A Prayer For The Dead

Cary Tennis

In the Italian village where I live now, we pass through desolate places, wearing our masks like bandits, not speaking to our neighbors, doing great silent mourning. Church bells rang this morning as I was up on a ladder trimming the grapevines, and I paused on the thousand-year-old wall and felt the sun on my neck and then went on trimming and tossing dead stalks of vine wood onto a pile.

At night, unable to sleep, I arose from bed and went out to the garden under the moonlight and stood near the wall where the dead vine wood was strewn and felt the silence of the village, everyone sleeping, alone or together but inside, behind the old stone walls of the town.

A great wave of dying washes over our world. We sense it in the night, the spirits going up like smoke, the well-ordered caskets in cathedrals and in trenches, the unknown dead, the cherished dead, the friends and family of the dead, the spiderweb of consequence catching on our clothing as it passes over us and continues on to elsewhere, another land, another hand, another host.

Small Talk
Alison Luterman

At least once a day I trudge up 38th,
take a right on Nevil,
and wind around the little green patch of park,
past empty tennis courts
and the deserted soccer field
where right now a masked man
is playing with a remote-control race car
all by himself. I plod up Brookdale,
wearing my own mask. Anonymous,
featureless, I’m free to be anyone:
a bank robber, or a surgeon,
or a biblical bride
tricking my unsuspecting groom
into marrying the wrong sister.
Although, as I climb the hill
and start to sweat, I confess I pull
the thing down for some air.
When I see someone walking toward me,
we do our pandemic do-si-do, one of us
dancing off the sidewalk to avoid the other.
“Beautiful day!” says the stranger.
“Yes, yes, the roses!” I reply,
and we wave from afar.
This talk I used to call small
in the days I used to call ordinary.

Amy Dryansky

— for Donna

Every day I draw in air you can’t
& try to send it to you, alone
in a hospital, a machine breathing
for you, & because we aren’t
allowed to see you I’m imagining
wings for you — yes, cynical me
earnestly conjuring an angel
or eagle, golden, wings spread,
alighting immensely gently
on your chest, carrying light & air
from my lungs, from the many
who love you, filling your lungs
with breath, heat, life, a garden.
If I could, I would wake you
with light, believe in anything.

That Was Already True
Kurt Luchs

We’re all going to die.
(That was already true.)

Most politicians are useless at best, multipliers of misery at worst.
(That was already true.)

We’re alone, though more often than not we manage to conceal that fact from ourselves.
(That was already true.)

When we need them to be neighborly, we can usually count on our neighbors.
(That was already true.)

No one really knows why we’re here or what any of it means.
(That was already true.)

Amid so much darkness, love is all.
(That was already true.)

Kindness, patience, humility, mercy — these cost nothing, being priceless.
(That was already true.)

What comes next is a mystery.
(That was already true.)

Every life matters, and every death.
(That was already true.)

We’re all going to die.
(That was already true.)

The Pandemic Halo
Jim Moore

The first time I saw it was above the head
of an old Lab. He was being walked, as usual, at 7 AM
by his young owner. Lots of lamppost stops, as usual.
There it was: faint at first, then hovering at a rakish tilt
above his silky head. I thought maybe it was a weird trick of light —
the day was bright — but then the next morning the nurse who parks
across the street, in the now almost empty lot, was trotting along
on her way to the clinic that is just below my window. She had it, too.
I don’t think she noticed it at all. She was moving quickly, late
to work. I imagine that’s what was on her mind, not holiness.
The third day a young man in a red cap with a backpack slouched past.
I had never seen him before. You could see he was seriously depressed,
looking down at the sidewalk. But there it was, firmly in place
above him, so he couldn’t see how beautiful
he really was. By now the pandemic halo is well recorded.
We almost take it for granted, what once seemed so amazing.
After the pandemic is over, they say, the halo effect will disappear.
They say we will return to life as usual. We won’t need it.
I have my doubts. I think we might need it more than ever.
I think we might be saying things like “Remember how incredible it was
during the pandemic, how everyone had a halo,
how grief and holiness were all we knew of the world
and the sight of a dog at a lamppost could bring us to tears?”