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Monday, May 18, 2020


by Joan Colby

Postal workers at the Bemus Point NY Post Office behind a new partition, designed to keep customers and staff safe during the coronavirus pandemic. Photo by Jim Wehrfritz for the Post Journal (Jamestown NY).

We eye each other warily
Above our masks
Keeping our social distance.

Is this the one, this guy in the tan jacket,
This woman holding a package in gloved hands,
This older man limping with a cane,
This teenager whose mask keeps slipping?

This one? The super spreader of a virus
Unknown to its carrier, asymptomatic.
The one whose contaminated breath
Floats a particle toward us.
Who can we trust? The employee
At the post office desk behind a plastic shield,
The stockers in the grocery aisle unloading cases
Of gingerale or flavored tea.

We hurry in and out of wherever
People gather, even though they obey
The taped lines—six feet? It’s said the virus
Can ride the airways for hours or days
Or months or years, who knows?

Everything we’re told is uncertain,
Hopeful, bold or despairing.
We hasten away from those
Who might somehow touch us.

Joan Colby’s Selected  Poems received the 2013 FutureCycle Prize, and Ribcage was awarded the 2015 Kithara Book Prize. Her recent books include Carnival from FutureCycle Press, The Seven Heavenly Virtues from Kelsay Books and Her Heartsongs from Presa Press. Her latest book is Joyriding to Nightfall from FutureCycle Press.