In the 17th century, ships would sail into Venice from far-off lands, bringing exotic goods and exotic diseases. The Venetian authorities enforced forty days (quaranta giorni) of isolation, keeping the sailors in the ship off the coast so that no plagues could spread to the mainland. From quaranta we get quarantine, a word much in use these days.
Fourteen authors affiliated with Silver City’s Southwest Festival of the Written Word wrote reflections on life under quarantine. Each piece is exactly forty words, in a nod to quarantine’s etymology. Poets, novelists, essayists, and nature writers here capture these strange times in the way we know best.
JJ Amaworo Wilson
Quarantine is about waiting, a heightened state of alertness for a change in the status quo – a letter in the mailbox; a beloved author talking on the radio; a good rain to relieve the anxiety of watching the grass die.
I am quartered in a beautiful place. Every morning: singing birds and gray foxes. Nothing amiss there. I’m quartered by gratitude, sorrow, ennui. And the fourth? Shame. No, desire. Every time I read the news. I, too, hear America singing.
We have seen the future: hoarders of toilet paper and dried pasta. Governments in denial. Bodies piling up in the streets. The new divide: masked versus mask-less. And, locked in, we hear pristine silence – the world doing fine without us.
From a British pub sign: If you want to know what it feels like to be in the hospitality business during this pandemic, remember when the Titanic was sinking and the band continued to play? Well, we are the band.
Pandemic, lockdown, social distancing, face masks.
Can’t go to work, to church, or to the galleries.
Can’t have company or visit friends.
Walmart’s open, so’s the liquor store.
Now what do we do?
Xeriscape both yards.
Electric mower for sale.
Fear, dread, insomnia. Repeat. Composing poems about collective anxiety, about my own. Resolve towards solace through creative expressions that uplift. Still, the unexpected gifts of this introverted life, not worth the loss of face-to-face time (not FaceTime). I miss you!
So much recently taken
no chance to say goodbye
the one place I still dance
unmasked is alone
on top of a mountain
how morning still dances
with the east
to celebrate what remains
In the early days of quarantine, I was Zooming (of course) with a friend who commented “It’s like Mother Nature has sent us to our rooms.” An opportunity, then, to reevaluate – and remember that in the end, she always wins.
It was one thing when “quarantine” was primarily an important though innocuous-sounding noun. Now it is primarily a verb. Mandatory imposition. There is a figurative wall around our country. We have incarcerated ourselves. I open my world atlas and sigh.
A hundred days since
young Sophia died.
More than the forty
of “La Quarentina” endured
during the plague.
Quarantine, mourning, reflection,
an endless slideshow of faces
I have known,
a cat playing,
a pond that sings for today.
Pervasive quarantine loneliness; missing my children and grandchildren to such a degree I indulge my yearning with memories, precious time spent together, languishing in each other’s aura, a bounty of hugs, kisses, snuggling at story time. My solitary heart groans.
The new normal: isolation, virus anxiety, death watch, fear of people who regard those with masks as the enemy. But with a writer’s imagination, you can go anywhere, with anyone; closeness and safety again. Normal is overrated. Imagination rules now.
“Bring out your dead!” The plague carried horrible suffering. Levantine trade (1500s) mandated sea shipments isolate, be purified by smoking, lye-scrubbed, and quarantined crewmembers. Modern isolation from the real suffering of those now desperately ill makes us foolishly less fearful.
I will mask my face
but not my heart
glove my hands
but not my touch
cover my mouth
but not my kiss
stay my body
but not my soul
open my heart
leave it raw