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2020 Contributing Writers Pandemic Poetry

A CARNIVAL WITHOUT SOUND

Written by Niall McDevitt

1
it is strange to see the young so afraid of death
walking badly dressed in emptied-out streets.
at first, they were not supposed to care much
or to be looking for cheap flights and hotels;
but fear foreruns virus and dragnets foil escape.
no one is quite the same anymore, body or mind,
all succumbing to the ghostliness of the hour.
the bottom has fallen out of the usual charade.

a carnival without music, a carnival without sound

2
laughter, disbelief, and conspiracies are dustbinned.
moods shift, heavy-bellied with unnamed feeling.
hair lengthens to brute, even women look feral
in a funereal atmosphere where nothing is normal.
we process along paths as pilgrims to Mecca (maybe
Islam was onto something with face coverings?)
or like a fancy dress party where everyone shows up
as the invisible man in sunglasses, bandages, hats.

a carnival without music, a carnival without sound

3
fear is in the equinoctial weather. the primal war
between winter and spring is in its endgame
so that March would have discombobulated anyway.
fear is even in the sun that registers win-win
by flaming through a status quo of negation
to glow so warmly and brilliantly and sanely
polishing the infrastructural surfaces we share.
the sun! it may be the last some of us ever feel.

a carnival without music, a carnival without sound

4
people have lost their poise, their bravado
as malaise takes hold of their understandings.
the young Indian in the cornershop is terrified
of his customers’ quasi-fatal notes and coins.
his eyes roll and dart about his youthful skull
as if about to shoot out with a sudden pop.
I felt I was murdering him just by perceiving him.
other shopkeepers wobble on the frontline too.

a carnival without music, a carnival without sound

5
in the midst of no man’s land, outcasts regroup.
it’s a ‘boon time’ for criminals who are yet discernible
– though everyone’s masked, gloved and hooded now –
by their Cain-like gait and cloven hoppings to and fro
from dealers to users and back, stopping momentarily
to look about shiftily, and then gob on the flagstones.
etiquette of the demimonde? territorial markings?
they are staking a claim in the fresh dispensation.

a carnival without music, a carnival without sound

6
the spectacle is of a land with no grail. Avalon’s
stupefied queues forage for basic provisions,
two metres between wrapped hangdog forms.
on one high street, only Tesco and the undertakers
are trading. pasta, alcohol, soap and toilet rolls
are the commonweal of the atomised-by-law,
some talking into wires like madmen, fiendish,
others vacant, half-afloat on shuttered parades.

a carnival without music, a carnival without sound

7
ambulances dance via christmas-cake mansions
and brutalist blocks of two-nations architecture
with sirens switching from long wails to short
whoop-whoops along tree-lined, traffic-free lanes.
one house is entered, a ton of chattels piled up
on the grass outside, eerie eviction. another flat
is sellotaped-off. a trio in hazmat safety suits
hovers about the foyer as noiseless as astronauts.

a carnival without music, a carnival without sound

8
freezers ordered, freezers delivered, freezers stocked
in a political landscape like a pop-up morgue.
the older and wiser look down toward the ground
who knew death might come soon, but not this soon.
they too have shopping bags and thinned-out newspapers,
standing under a natural white blossom umbrella
grateful to insert a key into their own front doors.
they know the rhythms of spring better than anyone.

a carnival without music, a carnival without sound

Niall McDevitt is the author of three collections of poetry, b/w (Waterloo Press, 2010), Porterloo (International Times, 2013) and Firing Slits, Jerusalem Colportage (New River Press, 2016). In 2012, he performed poetry at Yoko Ono’s Meltdown. In 2016, he performed in Iraq at the Babylon Festival. Irish poet, he lives in London. You can see more of his work at poetopography.wordpress.com.

2020 Article Contributing Writers Pandemic

The Birth of Society’s Creativity in the Midst of the COVID-19 Crises

Written by Amanda Alysia Daniels

Creative ideas manifested into action may be deemed a survival mechanism.

In a crisis, creativity and innovation reign supreme. One becomes sparked in accessing a new path of ideas that were not previously considered. Meeting a newly developed demand whether externally or internally, requires being stirred to act. These moments are where creativity’s potential transitions into a solidified existence.

