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November 2020

I read Mary Jo Bang's poem "How it will feel months from now" when it was part of the Shelter in Poems series on With that title/first line that feels so appropriate in this pandemic year, I paused and thought to myself, "How will it feel months from now?"

Mary Jo has said of this poem, “The sameness of quarantine can feel at times like a state of suspended animation, a perpetual NOW. With so little by which to measure time, I found myself noticing those things that did change, like the sky in the window at the end of a day. Seeing the color shift reminded me of other changes—some that had just happened (a siren had sliced through the silence), and some that had happened before now (a different silence, a different siren)—and that made me wonder what this NOW would feel like in the future.”

People have been calling every day "Blursday" as they seem to blend one into another. I saw someone post in October that the date was March 225th, as if once they started to "shelter at home" in March the month just never ended.

The poem says as much -

The walls of time dissolve whenever
the lights are turned off. The lights
that made the day so easy to be with.
I fold myself away.

Looking up the poet's biography, I found another poem of hers that seems to have a connection. It's another 2020 title-is-first-line poem about thinking of the future. The poem is "Speaking of the future, Hamlet":

is saying, someday this day will be over.
A moon will presumably still be above:
a bone quiet, an inflatable in the scene

—the cool blue swimming pool
it finds itself in. And I will want to be.
My mother, the Queen, will want only

my father, the King. All will be want
and get. And I will be me. And O, O,
Ophelia—will be the essence of love...

This month we asked for poems about how it will feel in a few months (or years). We want you to explicitly think and write about the future. This does not have to be a pandemic poem, but it might be one. We also want you to follow Mary Jo's example and make your title your first line, or at least continue directly into the main poem. (This is something that usually happens in an "untitled" poem but your first line should also serve as a proper title.)

For more on all our prompts and other things poetic, check out the Poets Online blog.


is someone will have to pronounce
your death, which is, of course,
unpronounceable. There are no words
for this--there really aren’t--and yet we say
death. We used to say deeth
in Middle English, and before that, Tod
in Old High German (the final d
properly pronounced like a t).
It’s called The Pronouncement of Death
form, and someone will have to fill it out,
and it can’t be just anyone. It has to be
a physician, someone who ostensibly
knows how to pronounce the name
of the thing that killed you, and presumably
knows its etiology, though probably not the etymology
of death. And there’s a good possibility
that he won’t even be able to pronounce
your name right, especially if your name
is Hostovsky, which people are always
mispronouncing and misspelling, even though
it’s properly pronounced exactly the way
it’s written. Anyway, once you are dead
it will be given to him to pronounce it. And then
there will be lots of other forms to be filled out.
The death certificate, the social security forms,
the insurance forms, the bank account
reconciliation forms, and so on and so forth. And so
there will be the sound of writing, a sound you loved well
when you lived and wrote. That productive sound
of putting pen to paper--there will be a lot of that
when you die. And even though it’s not the kind
of writing you would choose, if it were up to you, still,
it’s writing, and in that you can take some solace.

Paul Hostovsky


while a shower of starlit lightning
beguiles my vision of the seven sisters.
The present passes on with them
leaving but a desire to earn their respect.

The lockdown has brought me closer
to the stars and planets revolving.
My single wish is to not leave
this balcony, hanging in the clouds
puffing up through another's chimney.

I see tomorrow in a hazy candle
but I can't tell whether tomorrow
ascends from the candle's wax
or with Mars in the East.

Victor Green


It should be over
This post-election craziness?
YES, but that's not all ...

Thirty-eight treatments
Parceled out in
Daily increments
[Except for holidays]

Fifteen minutes each
Five for prep
Ten to bombard the tumor
[Or where it ought to be]

Radiation, finely tuned, and yet
A blunt instrument, in this case, at best
Not all cancers are the same
We're told

There will be side effects
Predictable morbidity
[Though just how much
Is anything but guaranteed]

It's a gamble, to be sure
But one worth taking
More time ... purchased at a price
We're willing to endure

It's like those insurance ads ...
"You're in good hands"
"Only pay for what you need"
"Fifteen minutes could save you ..."

Frank Kelly


we won’t need to heed
Melville’s warning to the gullible:
“the might-have-been is but
Boggy ground to build on.”

Nor dream and hope for
What could-never-be
While the Confidence-Man

Let whimsy reign.
Let the body
Belch ebullience
And seed what-will-be.

