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2022 Contributing Writers Pandemic Poetry

Coronavirus by 2022

Written By Lauri Cherian

990,000 deaths
In the USA
They all mattered
Someone’s best friend, lover, parent, sibling, child
Lost to this world
Passed to another
A goodbye whispered through radio waves
Traveling at the speed of light
Electromagnetic waves from a painful distance
To a heart that is breaking
Wanting to say so much
When it comes down to so little
“I love you…”

Lauri Cherian has been an educator of English as a Second Language for 25 years. She enjoys acting in community theater and writing short stories and poetry. Her poem, Courage (2021), dedicated to health care workers during the pandemic, won honorable mention at the Texas Mental Health Creative Arts Contest.

2022 Contributing Writers Pandemic Prose

The Hospital Dream

Written by Emerald A. Behrens

Last night, I dreamt I had to find someone in the hospital. I work in healthcare for hospice patients, so this wasn’t strange for me.

* * *

This hospital is a large facility and I can’t find my way around.

I ask the front desk staff but they aren’t helpful. They can’t be bothered to help, I think. Then I see the piles of folders and paperwork they are still working on. Hospital billing codes. I wonder what kind of training I would need for these kinds of jobs. I was slightly envious of them until I saw the piles of paperwork they would be stuck with. Their room isn’t very pleasant to work in and office staff are notorious for having, work-drama.

Turns out one woman there recognizes me from the agency I work at.

“Oh hello there, E–!” She greets me. She is a blond curly-haired woman, slightly plump, but in an attractive way with her nails always done and wearing strong perfume. Unfortunately, she doesn’t know where the patient is either. She directs me to another man working, who also doesn’t know where the patient is.

That’s right, just pass the problem on to the next person who has no answer either. Just like the organizations I had to deal with right after I witnessed the—

I am getting frustrated. I make an excuse and leave, resolving to find the floor that the patient is on myself.

I don’t have much luck.

Instead, I pass groups of people, all unmasked. Come to think of it, none of the hospital office staff are wearing masks either. We are still in a pandemic but groups of people are milling about in the hospital lobby—all not wearing masks.

It has been several years since the first outbreak in 2020, but even years later, we are still in this pandemic with all its multiple variants. People are used to it now. Some people live and some people die.

It’s just how things are now.

I can’t find the floor the patient is on. I wander through hospital hallways with patients in their rooms. Is this the emergency floor? It looks too casual though. It must be the holding rooms.

In the hospital lobby are masks for sale, but they are over-stacked on shelves, along with retail items you can find in any store: belts, shirts, shoes, etc. It is like the hospital is trying to make more money on everyday items people need once out of the hospital (for a higher price, of course). Belts are over fourteen dollars and I know I can get them cheaper at the discount store nearby.

I try to remember the directions of the buildings, was I facing east or west? Moving to a new city will disorient you and I’ve done this several times in my life.

I’ve made no attachments to any towns or cities I’ve moved to in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico. I don’t care for the red states much, obviously, and I’ve spent less time in those places. Most towns are conservative but even big cities aren’t that liberal. I’ve seen enough of them to know that Portland isn’t that great for artists and Seattle is more conservative while liberal San Francisco is run amuck with conservative techies.

Only rich people can live comfortably in the big cities while poor working-class people like myself have to commute two hours a day, six days a week, for work.

I’ve made very few friends. I can count on one hand all the friends I have (social media doesn’t count, you know).

I’ve noticed more and more workers are very young, teenagers even. The janitor guy at the hospital is a young teenager and my heart aches with envy. He’s a lot shorter than I am though and I’m very old for a single woman with no children—a spinster.

I’ve never settled down in any place or with anyone. I got my freedom at the expense of an unstable life. Still, I notice a lot of things. I’m a writer after all.

This hospital is strange and makes me uneasy. I still haven’t been able to find the floor the patient is on. The construction guy outside was more helpful in directing me to the right building. Now I just have to find the floor… there are nine floors in this building.