Today’s climate has initiated creativity from all walks of life by way of existing challenges in safety precautions and social isolation, due to an unrelenting virus. According to Erika Alvarez of Fremont, California, “It feels like a third world war. How do you fight against an enemy that you cannot see? It’s hard to combat something you can’t see.” COVID-19 appears to want to dominate the lives of the living while remaining undetected. However, this virus also stimulates minds into seeking a way to endure safely in a less than traditional manner.

When COVID-19 arrived, social isolation came along with it. From school and business closures to cancelled entertainment events and social connections, this virus impacted how we as humans interacted with one another. Society took to getting creative in how social distance was maintained with strangers as well as with those we love. In practicing social regulations, physical contact was strongly discouraged. What was welcomed? Facetiming. Some individuals went so far as to set “Netflix dates” by utilizing Facetime and streaming Netflix together from separate homes to continue social connections and dating life.

To keep physical distance in practice and the virus at bay, students from all grade levels and colleges attended instruction via online platforms. For example, elementary school teachers from New Haven Unified School District located in Union City, California reported to empty morning classes in order to video lectures for their students. Teachers were still teaching and students were still learning. While some classes were held online for older individuals, younger students at home required supervision and creative stimulation, like 4-year-old, Prakash Vindero of Fremont, California. Prakash was in preschool and according to his mother Indira, Prakash needed constant engagement as he grew bored easily. Because Prakash enjoyed plants, Indira created a mini garden in the family’s backyard to facilitate Prakash’s learning while also engaging him in something he loved.

Another challenge encouraging creativity due to COVID-19 was seen within entertainment venues, bars, dining, shopping, concerts, and festivities. According to, San Jose Mercury News, to further prevent the spread of the virus, California had become less restrictive on alcohol. The golden state also lifted a ban on alcohol sold through drive-thru windows. This method allowed for businesses to maintain some form of financial earnings in the wake of COVID-19, while also complying with emergency health order. With that nice alcoholic drink for pick up, arrived an alternative form of musical entertainment to go along with it, some recording artists offered in-home concerts for their fans. Hip Hop Hollywood said that Neo-Soul artist, Erykah Badu would perform a “Corona Concert” from her bedroom and would cost a $1. Another entertainer offered to Facetime interested individuals for $950. However, she was later criticized for attempting to exploit a health emergency situation for financial gain.

Further entertainment resources such as dining out for celebrations also had become impacted. Veronica Tolentino of Hayward, California, and mother of four stated that this specific Mother’s Day was celebrated with a home-cooked breakfast by her children at the family home. Esther Chavez and her family of Stockton, California appealed to creative actions when they celebrated their mother on Mother’s Day as well. Esther and family members fashioned handheld signs with flowers. They then drove by their mother’s home in vehicles and honked. Afterwards, Esther and her family left the memorabilia on their mother’s doorstep to complete the occasion. Josie Jugarap of Hayward, California could not honor the occasion of having been married to her husband of thirty-eight years at their favorite restaurant. Instead, take-out meals were ordered and their celebratory festivity with family members, cancelled.

Crises are inevitable. COVID-19 reminded society of that notion. Resourcefulness followed closely behind when a steadily increasing virus forced entertainment, work, school, store, and non-essential closures. By way of the challenges presented by COVID-19, all people were forced to think outside of their comfort zone, not only in the name of creativity but also for continued existence.

Amanda Alysia is passionate about law, justice, and truth. She is a current student of law and lover of positive vibrations and light, wherein all good things come about for the good of all those involved.

2020 Contributing Writers Pandemic Prose

Whisky

Written by Bruce Dodson

This is the worst of times—a plague. Our leaders are confused, afraid, and often incompetent. The competents are getting fired as those who’ve seen too much fall out of windows, sometimes hang themselves, and are prone to accidents. Citizens with loaded guns stroll public places. Chances are I won’t get gunned down by some madman, but it happens every week.

This virus is a stealthy killer that can be delivered on a cardboard pizza box. The odds for me—a 50/50 chance of getting Covid. This it’s not the best time to be elderly. I’m suddenly aware of, elderly, a label for people of a certain age. I’m 85 now and admit to being elderly. I’m told to stay at home. ‘The virus will kill you—almost certain death might well be waiting on a doorknob, or airborne surfing on a stranger’s sneeze.

