Watched it help them show their green leaves with touches of brown from the bases that stretch up to broccoli heads. Massive monsters that could crush everyone here if they wanted to. Yet, they’re generous enough to provide the air around us the nutrients needed to survive.

“So gentle,” Charlie says as he dips his head into the cool passing wind that melts the trees into one.

For the first time in weeks, Charlie feels a sense of normalcy in the air. He can once again taste the dew as it evaporates from the thick Kentucky bluegrass. 

“Free but trembling at the same time. I’m no longer a tamed horse,” he says. “But a wild one.” 

After half an hour inside the red Jeep Cherokee, Charlie calls Robinson to blame being late on the traffic. 

He honks at a jam at the town’s lone stoplight, “Of all days to be late and I gotta’ train this son-of-a-bitch.”

He honks again, “For fuck’s sake!”

As Charlie drives closer to Livermore, he notices the number of cars on the road has increased. And he is starting to realize he hasn’t seen anyone out jogging this morning like he usually does. Even on a sunny day there are one or two of them. The last town he travels through on the way to work is Livia. And similar to when he left his home in Utica, Charlie is slowed by the drudging cars making their way to Livermore for work. Crowds of cars with people he hasn’t seen in weeks on the road. Yesterday there wasn’t a business open within twenty miles. No jobs to be worked anywhere in the tri-state. But today, this morning, the world seems as if it is inasmuch of a routine as Charlie. Organized, efficient, productive.


After a forty-five-minute drive to work, Charlie arrives at the horse farm. He always parks near the entrance where the gate is, under a maple tree so he can keep the heat off of his red Jeep Cherokee. But today he has to find a new spot to park. And he wonders what a red Chevy is doing in his spot, even after what Robinson told him.

“I thought you was gon’ call a sick day on me,” Robinson says. “This here is James. James, this here is Charlie. ‘At boy is my right-hand in these stables so what he tells you just know it came from me. Welcome to ‘Brookhill Farms’ you gon’ love it out here.”

“Nice to meet you,” says Charlie. “I think you’re gon—“

“Well shit, enough with sweet talkin’, shake hands and let’s get to work. Got a full schedule today. Hennah and Clip both needs they damn hooves done first thing.” 

Charlie double takes at Robinson. Looks at James and his outstretched hand. Then looks back at Robinson again who is sucking on a Kentucky Spirit.

“He ain’t gon’ kill ya’. What’s the matter? You scared of shakin’ hands? Ain’t no impression fit without it. ‘At’s called ‘culture’”

Charlie wipes his clam hand onto his jeans and shakes hands with James, “I—Of course, sorry. Long morning. Glad to have you. Name’s Charlie.”


“James you go on in there and have Reuger show you ‘em bits and how we want them thangs cleaned.”

Robinson lights another Kentucky Spirit. He sucks on it like it gives him oxygen and puts his hand on Charlie’s shoulders as they watch James pace into the stable. They soak in the mid-morning air and consume the silence around them. Smelling the earth, moist and drying from a dew-covered slumber.

  “Hope he don’t take me as rude now.”

Robinson coughs on his smoke as he laughs, “What you talkin’ ‘bout boy? You tore up over ‘at handshake ain’t you?”

“I just—I didn’t. I don’t know where to start, Robinson. It’s been a helluva’ morning. Like I been going through the motions the last few weeks and just I’m just now—”

“Listen, I got to run to see ‘bout this new horse over near Somerset. You in charge today. Tell Reuger clean ‘em damn stalls out or it’s his ass.”

Charlie starts to head towards the stable when Robinson flicks his cigarette and goes to put an arm around his neck. He bends his six-and-a-half-foot frame over into Charlie’s ear and whispers, “Don’t give it much worry, everyone’s in the same boat. We’ve all been havin’ some crazy dreams lately.” 

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The Kiss by Jenny Hayut

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Painted Stars by Stuart Gunter

I sit by the artist, eating my smoked salmon

and cucumbers on toast with crème fraiche,

onion, and dill. We talk about paints and poison,

the earth, money. The painting above her

head: all mountains, trees, deep blue skies

holding wide circles of stars–bold, deep, magical

labyrinths of light. Wondering when we will die.

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Conspiracies Among the Chaos by Jason Melvin

The heat on my face from this fucking mask  sweat

building up on my lip  my breath stinks from

tuna for lunch  I’m essential  not the cool kind like

A nurse or a Walmart cashier  just supplying the stuff so

they can make the stuff that just might save a life or

make more fucking masks  if it is all just

Plandemic then why did my neighbor die  but it

sounds so convincing and the numbers don’t add and

hospitals are laying off too and my hands are cracked from all

the washing and my breathing is heavier because of the mask which

makes my heart race faster  I know I can breath but I can’t stop

breathing heavy and getting angrier and more paranoid and

they dumped sand in skate parks to keep kids out and

wanting this all to end and the more I panic as if I can’t catch

my breath the more my face sweats and my heart races and I want

to believe the lady on You Tube who says it’s all a lie and Big

Pharma will cash out on our misery and chaos and I miss

my kids and I don’t want a vaccine forced upon me or

my family and I don’t want to die or kill a loved one being

reckless  should I storm the capitol assault rifle in tow and

Proclaim my freedom or should I just wear the 

fucking mask deal with the sweat on my face and try

to control my heart rate

Zoom by Wayne Miller

after how many weeks

will our dreams

consist of rectangles


each a talking head

reaching out 

for coffee

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Social Distancing by Jenny Hayut

Social Distancing by Jenny Hayut

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