All posts tagged: COVID-19

A Walk Inside the Epicenter

By MARIA TERRONE

Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, NY
Jackson Heights, Queens
           

By the time you read this, more of my neighbors will be dead.

And yet, on this sunny spring day that belies the grim headlines, I need to go for a walk, that most mundane of human activities. I need to pretend that life is normal. To forget that just a short distance from my apartment stands Elmhurst Hospital, the epicenter of the coronavirus within New York City, itself America’s epicenter.

A Walk Inside the Epicenter
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Perfectly Spaced

By LIESL SWOGGER 

Image of two girls dancing

They jog past my window. A clump of three white-haired men, a tight pyramid formation, the front two shoulder to shoulder, the third right on their heels. And I’ll be honest, my first thought is not charitable. “Fucking men,” I think, taking a swig of my coffee. “They never think the rules apply to them. Do they think they’re invincible?”

Perfectly Spaced
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Living the Bright Words: A Conversation with Eco-poet Kimberly Burwick

REBECCA GAYLE HOWELL interviews KIMBERLY BURWICK

In times of stress and challenge, I find myself returning to the work of a handful of poets—writers like Wendell Berry, Carolyn Forché, Aracelis Girmay, W.S. Merwin—poets who do not ignore our planet’s struggles, but instead move through them, transforming worry by turning it into lyric, songs that call us toward our higher selves. Poet Kimberly Burwick is also on my shortlist, though you may not yet be familiar with her work, as she is a writer who shies away from the public spotlight. Burwick has spent her time simply getting the work done, quietly publishing brilliant lyric after brilliant lyric, books that for me become my teachers in the work of difficult reconciliation and earned hope. Or, as poet Kaveh Akbar writes, “Burwick’s singular ear is matched only by her singular spirit.”

Kimberly Burwick’s fifth collection of poems, Brightword, is recently out from Carnegie Mellon University Press.

 

RGH: Let’s begin with your title. BRIGHTWORD. For most of your readers, that word is an alluring, if strange or new, concept. But lovers of poetry may recognize it as a reference. Can you tell us a bit about where “brightword” comes from and what it means to you?

KB: The title comes directly from a line by Paul Celan: “Near, in the aorta’s-arch, / in the bright blood: / the brightword.” I had been writing a series of poems dealing with my young son’s aortic condition, paying painfully close attention to the articulation of his breath, his body. Oddly enough, he was paying closer, if not meticulous, attention to the environment. Suddenly, he was leading me through the brightness and newness of language in snow, in crushed beetles, dust, sap…in everything. I loved how it all seemed smashed together, which is why I wanted “bright and word” to also be banded as one. Plus, I liked saying it aloud. As if it also had motion. I mean, when you speak it, it sounds like “bightward“. It calmed me down, actually. As if we had some kind of direction: a plan for his heart. A plan for the environment.

 

RGH: Do you mind sharing with readers the terms of your son’s condition?

KB: Levi—who is now eight years old—has a bicuspid aortic valve (meaning the valve regulating blood flow from the heart has only two leaflets, or cusps, instead of three), which is actually quite common. The problem in his case is that it is causing his ascending aorta to enlarge significantly. It’s sort of like a balloon. Too much pressure upon it and it will burst. But there are no symptoms. There won’t ever be. A doctor once told me, “The first symptom is death.” That’s quite a sentence to metabolize. So we live by numbers, by Z-scores and yearly measurements. There’s a surgical option, but that comes with serious risks as well. There’s medicine that may or may not help. So we let him be a kid, without bubble-wrap. An amazing human being who loves the world more than anyone I’ve known. He keeps us present.

Living the Bright Words: A Conversation with Eco-poet Kimberly Burwick
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All Night in the Tuberculosis Room

By RENA J. MOSTEIRIN

Just before daybreak, the sky above NewYork-Presbyterian in Queens stiffens, and the nurse kicks me out of Abuela’s hospital room, because he needs to clean her. I don’t want to leave her room, and I don’t quite remember how to leave the hospital, but when I get out, the December night is a sharp blue and the cold air aches. As I stumble toward the lit deli on the corner I can’t even close my coat, my hands shake so much. I take off the mask. I see the air coming out of my mouth as a cloud of white, frozen mist. So this is God. God is the air going in and the air coming out and the sun coming up blue and the cold.

I am still holding the mask. I feel that I still need it, having worn it all night over my mouth and nose to keep the germs from coming in. Everything is glowing: the mask, my breath, my hands.

The man working the counter comes outside, muttering about it being too cold. He holds opens the door, gestures for me to walk into the light and follows me back inside. He holds a small garbage pail, he gestures for me to drop the mask. Just throw it away.

“How can I help you?” he asks. He repeats himself, because I can’t speak. I can see the yellow glow of sunrise in his face. Yellow omelets, egg sandwiches, golden bagels—these are the foods of heaven. Outside I was black and white, but somehow, in here, I am in color.

*

In the tuberculosis room, you must keep the door closed at all times. Wear a mask when you enter and throw the mask away when you leave. This machine will buzz all night, that’s the sound the laser makes. When air passes through this part here, the purple light that you see will kill the tuberculosis germs. We do this to protect you. Thirteen million people in the United States have latent tuberculosis infection. Are you sure you want to spend the night? Please do not remove the mask. The mask is light blue, for your protection. Press down on either side and the top of the mask will conform to the shape of your nose.

All Night in the Tuberculosis Room
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Support The Common’s Favorite Indie Bookstores

We’re all eager to support local small businesses at this difficult time. Among the businesses that could most use our support are independent bookstores: that’s why we at The Common have put together this list of bookstores we’ve partnered with who are staying open—in some capacity—to serve your literary quarantine needs. The situation is changing rapidly, so make sure to check bookstores’ websites or social media for the most up-to-date info on how they are operating.

Support The Common’s Favorite Indie Bookstores
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Intimations and Mercy, a Letter from the Bronx

By JUDITH BAUMEL

Image of book cover

“Nuns fret not at their convent’s narrow room,” I intoned solemnly when things were normal back in the BC days (Before COVID). “In truth the prison, unto which we doom/Ourselves; no prison is.” I winked at my “Forms in Poetry” class to let them know I felt their pain. It turned out to be our last face-to-face meeting for the semester. We were studying the sonnet and I’ve always used William Wordsworth’s love poem to strict forms as a pep talk for beginning prosodists. “And hence for me,/In sundry moods, ‘twas pastime to be bound/Within the Sonnet’s scanty plot of ground.”

Easy for you to say, I tell my three-weeks-ago self. I had no idea what was about to hit us. I’ll bet my shrinking TIAA stash that you didn’t either.

Intimations and Mercy, a Letter from the Bronx
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Going Home

By KAREN KAO

A photograph of a graffitied window

The road to Amsterdam

Our plan was always to go home to Amsterdam at the end of March. By then, we will have been on the road for 200 days. But now home is the new coronavirus epicenter. The projections are that the Netherlands will follow the pattern set by Italy. With only so many hospital beds, respirators and medical staff, Dutch doctors will have to triage. They will treat the younger patients with a higher chance of survival. The others are on their own.

We have no good choices. Staying on the road presents its own dangers. Hotels are vectors for infection. So are restaurants and public transportation for so long as they stay open. We could hunker down in an AirBnB. But who will tell us when the lockdown begins or ends?

Going Home
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