I haven’t left the house in months. It’s not as though I have a fear of death. I’m old, I get it. Not so many years are left, but I would rather not die gasping for breath with my face in a ventilator, surrounded by strangers in masks, and gowns, and gloves—afraid to touch me. I’ve stayed home these last three months.

Those first few weeks I rearranged the closet, cleaned up rooms and cluttered drawers. Got rid of things I’ll never use or need. I had a burst of energy, but then—these last weeks, it began to fade away. There seemed less to do and got harder to do it. Drawers have re-cluttered, and rooms need cleaning again, but I’ve lost interest. I feel lazy, tired for no reason. Nothing to do but surf the internet, and watch movies on TV. I’ve read a couple books as days grew long and boring. I can handle this, I tell myself. I don’t go out much these last years: the gym three times a week, and trips to a store for something needed. Something needed is the problem.

I’ve run out of whisky. The neighbor leaves groceries at my door now, but he doesn’t drink—an AA member who’s been dry for twenty years. I do not want to ask him to deliver booze—to put him in harm’s way, but it was nice to have a shot or two at night, end of another day. It’s been three weeks since my last drink. I need to get some whisky in the house, enough to last . . . how long? I should have thought ahead and stocked up, but who knew? Some people did. I’m elderly and slow at times—still in good health though. How long will it last? Can I afford to take the risk of stepping out into a toxic atmosphere? Is whisky worth the risk of life, my own and others I might come in contact with? I decided it is.

A trip to the liquor store.

I’ve been wearing the same sweatsuit for days and sometimes sleep in it— no need to change, just me alone here. I pull on a pair of slacks and a clean sweatshirt, then tie on a pair of shoes and notice bending is not as easy as it used to be. I find my keys and some thin plastic gloves the neighbor left; they were giving them away where he worked. I throw on a denim, Levi jacket. It’s the middle of May and still cold here. There was light snow two days ago—a typical Swedish spring.

I unlock the car, put my gloves on the passenger seat and shove the key into the ignition slot. I give it a twist. Nothing—not even a whimper of effort. I click the radio on—nothing. Battery’s totally dead. I haven’t used the car in weeks. The guy across the street has a charger, but borrowing it will mean contact with another human, one who goes to work every day. Who has he touched? Has someone sneezed on him? Who knows?

There’s no alternative. I make a phone call and Fredrik comes over a half hour later with the charger. He helps hook it up and says, “It’s going to take a couple hours to get the charge back up.” He leaves and I go back into the house to wait and look at TV news to pass the time.

I’m watching riots in the States . . . so many places, buildings burning. I change channels and watch a riot in Hong Kong, protests in England— crowds of tightly packed protesters. What about the virus? They don’t care; their cause is more important than whisky, but we all have limits to our tolerance. I go back out a couple hours later. Battery’s now fully charged and the Volvo starts without protest. It feels good to be on the road again.

I see an old lady who is a decade younger than me waiting at a bus stop. She’s a neighbor who lives alone and does not drive. As I pull over to pick her up I notice there’s’ a kid, maybe twelve years of age, sitting on a bench a meter or so from where she stands. He’s coughing directly at her, a phony cough—harassing tease. She is ignoring him, but I can see she’s annoyed. I pull over and open the passenger side door for her.

“That little bastard was driving me crazy,” she says as she gets in. She’s sitting on my gloves. The kid leaves his seat and comes over to cough on the car. I give him the finger as we leave.

“It’s a new thing idiots have taken up,” I tell her. You are not the first one to be coughed at. I’ve seen mention of it on the internet, a few times—often older people.”

“Guess it’s better not to talk,” she says. “In this closed space.” She’s wearing a mask. “You’re not wearing a mask,” she says.

“This is my first time out in months. You’re going for groceries?”

“Haircut,” she tells me.

I’m surprised. A trip to the beauty shop seems dangerous—such close contact will be greater than the risk I’m taking. We say nothing for the rest of a short ride and I let her out in a parking lot at the shopping center. My gloves are smashed flat. They were always flat, but now the sides are stuck together. It’s hard to get the damn things open, but I manage and then fumble a two kroner coin out of the cup holder and step out to feed a parking meter. I drop the coin twice while trying to get it in the slot. It’s hard to hold onto things with these plastic cloves. It seems weird to be wearing them. Paper is easy to hold on to and I leave the parking chit on the car’s dashboard.

