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Saturday, April 11, 2020


by John Hodgen

Were we not paying attention, attention-deficited even then,
even before the term was wheeled in on some gurney
with a wobbly wheel? Brooklyn Hospital, so overrun,
where Fauci was born, where Whitman volunteered,
his beard as face mask, tending Union soldiers,
bringing peaches, poems, writing letters for them,
urging them to believe that a woman back home
would still marry them when they came home,
marching Johnnies through the rye,
missing a leg or an arm or an eye?

And Keats, quarantined in the harbor in Naples,
not nearly the quaranta giorni, the full forty days,
on the Maria Crowther, six weeks out from Gravesend,
typhus all around, bobbing like rhythm, like synaesthesia
in the bay. Keats, mortality weighing “heavily” on him,
“like unwilling sleep,” Keats half alive,
“half in love with easeful Death.”

Did we not see it, fully take it in,
poets and plagues interwoven, the world caving in,
the burst of tubercular blood in Keats’s handkerchief,
Whitman’s soldiers (“warriors,” T***p says) who survived,
stood, hobbled and grim, and married just as he told them
they would, writing back years later to tell Old Walt,
fierce believer in grasses, sheaves and hymns,
that they had named their children after him.

Or is it simply that we have lived too long
to have seen it again?

And who moves quickly now, masked, from bed to bed,
giving succor, solace, taking selfies with the nearly dead
to share with the families prevented from being there,
with Poe’s masquers, red death, double ventilated with dread?
What nurses, doctors, poets glide among us again,
like shepherds, pastorals, like trashbagged antibodies,
nearly invisible, shining with novel, singular grace?

John Hodgen is the Writer-in-Residence at Assumption College in Worcester, MA. Hodgen won the AWP Donald Hall Prize in Poetry for Grace (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2005). His fourth book of poetry Heaven & Earth Holding Company is out from the University of Pittsburgh Press, and his first book In My Father's House has been reprinted from Lynx House/University of Washington Press. Hodgen’s fifth book The Lord of Everywhere is just out, also from Lynx House/University of Washington Press.