"More than machinery, we need humanity."

Plague Poems – The Thirty-Ninth Week

Numbering the dead
there was a moment
when every ghastly multiple
of ten thousand
was met with fresh headlines
but that was a long time ago
we were young then
still hopeful fools
still able to be shocked
now that ten thousand die
every week
numbering the dead
leaves us numb.


“Without substantial mitigation,”
the exhausted doctor warned
“the middle of
could be a really
dark time
for us.”

In the lines of his brow
by the droop of his shoulders
one can discern
that the poor fellow
knows his words will
go unheeded.


If your country
was truly
better than this
there would be
no need
for you to say
that your country
is better than this.


A tragic day
can live in infamy
if its shocking events
are suitably horrific.

But for a year
to live in infamy
its horrific events must first
have reached the stage
at which shock gave way
to complacency
otherwise those events
would not have lasted
for that entire
infamous year.


Editorial Note: This is a collection of Plague Poems written between December 5, 2020 and December 11, 2020.

They were initially posted online on Twitter at @plaguepoems.

Throughout the duration of this crisis new poems will be posted regularly at that Twitter account, they will then be collected and reposted here in weekly increments.


You must stop believing
that after vaccination
life will return to normal
yes you will once more be able
to eat in restaurants
to attend crowded events
to embrace aged relatives
but by now you should have learned
like utopia
is a land that exists only
in your mind.


Resist the desire to celebrate
when you hear
that the plague has struck
one of your foes
your chortles will not be heard
by your sickly opponent
but only by your friends
as they mourn their own losses.


They say that
the plague
can cause
dysfunction erectile.

is soft
and it is
always in style.


It is said that you should
never shout “fire”
in a crowded theater
but all of the theaters
are closed
their seats empty
stages and screens vacant
so now you must
never clear your throat
in a sparsely populated shop.


For the sake of safety
capacity must be limited
only a few customers at a time
so I stand
so we stand
patiently in the line
outside of the pharmacy
it is cold
it is very cold
but patiently we wait our turn
as it steadily grows colder.


Do not mistake
a calamity deferred
for a long term solution
the plague is patient
it thinks not of temporary setbacks
thus the calamity
we feared in the spring
came for us in the fall.


When they saw
that we could survive
on twelve hundred dollars
they quickly concluded
we would have been able
to survive
on even less.


We never think
it will happen here
these things happen
far away
where the people
do not look
do not speak
like us
in school they told us
these things only happen
in the places we
treat with condescension
we never think
it will happen here
and so
it happens here.


Having read the headlines
I know
that yesterday
saw a new record set
for daily plague deaths
in shame I confess
I do not remember the exact day
when the previous record was set
in horror I confess
I fully expect yesterday’s record
will be broken
by the end of the week.


Do not despair
when seeing
the bleak numbers
the chief of
the respiratory viruses branch
of the vaccine advisory committee
has noted
“The reported number
of deaths
is likely an
of the true number
of deaths.”
as the real numbers
are bleaker
than those you see.


When we recall
past calamities
we ask
“where were you
when it happened?”

The plague
piles tragedy upon calamity
new wretched milestones pass
every week
but when asked
“where were you
when it happened?”
in every case
we can only reply:
quarantined at home
staring at a screen.


who come after
must not believe that
are wiser
than we ragged folk
we had looked
at those who came before us
and thought ourselves
and we then repeated
their mistakes.

who come after
must understand
it was not that we
did not know
but that we
were tired.


Where once
the breaking of records
regarding new cases
regarding new deaths
was a shocking occurrence
we have now become
so accustomed to the shocks
that the breaking of records
regarding new cases
regarding new deaths
solicits now
only woebegone sighs.


If this week’s headlines
came from another land
a distant country
where a different language
is spoken
we would easily conclude
that their country
(alas, those poor people)
was already collapsing.

Yes, the conclusions would be clear
if this week’s headlines
came from another land.


Had we not been
so miserly in the spring
we would not now
be paying this terrible price.


What makes
the tale of Jonah
strain credulity
is not that he lives for a time
in the belly of a whale
but that when Jonah
drags himself
through the streets of Nineveh
warning its citizen
to change their ways
or face certain destruction
the people of that ancient city



Plague Poems…the next week

Plague Poems…the previous week

Plague Poems…the first week

Plague Poems…the full list

About Z.M.L

“I do not believe that things will turn out well, but the idea that they might is of decisive importance.” – Max Horkheimer @libshipwreck

2 comments on “Plague Poems – The Thirty-Ninth Week

  1. Pingback: Plague Poems – The Thirty-Eighth Week | LibrarianShipwreck

  2. Pingback: Plague Poems – The Fortieth Week | LibrarianShipwreck

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