As usual, the front desk staff don’t have a clue where my patient is at. They’re overfull and can’t keep track of who’s coming in or out.

So many people have come into the hospital now and I feel guilty seeing all the old people in the hospital. With a heavy heart, I look at the over-priced masks: ten dollars! I know I should buy one and wear it before I see my patient. I browse through all the N95 masks and a group of teenagers (none wearing a mask) get right in front of me and start pawing through merchandise, making fun of all the masks on display.

You don’t have to be on tubes in the ER, I think silently as I look at the teenage girls. They aren’t afraid of anything but they should be. Death is closer than you think.

I find a mask they haven’t pawed through and pay for it with my card. I never carry cash anymore. I notice the disinterested hospital staff and nurses who look bored—or burnt out. I put my mask on, and climb the stairs to another floor but it looks like the cafeteria instead, so I should go up another floor.

All around the hallways and even in the lobbies are glass-covered beds—oxygen beds, for patients to breathe in, while they wait to see the doctor.

It’s clear they are COVID patients.

Iron lungs. That’s what they used to call these things during the time of polio. Now it’s the time of COVID.

In the background, on the speakers throughout the hospital, Dr. Fauci is making another national announcement.

“I know it’s hard for us to believe but we are still in a pandemic. Now is not the time to go out to the bars or gather in large groups at indoor events—we must wear our masks to save lives—millions of Americans have died and we cannot risk any more deaths.” He may as well be talking to a brick wall.

Pretty much everyone in the hospital ignores him. A couple of housewives snicker at Dr. Fauci’s announcement. Clearly, they have a low opinion of the CDC.

If Dr. Fauci was here, he’d throw a fit for sure.

“He’s a different demographic than we are!” They state blithely.

I wonder what on earth is their demographic then I look around me and agree. Housewives too busy with baking bread in their kitchens and having babies while their husbands work. Husbands too busy ignoring their wives while watching football and eating pork rinds while daydreaming of screwing a teenage girl young enough to be their daughter.

Yes, that demographic.

I get away as fast as possible from the housewives and go outside, taking off my mask.

I’ll have to make an excuse to my employer why I couldn’t visit the hospice patient in the hospital.

It’s a nice sunny day out and I’m glad to get out of the hospital building.

* * *

I woke up from this strange dream and realized it might be a message from the future. We have become so desensitized to the pandemic that the public at large really doesn’t care. I’ve seen indifference and mismanagement on all levels to the point that I’ve also become apathetic.

I see things for what they are but I know what I feel. In my dream, I felt extremely isolated from the people around me and this hasn’t changed. I know even after the pandemic I will still be isolated, no matter how many people are around me.

None of them could be bothered to care. They always think it can’t happen to them.

People don’t know their apathy can kill. It almost killed me during the pandemic shutdown… right after I witnessed the sex trafficking crime next door to me in San Francisco cops couldn’t be bothered to find the victim. She was never found.

I tried to stay at a friend’s place in Oakland to escape. That friend and his landlords almost kidnapped, raped, and murdered me. It turns out you never know who someone is until they try to kill you. Again, cops didn’t care. The previous woman who stayed there before me was murdered.

All the organizations, city officials and law enforcement couldn’t be bothered to investigate. They just passed me onto another person and another person—but no one could actually help me.

Just like in my dream.

* * *

Today I get up, remember the huge list of things to do today while trying to work on my creative projects with my cup of coffee. I put aside the horrors of the crime I was recently witness to and compartmentalize my thoughts and tasks for the day—lest I get overwhelmed into depression.

I’ll always remember the pandemic as a time of horror where I saw the true evil nature of the humans around me. I’ll never trust another person ever again.

All I have now is myself. I try to be grateful for the life I have now, as lonely and isolating as it is.

I think back to my dream and wonder if it’s a reflection of my subconscious thoughts on how people are handling the pandemic. I am filled with dread at the future and think of my dream as a bad omen.