I see a few others on the sidewalk some with masks, some not—none of them wearing gloves. Do I look silly wearing mine? The store is just two blocks away. A sudden thought—will it be open? More than half the businesses I pass are closed, but would the city dare to close a liquor store in Sweden? We are in the middle of an alcohol belt that starts in Russia and goes south as far as Denmark. There would be riots if they closed them. God, why don’t they let us smoke a joint? We’ve outlawed coffee once . . . or was it twice? We’re good at passing laws in Sweden. It’s illegal to carry a pocket knife. One of our politicians got stabbed a few years ago, so we outlawed pocket knives. Each week I see new Swedish laws about the virus, often published as suggestions. We assume people are intelligent—always a risk.

As I approach the liquor store I see a number of yellow tapes stuck horizontally to my side of the sidewalk. What the hell is this? Some kind of graffiti? Someone else’s weird sense of humor? At the door I get it. The tapes are to keep people meter or so apart from each other while they are standing in line waiting to get in. There is no one waiting at the moment. Good. I open the door wondering how many others have opened it today—glad for the gloves. There are only a few other customers inside. I make a quick saunter to the shelf where they keep the 7 Oaks. How many should I buy? How many can I carry? These damn gloves . . . I didn’t think to bring a bag.

I stick a bottle under my arm and hold two others in my hands. I move to the checkout counter and take one of the plastic bags they sell. I’ve read the virus lives for days on plastic. I’ve got gloves on, but when I get home? Should remove the bottles with my gloves on, then peel off the gloves. Then wash the bottles? No — wash bottles with gloves on, then hold the empty bag with one gloved hand and peel the other glove off without touching the exposed surface. I’m still thinking about it when the cashier motions me to come forward. The bag and bottles slide to her on a conveyor belt. How many bottles rode this belt today, all touched by someone without gloves?

The gal behind the counter doesn’t wear a mask. She smiles a cashier’s smile and I feel sorry for her, for the risk she’s taking for a paycheck — here all day with hundreds passing and short conversations, but at least she’s got a job. A lot of us do not. First of the month tomorrow. Rent is due.
“That will be seven hundred Kroner,” she says as I try to get my billfold out — these damn gloves. I fumble with it as another customer comes up behind me with no gloves, or mask. He lays what might be virus laden bottles on the belt. I finally manage to get the wallet from my pocket, but have trouble removing my credit card. The guy behind me moves in closer as I stick it in a slot and punch the keys that hundreds have pushed before me. You cannot escape this shit, but I’ve got gloves on. I take the card back and put my bottles in the plastic bag. I have a paper bag full of paper bags at home, but didn’t think to bring one.

I pass through the virus-laden door again, onto the sidewalk moving past the yellow tapes. A woman’s coming toward me, with a mask. Is she’s smiling? She has paused beside me.

“You are old,” she says.

“I know that. I’ve been lucky.”

“You should wear a mask,” she says. “Both for your own good and for mine.”

“This is the first time I’ve left in months,” I tell her.

“Right. That’s what you all say.” She moves on, not smiling. I feel sure of it.


I make it home without further incident and throw the plastic bag and gloves in the garbage, then pour a double shot of whisky from an unwashed bottle and feel good about the soothing burn as it goes down my throat. God Damn! This will not be my last time out. God only knows what’s going to happen next. Will there be glove borne virus waiting for me on the Volvo’s steering wheel?

Bruce Louis Dodson is an American expat living in Borlänge, Sweden. His photographs, collages, fiction, and poetry have been published internationally. His novel, Lost in Seattle is now at Amazon, and a memoir, Dearie will be available in the near future.

2020 Pandemic Phillip Morris Prose

The Pit

Written by Phillip Morris

A mass of people wait in a concrete pit open to the wind and rain the dim sun promises to bring. 

Most of the people are black and brown, though there are a few that could pass if they didn’t speak with such a heavy accent. More languages are known between them than there are people in the pit, and yet those in the pit almost never speak to each other. They remain stuck in their spheres of solitude.

There is just enough room for everyone to sit down on the bare ground. Only the smallest among them can stretch out straight. The rest must curl-up on themselves in dirt that’s dark and muddy from still sticking human waste. 

A young mother, is given room to lay with her weakly crying child next to a teen, too skinny and dirty to betray their gender, who scratches another tick in the wall. 

