Ralph James Savarese is the author of two books of prose, Reasonable People and
See It Feelingly, and one collection of poetry, Republican Fathers, which was out in
Oct. 2020. His creative work has appeared, among other places, in American Poetry
, New England Review, Ploughshares, Seneca Review and Southwest Review.

A Nursing Home Resident Considers the Future

The angels still play
Scrabble in heaven,
which is above her,

so let's call it re-downing
or re-drowning—
anything but re-upping.

Old age is about as voluntary
as the U.S. Army
and even more deadly.

Out of options
and into a bed with rails,
like a train on its side.

Don't you dare
label her a "wreck."
Out of options

and into a trench with smoke,
like a lit cigarette.
He's burning

from both ends.
Either way, there's
air support:

an oxygen tank,
an Apache helicopter—
the former has treads

and the latter, knives
that cut open the sky.
The rotor wash,

like a good scrubbing,
will wake her from her dream.
Just ask the protestors

at Lafayette Square,
where "slave pens"
used to line the street.

The train wants a haircut
and new dye;
the soldier wants some feet.

The White House
is white for a reason:
it's a snow drift of hate—

even in June.
The elderly? Fuck 'em.
Let the virus pack up

each room.
A man with a bible
has just passed some gas.

Who knew a gun could weep?
Quick, ladies,
put on your masks.

Floor Mats

Mother, you survived. Hooray!

I know, I have the verb tense wrong.
Present continuous: you're surviving

and might not make it in the end.

The first wave hit the ship and nearly sunk it.
The second wave, if it comes, who knows?

The virus can't be anything but rogue.

Your defensive misanthropy spared you;
like a platypus, you preferred to be alone...

Last week, the manager of your resistant

living facility showed up in full regalia:
mask, shield, and gloves. She's corona's

loyal servant and money's eager hound.

"You know, Sheila," she said, "the people
who have died [twenty-eight at last count]

were much older than you and less healthy."

You're 83, need a walker, and have more
tar in your lungs than on a rooftop.

Like a military recruiter on the battlefield,

the woman waved a signing bonus at you—
a white flag would have been more appropriate—

and a discount for all that you'd endured.

How about a death camp golden parachute?
How about a parachute of any kind?

The CEO of your commendably profitable facility

descends like Jesus from the sky. He reads
a lawyer's careful commandment on YouTube.

I hear, I think, a shell land down the hall.

"I just don't have it in me to move," you say
on the phone, like an infantryman who's been hit

and who's lost too much blood... I joke

because I don't know what else to do:
"Hold out for a better deal. Go for the floor

mats and the automatic windows."

Typhoid Mary Longs to Cook

For this hunt, my malady becomes
my most desired health.

—Ahab in "Moby-Dick"

for P.M.B.

When poison's the cure,
there's no place like home.
Baking must console us.
The yeast rises—or doesn't—
with a freedom that offends.
The oven mouths, "Bread, bread."

What if social distancing
was just a kind
of homeopathic medicine?
Similia Similibus Curantur.
Hair of the dog for the long
hangover of rugged individualism.

What if there were no
personal relationships with God,
if redemption, like love,
took two or three to tango,
and grief was a timeshare?
What if the Orangeman

was actually a way forward?
Tincture of entitlement
and endless narcissism.
Only in the City upon a Hill
could we start wanting what
we need when it could kill us.

The medicine, like a baby,
must be vigorously shaken.
The mayor now laments
the dangers of congregate care.
The nursing home's a church,
and infection, its pastor.


As if love were a funny car,
with tilted-up, fiberglass chassis

and emotive strutting—
the virus now its engine

and loss its live axel.
Just watch it move.

Transmission--from the Latin
"a sending over or across,"

as if the space between
two people were a canyon

and the virus a footbridge.
Please wash your hands.

Like radio waves, our prayers
search for a receiver.

This thing, I pretend,
is simply a game of Telephone—

what the British call
"Chinese Whispers."

A child mouths the word "death"
into her mother's ear

who then sends it up
the mountain of misunderstanding,

switchback after switchback.
When it reaches the top,

it finds merely its rhyming
partner, "breath":

an airy bride on the threshold.
In this way, a caterpillar,

passed from ear to ear,
becomes a butterfly.

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