I try to be thankful that I’m not in a glass box, stuck in the hospital with over-worked nursing staff and apathetic doctors. I can walk around in the sunshine and have the freedom I want.

My dream highlighted and magnified the problems our country is facing and I was more startled by my reaction to people in the dream than by anything I saw in it—realistic as it was.

My dreams aren’t always this realistic and I haven’t been witness to people stuck in oxygen beds at hospital lobbies (yet). Though it could happen…

That’s the scary thing about dreams… they may foretell the future.

Emerald A. Behrens won the Flash Fiction Contest for “Death and the Miser”, published on Byzarium, a webzine dedicated to fantasy, sci-fi, and horror fiction. Their media production with Grim Goblin Jack has been seen worldwide in Japan, the U.K., and in Eastern Europe. Their album, “The Stand” is available on Bandcamp. 

2022 Art Contributing Creators Contributing Writers Pandemic Prose

Frightened Fred

Written by Tim Hildebrandt 

Fred was a simple man. For him, the world was a scary place. His wife, Wanda, worried all the time and cried herself to sleep every night. They lived in a rental in a small town and Fred worked maintenance for the park department. During long winters, he had to work through the night, driving the snowplow and keeping the streets free of snow and ice. As bad as it seemed, their life was tolerable until the pandemic came to town. The pandemic was brutal. People fell like leaves in the fall. News of countless deaths followed the days of the months.

Attempting to slow the spread of the disease, the mayor mandated face masks. But it didn’t help because over time the virus reached everyone. Many citizens fell ill from fear alone, and Fred grew frightened as the toll mounted. He worried that the pain in his stomach meant he had the virus. Hospitals were so crowded with the sick and dying that they closed their doors to the public. Moving to another town wasn’t an option, they didn’t have any savings and it was tough to pay the rent. Besides, they learned from the news that the disease had spread worldwide, and no country on earth was safe. Depression became so oppressive he built a bunker in his basement. Reinforcing the door and collecting everything from toilet paper to guns. Every night after work, TV news droned in the background, adding to his trepidation. At first, alcohol dulled the fear, but whiskey was outside of his budget. 

One night, he watched a show discussing treatments for schizophrenia. Peace and calm came to those who went through the operation. At the library, he studied the procedure in fine detail. All he needed was a long, sterilized needle. His first experiment would be on the dog, an excitable little thing, constantly underfoot and yapping at every noise. Fred parted the fuzzy hair on its little head and completed the process without a whimper. Immediately, the dog became docile and lay on the floor all day. It was hard to tell if it was dead or alive. Flush with success, Fred proposed the idea to his wife. Wanda was a worrier, so a splash of whiskey helped. Then, after positioning the sterilized tip under her eyebrow, Fred closed his own eyes and eased it upward a good eight inches. The result was positive: like the little dog; she stopped worrying and sat in the chair all day and watched soap operas.

Fred stood looking at himself in the mirror, planning his own procedure. Wincing as the point touched the flesh above his eye, he figured another shot of Wanda’s whiskey will keep him sober enough to control the angle. Fred gritted his teeth and inserted the thin rod of stainless steel. Sharp pain vanished, replaced by mild euphoria, his thoughts blurred, but he felt the operation had been a success. His feet were unsteady as walked into the bathroom to look in the mirror. Blood ran down from the metal rod sticking in his head. But a smile greeted him that he hadn’t seen in years.

A man looks into the mirror with a rod sticking out of his eye socket and blood running from the wound.
Frightened Fred by Tim Hildebrandred

Tim Hildebrandt is a writer in metro Indianapolis, Indiana. His short stories have appeared in print and online publications such as Misery Tourism, The Boston Literary Magazine, Bending Genres, and Literally Stories. He also paints in oils and shows in select exhibits. Current projects include assembling an anthology of short stories. You can check out his work at:

2021 Contributing Writers Pandemic Poetry

Just A Reminder

Written by Sheema Huq

Whether you happen
at all to be
wearing a WW2 Gas
mask or
an astronaut’s outfit
or have
a mixing bowl over
yer head.
Please remember to
take it off
before going to bed!