Feel the sunshine on your chin.
Today has no governor.

Rob Friedman


there is no present.
The thought of it
and it becomes the past.
The year is ending
and that gets us thinking
about the year past,
and the present -
not as a moment but
as the now, today,
86,400 moments -
and the future.
That year to come.
I read that in space time
you have to be
in a place in space
and a place in time.
I am here and now
and no one knows
if the future even exists.
Not even in a poem.

Charles Michaels


trips over itself
and lands in yesterday.
Perhaps our old selves resent
the re-trampling of identities;
the ones who thought they were wise enough,

Metamorphosis into tomorrow
might be a figment
of our preferred imaginations.
We awaken each day the same
finding ourselves
strumming identical chords.

-But wait-

The strings have slackened some.
And our fingers hug the frets
with a different kind of pressure.
Muscle memory gone awry.

What IS the tuning of tomorrow?
Adjusting the strings and grip
to synchronize again with our known past?
Or feeling our way towards applying life
to this new alternative tuning?

Only one thing is certain.
There will always be music.

Suzanne M. Haas-Cunningham


contractions begin
the womb will open
one way or another
everyone wants out

it’s been this
the past nine months
the containment
urges to push

long overdue
the vernix is taunt
like our nerves
the cells divide

and divide again
as if we were full
of twins or more;
dozens of loved ones

held within
umbilical cords
around our necks

we slip the knot
head towards the light
we know the way
from the time before

Patty Joslyn


I’ll see you at the Farmer’s Market
moving slowly through the crowd – there will
be a crowd then among the stalls, shoppers
touching tomatoes glowing earth-blood colors,
asking unmasked farmers about their climate-year.
On a festive day I’ll join you to watch
the Miwuk dancers stomp and spin, fringes
moving with the drums. Back in the time of masks,
we traded Columbus for Indigenous Peoples
Day. We brought Dia de los Muertos to the Market,
singers cloaking their fado-mariachi.
Back then, I wondered if it was infringement,
being outside our pod under sky
with the dancers chanting their songs, a flute
exhaling, everyone stirring the air to particulate
eddies of grief and joy. Beauty, love, life
always at risk. Isn’t that what grounds the ancient
songs? Next year or someday we’ll gather again
to celebrate what we’ve lived, lost, and found.

Taylor Graham


Our future lurks in the nooks and crannies of
people. Secret fears, regrets, changing ideologies.
There will be no smooth sailing any time soon. My
heart sputters, chokes, bleeds.

Peaceniks seek other peaceniks. Clutch on to
a "Woodstock" reality. There is solace to be found
in words and so the poets shall sustain their place
in society.

You know, some things are not negotiable in my
book. Call me what you will. Bodies cannot be
washes under bridges. Safe zones cannot be
off limits to the needy, the children.

One day, the woods will again be filled with
birds singing joyful songs. You can still hear
them if you listen through the ears of a poet.
You can still hear them in the caverns of your mind.

Marie A. Mennuto-Rovello


is haiku but I can't
even count syllables.

2020 is ending. Finally.
Wait. I shouldn't
wish away a year and yet

everyone wants a new year.
Me too but I won't
accept a new normal

Here's a double pour
of whiskey because champagne
is for toasts and I can't

celebrate anything right now.
And no renga because I don't
have anyone finishing my lines.

Pamela Milne


winter’s wind will whip
the leaves into piles
on my front door step
as a cold mist hangs
in clouds on the trees
and the dead pile up
in trucks and hatched graves.

a severed country
will change its leader
while the people sigh
under the dense pall
of dead and dying
family and friends like
scythed autumn wheat.

snow will lie in mounds
on houses roads fields
as time ticks on in
endless beats into
deep uncertainty
and we mourn for our
indifferent dead.

we will learn again
that we are a part
of nature as it
rises falls always
in syncopated
rhythms through eons
of entropic time.

will we find an end
to our suffering
as spring returns once
more with its hope and
pansies and tulips
rise from leaf litter
to shout hosannas?