It’s been 124 days by their count. 

Some people came earlier, others came later. A minority were counting the days even before arriving at the pit. Fewer still don’t bother counting at all because all that matters is that this is the end. 

Beyond the wall, the sound of a monstrous machine grows louder. It’s engine roars and echoes inside of the pit. It sounds like it has the power to break through the concrete wall, instead, it stops just beyond. 

From somewhere out of sight a guard and his dog appear on the wall. 

Covered head to toe in blood-red armor the guard patrols unarmed. It’s only ever a single guard per pit, and even that is just for show, there’s little that needs monitoring. It takes four people standing on each other’s shoulders to send a fifth over the top. It’s only ever tried once per pit. Then it becomes clear to everyone below that they’ll never be faster than the lid snapping closed. 

The guard doesn’t need a weapon because his dog is always at his side. As loyal as it is fierce, this dog is the greatest weapon ever made through selective breeding, cybernetics, and genetic engineering. So much so, that no one in the pit can recognize it as a dog. 

Their dogs played with their children and protected their homes. However, this thing on the wall must be kept far away from children and all things precious.

The guard and his dog patrol the perimeter of the concrete pit. Its walls are thick enough that he and the dog can walk comfortably side by side. 

While the man’s on the outer edge, looking beyond, the dog splits its attention between the guard and the people in the pit whose gaze it greets with a growl in the back of its throat, even as they do their best to keep to the side opposite the patrol. 

Someone slips in the filth as the crowd moves around the pit and the dog snaps to attack position, barking loudly with its teeth full bare. The guard stops to look on as the person scrambles back into the throng of pitiful people. The dog reverts back to its perpetual growl.

The guard stops near to where the engine beyond the pit has been idling loudly. A signal from the guard and the engine kicks into gear, this time accompanied by the sound of hydraulics raising something large. 

The dog is barking again. Its joined by another, and another, and another, until its a deafening, terrifying chorus that drowns out all else before a heavy slab of metal slams onto concrete, releasing cries and screams into the mix, and masking the sound of thunder from the clouds bursting above. 

Then there they are, the screaming crying people, standing in the rain on the edge of the pit. Throngs of people. Brown, black, and white people. Miserable people, getting wet like those in the pit. Stopped at the edge, too scared to go forward though there’s clearly nowhere else to go as the guards and dogs corral them in. 

Too well trained to ever break the rules, the dogs snap at the legs, fingers, and toes of those on the edge. Close enough that they can feel the heat of the dogs’ breath, but never enough to claim they’ve been bitten. 

Those at the very edge and close to falling turn around. They use their arms and their pleas to hold the rest back. But there’s too many and their numbers are growing. 

The weakest go over, tearing open the floodgates, so the rest fall, push, or are shoved into the pit. The first to land are crushed beneath those that follow. Their blood mixing with the mud.

Phillip Morris is a Californian living in Amsterdam. When he’s not writing dry instructions he’s writing colorful fiction.

2020 Contributing Writers Pandemic Poetry

Rate of Diminishing Returns

Written by Marianna Faynshteyn

Rate of diminishing returns
We’ve hit a wall: what worked for us isn’t working for us
A trend is sailing across the x-axis, on a relentless tide that won’t recede no matter how many moons
Label the y trouble, name the graph current state
Indirect relationship: profit margin and overhead, money and sympathy
Have your children
But what will your children have?
Desperate women carrying babies stand at the entryways of countries they can’t pronounce
While tired VPs carrying targets stand before rows of people whose gaze they can’t meet
The parents before us belabor the importance of the things that have become invisible to them
While the parents ahead of us labor the pain of the invisible things that have grown inside of them
What are your pain points your must haves
She points to her pain and doctor says you must have
Made this up, done this to yourself
Until he opens her up and sees scars that scrape from inside her, tissue too torn to piece together
Nothing is something until it is named and nothing is still nothing until it happens to men
We’re all so tired but we can’t sleep
I set my alarm, make myself promise to bypass the snooze
Meeting starts at 9 must make the minutes in the morning count
I hear The Second Coming as I close my eyes
“Things fall apart”
“Things fall apart”

Marianna was born in Ukraine, raised in New York and has lived in Amsterdam for 5 years. She likes sad music and has strong opinions.