*Written to make light of personal difficulties.

Sheema Huq has had a long career working in retail and social care. Sheema has been, by and large, a rhyming poet and spoken word artist for many years also. A good friend transformed four poems into classical songs, and Sheema produced and performed in 3 poetry shows at a London Theatre.

2021 Contributing Writers Pandemic Prose

Requiem for a Home

Written by Julian Matthews

It was my daily routine. I liked my coffee hot. Put the water to boil in the kettle first.

Then take the seven pills in the pillbox that Jenna had filled for the week. Today was Friday.

One for my heart, two for my pressure, two for the arthritis and the last two to keep me sane. 

I have to take the last two or Jenna said she would send me to a home. I surely didn’t want to go to a home, I would rather be on my own.

Was she coming today?

The calendar said Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. I had crossed out Thursday, so today must be Friday.

Oh, I still have some cake in the fridge. That lemon drizzle butter cake Jenna got from the new cake shop run by that former stewardess in the township. She has the touch. Her cakes are fresh and not too sweet, not too dry and not too moist. Just right.

I liked it so, because it reminded me of mum’s. Her sugee and chocolate cake were not up to par yet but the lemon drizzle butter cake was perfect. Pricey but worth it.

I’ll just pop it in the microwave. Jenna taught me how to use it. Press here, then here. Forty seconds and it would be just right.  

Did I put the water to boil? Let me check. Oh, yes, I did.

I once left the gas stove on overnight. And the next morning, though it smelt funny, I lit it anyway. Jenna was so mad. She’d wanted to get rid of that cooker for years.

The doctor said I had 40 percent burns. I thought he must be Einstein to calculate percentages on a person’s skin so accurately. Especially, skin as wrinkly and spotty as mine. 

I liked the word spotty like as if I were a leopard, camouflaged in the trees, ready to pounce on prey. Better leopard than cougar, I suppose. I am just too old to be a cougar.

I wonder if they are all cougars at the home that Jenna keeps talking about. I am sure the men are all lechers. Maybe even lepers. Eww, lecherous lepers. This leopard will show them.

Jenna threatened to send me there again after the incident. I surely didn’t want to go to a home. I would rather be on my own.

There was no need for skin grafts but I singed my eyebrows for good. They never grew back. I never really liked having to pluck them regularly anyway. One less weight to carry to my grave.

After I was discharged, Jenna took my Royal gas cooker away and replaced it with an electric stove. I could still use my whistling kettle though. And there it goes!

Did I say, I liked my coffee hot? I do. The lemon drizzle butter cake is nice and warm now.

The soft sunlight streaming in at this time of the day is so lovely on the balcony. I need my Vitamin D, said Jenna. She moved my cane chair there so I could get some sun every morning. As if my wrinkles needed any more sun to get the creases out. 

Once I told her sitting so long in the sun made my crow’s feet as dark as the bird’s. Jenna laughed. She called them laugh lines, not crow’s feet. She was still sweet that way. 

“Oh, amah, you still can make me laugh at your age!”

“At my age? Of course, I can. I tickled your tiny feet and made you giggle on the first day you were born, chellam! September 10th, 1965. A day before my birthday. So you’re always one day ahead of me.”

She smiled. I needed to remind Jenna of my ability to remember dates, so she wouldn’t think I was slipping. It was a little game we played. She didn’t know I had all the dates marked out on a calendar and chose which date to drop in conversation — a birth date or an anniversary or the date of James’ death. I would repeat a particular date over and over again, walking in circles around the bedroom, the night before or sometimes, when my head hurt, I would cheat like I did in school and scribble it with a ballpoint pen in my palm. Jenna never found out when I peeked. 

It was Jenna’s idea to move me to this condo on the 12th floor. I had to give up the house after the third robbery. There was nothing to take really that last time — so I gave the two robbers a piece of my mind and kicked one of them in the shin. The angry one knocked me to the ground. When I came to, I called Jenna.