Robert Miller


yeah, days
not hours minutes years, mind you
three hundred ninety-six of them
all rounded
or jagged
as the case may be
christmas, next year
someone asked me the other day
what will it bring, that day?
the feel of it, close
you could almost touch it
though it also seems so...
oh, next year and all of that
you may wish a wish upon it
in which the world turns to a better side
like when your arm gets all
numb in the dark and
you have to roll over
so they don't
amputate the thing in the morning
it won't matter
you know
I know
they know, they all know
nope, nothing doing
it just won't
hey, betcha didn't know
you lived the good old days
yes, you surely already did
and you should have known
could have, anyway, and
should have
appreciated what you had
because now
the downhill slope
you thought you felt
only steepens
and next christmas?
christ, I don't want to think it
let alone
imagine in any real way
what will go on
on that far off near day
and... I don't even know
why you would ask such a thing

Corwin Black


rain drowns deserts and seas
and the nightingale quits her rich song,
when winter spills over into springtime
and we build solidarity with cold
when grass empties green into earth
when breath plays Hide-And-Seek
with our lungs.

But if the morrow should come,
when the winter extends to the spring,
it is then the stars gather to praise
man’s spirit, undying, always.

Jo Taylor


And so finally, inevitably?
You too have fallen
Landing on your left side
Miraculously, no broken bones, no stroke
Quite a feat for someone in their ninth decade
You have been with me now almost two weeks
And I see how you do not want my help or anyone else’s
But you need it and so you abide by us
Our hovering, our watching
Kindly ignoring our looks and whispers
Still you carry on
Taking the shots, swallowing the pills
Things you have been doing on your own for so long
I see the energy it takes to do these things
To get up from your seat, to dress and undress
To journey to the bathroom and back
And I wonder how much longer
You’ll be able to do these things on your own
Months from now you will be home again
The outside is not safe, not yet
And so home is the better option for now
But When things get better out there in the world
Will you?
Because eventually none of us get better
The great decline of no return sees to it
And so, how do I take even more from you?
What you hold so dear
Your home, your space
Will your agreement sadden me more than bring me relief?
I fear sacrificing what is left of you and of us
For the hope of preserving bone and flesh
Damn love and damn mortality
Let us both be as strong as we will need to be
Because I still need you to be, mom
And perhaps I'm expecting too much of you
but children often do
- at least the lucky ones

Terri Guttilla


and maybe another before I see my grandson.
He lives two thousand miles away in Colorado,
Apparently thriving
Without the benefit of my wisdom.
By the time I see him again,
I may be a doddering, drooling old man,
My face lined like a dream catcher.
If it happened to Emerson,
It could certainly happen to me.

If it doesn’t,
I’ll owe it to the stimulation I get
From tracking the pandemic’s daily casualties,
Like I did with the body counts from Viet Nam;
The few text messages I send
All take on the form of T’ang farewell poems:
We’re too old to meet again.

All of this has me thinking of America’s favorite old man, Ben Franklin,
And how he left his autobiography for his grandson Temple to publish.
Part of me is envious of that notion,
Not that I have that much wisdom to impart,
Certainly not a book’s worth;
At best, showing him how to strike out with grace.

But instead of saddling him
With rough drafts of my clichés,
I’m leaving him my prized possessions:
First, my fine guitars,
On which he can find the melodies that have eluded me for years;
Then my books signed by Frost and Yeats,
Which might inspire him to compose his own life;
Most importantly, I’m passing on my blessing
To pawn them, if he’s ever down and out,
Or even if he isn’t.

Ron Yazinski


when we finally wake up
from this all-encompassing fever-dream,
this collective, psychotic breakdown,
and stop running this huge
and correlated experiment
on seven and a half billion souls.

I can't wait for the day
when our basic human rights -
the ones we have been
frightened into relinquishing,
frighteningly easily -
return. The right to collective worship,
whether in mosque or church,
synagogue or sports stadium,
music festival or comedy venue.
The right of assembly.
The right to hug, and kiss, and shake hands.
The right to make love
with someone beyond my bubble.
The end to bubbles.
And tiers. And tears
of loneliness, frustration, poverty,

I can't wait for the day
when sitting in a park
is no longer an act of defiance;
when masks are back
where they belong, in surgeries;
when 'lockdown' is once more
a term only used in prisons;
when 'social distancing'
is once again the name
of a lifestyle choice
made by hermits, and the painfully shy.

I can't wait for the day
when I can visit my neighbour
without worrying about what other neighbours
might say or do;
when I'm free to move around
without risking fines or persecution.

The evidence is clear -
it was never as dangerous as we first thought;
all our draconian measures made virtually no difference;
and the worst of it was over by late June.

I can't wait for the day
when real science trumps political agendas
and our political leaders learn some humility
and apologise.

Robert Best