She was so mad. She took me to the clinic nearby and got the stitches done. We didn’t even bother filing a police report. They are pretty useless and never do anything these days anyway. Jenna’s solution was a guarded condo in a gated community.  I consented because I didn’t want to go to a home. I would rather be on my own. 

Did I switch off the electric stove? I am sure I did. Oh, why bother? It cuts off automatically anyway.

I usually switch off the main plugs only at night. Saves electricity. I read somewhere that if you leave the plugs on it would raise your electricity bill by 15 percent. Someone did the math. I make sure I switch off everything before bedtime — the stove, the TV, the radio, the hot water shower and I double-lock the doors. 

Wait. Did I switch off the microwave just now? I will check later. Jenna isn’t coming today, is she?

I am sure she isn’t. It’s Wednesday anyway.

The sun this time of the day on the balcony is just nice, not too hot, not too glaring. Gregory Peck would be along soon.  I knotted my hair and straightened my housecoat. 

They didn’t allow pets in this apartment. No dogs. No cats. I had to give up Lucky to the shelter at PAWS. Jenna assured me he would be cared for and they would find him a new home. I felt at 12, Lucky was almost my age and half blind and deaf, and no one would adopt an old mongrel. But Jenna said they cull the dogs at the SPCA these days — so we went with PAWS. 

I do hear the occasional bark sometimes at night on my block.  A resident either two floors above or below me had broken the rules and smuggled in a Shih Tzu or maybe a Fox Terrier, based on the cute bark. 

People need companions in their old age. 

Ah, here comes Gregory Peck swooping down majestically landing on the banister. He coos and I coo coo back. I am sure he understands every word I say.

He looks so regal with his mix of pristine white and posh grey feathers and the rich, striking purple band around his neck. I feed him the expensive brown Basmati rice that Jenna buys for me. Oh, she would be so mad if she knew. Sometimes, I feed him the Gardenia butterscotch bread she buys me. She always wondered how I finished those so quickly. 

“Coo, coo, Mr Peck. How are we today? Breaking little hearts on the terraces, are we?” and I broke him a little piece of the lemon drizzle butter cake.

“Coo, coo,” he replies as if to say: “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Wait. Was that a Gregory Peck or a Clark Gable quote? Maybe it was Bogart.

Oh, I’ll just Google it up on the laptop computer Jenna got me. Thank god they invented Google so we never need forget anything these days. Jenna said an Indian chap is the CEO now. Those Indian men are bloody smart now. They weren’t very smart in my time.  Especially not my James. I don’t want Jenna to catch me forgetting again.

She doesn’t know about Gregory Peck yet. None of the residents like the pigeons nesting on the balconies and ledges of this condo. They shit everywhere and mess up the aircon compressors. Poor birdies. Where else would they go? 

Gregory Peck keeps me company. I am not allowed to go out these last few weeks because of the pandemic. Apparently at 90, I am vulnerable. Jenna even bought me a box of masks. I tried one on. I look like Batman. Or Zorro. Or all those doctors and nurses after surgery when James died. 

Gregory Peck cocked his head and gave me the eyeball. “Coo, coo, are you tearing up, again?” He never lets me come close enough to pet him. “Ok, I am not having any of this. Pull yourself together, sweetheart.  I’m off, ” and he took off. 

The wailing ambulance going by scared him. I wonder who could be in it today. So many go by each day.

I miss James, my sweet acha. He would never send me to a home. We always lived on our own and took care of ourselves, even after Jenna left. 

Wait. Did I turn off the gas stove? I better check. Jenna would be so mad. 

Julian Matthews is a former journalist and trainer finding new ways to express himself in the pandemic through poetry, short stories and creative non-fiction. He was recently published in Nine Cloud Journal, Poor Yorick Journal, Second Chance Lit, Poetry and Covid, and Unmasked: Reflections on Virus-time (curated by Shamini Flint). He is based in Malaysia.