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isolation

2020 Contributing Writers Pandemic Poetry

Where are those smiles?

Written by Bhuwan Thapaliya

Sitting in my living room
watching the slits of moonlight
peeping through the louvered window,
I sip a cup of lemon tea and get nostalgic.
Vivid pictures of tiny toddlers
going to the school
holding their grandparent’s hand
dances before me.
And the emancipated smile
on the face of a woman
driving an electric tempo
in the streets of Kathmandu teases me.
I am missing seeing an elderly man
having tea and happily gossiping
with his friends at the roadside tea stalls,
a yard away from his children’s reverie.
And I desperately miss looking
at an old Nepalese woman
in her traditional attire feeding pigeons at
Hanumandhoka Durbar Square
with dancing pigeons all around.
I am missing the glimpses of a normal life.
Where are those smiles?
I toss and turn in my bed
hundred times every night
as the clouds that
roars and mumbles in the sky.
I toss and turn.
Horrid images of children
with no childhood
flashes before my eye.
No tangible relief in sight.


Nepalese poet, Bhuwan Thapaliya is the author of four poetry collections and is currently working on his fresh poetry collection, The Marching Millions.  His main theme often hinges around the globalization of love, peace, and universal solidarity. His poems and articles have been widely published in such journals and periodicals such as Kritya, The Foundling Review,  Strong Verse, Pratik, Taj Mahal Review, Nuveine Magazine, Poetry Life and Times, VOICES ( Education Project), The Vallance Review, Longfellow Literary Project, The Global Politician, and Poets Against the War.

2020 Article Contributing Writers Pandemic

Restless

Written by Ange LaGoj

I cannot sleep. It is 2 AM, I am exhausted, but a hot, screeching, soul agonizing scream wants to burst forth from my chest. After months of washing my hands, wearing a mask, avoiding unnecessary social gatherings, I am being called back to the classroom. I’m confused. What changed? Has the virus dissipated? Did its mode of transmission change? Did the school buildings that the governor deemed as obsolete and/or unsafe for children change shape? How is it that some educators can teach remotely from home, but I am denied that privilege? Is their life more valuable than mine? 

The virus “that has changed the world” prevails. There are upticks in Europe – Italy, Spain, France. There is a new hot spot – India. Thousands of tests come back positive daily in the United States. Clusters of infections arise throughout New York. 

As I attend four days of professional development in preparation for one hundred and eighty days of uncertainty, anxiety, and risk, college campuses in New York have opened and shut down in a matter of a few days.

I sat in a classroom with nine of my colleagues – mask and shield on, 6 feet apart –  listening to half-formed directives about teaching live and at a distance simultaneously, keeping accurate attendance records of 3 groups (hybrid live, hybrid remote, all remote), maneuvering two devices in order to share my screen with the students in front of me and those permitted to stay home without revealing confidential records, providing high-quality instruction as well as social-emotional learning, identifying visible signs of COVID in our students, maintaining constant communication with parents, devising ways to assess students equitably, fulfilling IEP accommodations, allowing students mask breaks periodically throughout the day, directing one-way traffic in the hallways while reminding students to face front and pull their masks up, cleaning the desks in between periods, covering classes and monitoring students while our colleagues are out getting tested for COVID. 

My mind is in a fog. I read commentary online about how teachers like me don’t want to go back to work. We are lazy. We like sitting at home in our pajamas. We don’t understand that our role is to monitor kids as their parents work. It’s unjust that we have been doing this job for years and now we don’t want to do it anymore. 

We are misunderstood. The truth is that I love teaching so much that I cannot sleep over what is happening to it. I was upset that I could not plan my units and lessons this summer. (I was not sure about what I was teaching until two days ago.) The truth is that I miss interacting with my students. This year, I will not be able to approach them to help with their work, encourage or comfort them. I cannot give them prizes or share celebrations with them. I cannot provide paper or pens. I will be 6 feet away and on the other end of a Google Meet. I will not be able to see their puzzled frowns change to enlightenment. They will be smiling behind their mask or maybe at home. I will continue to miss them. 

I will also miss my niece. She is two months old; a premature baby. She doesn’t have all of her vaccinations yet. Her immunity is low. I will be babysitting high school students while she grows up. When I see her – 10 months from now, after a 2-week quarantine and a COVID test, she will not recognize me. 

I am hoping to have children of my own someday. I am turning thirty-four in October – one year before any potential pregnancy is deemed high-risk. I am on fertility medication that will have to be suspended if/ when I contract the virus. I wonder and worry about the possible long term effects that COVID has on bodily functions. While I am teaching/babysitting, I may be risking the lives of my possible future babies. 

I will miss my husband if and when I contract the virus. He is immunocompromised – a type 1 Diabetic. COVID might be inconvenient, a little flu, for ordinary people like us (K-12 teachers and students) but for him, it could be deadly. 

I need health insurance. I cannot quit a ten-year investment and find work “at McDonald’s or Dunkin Donuts” as some people have suggested to teachers who are worried about returning to school buildings to watch over teenagers as their parents work “essential” jobs. 

Therefore, I will report to the school building in a couple of days. I will sit in a classroom (will it be disinfected?) with my colleagues, wearing a mask and foggy glasses under an echoing shield. I will know that our counterparts – ten teachers from a nearby school-  who were supposed to be sitting in a similar configuration are now at home, in quarantine, because they have already been exposed to the virus. I cannot make sense of this situation. This defies logic. The tormented scream lives lodged in my throat. It wakes me up at night.

I was once bright and enthusiastic about teaching. I loved World Languages (my subject) and adolescents (my target audience) so much that I invested thousands of dollars and years (fertile years) of my life to nurturing this career and serving the society and the community that demands my presence in the building while the pandemic rages on. I am deeply disturbed. I am fighting the shrieking scream of logic. I cannot rest.


Ange LaGoj is a high school Italian teacher who majored in English years ago, and wrote for her college newspaper. During a recent bout of spiritual restlessness, she found her way back to writing.

2020 Contributing Creators Contributing Writers Pandemic Photography

Looking Through the Darkness

Photos and Text by Arkadeep Mitra

One look through the window, and it confirms that the world outside is still in a state of quarantine. The roads are deserted and the people out there are few and far between.

Working-from-home has become the new normal. While we continue convalescing from the effects of the deadly virus, unsure of what the future has in store for us, we find ourselves acclimatizing ourselves to this more shut-down lifestyle.

It is this uncertainty that has been central to our emotions and thought processes over the course of the last few months. Amongst the plethora of saddening news and negative developments around us, we have been swiveling inside the cycle of being down and depressed, to something more optimistic and back to being sad. Confined to the rigid walls of our homes, there is not much we can really do. It is during these dark times that I find myself drifting towards films, and books, and quietly hoping for them to take me to some far-off foreign land. A new place, different from the constructs we’re all stuck in.

On rare occasions I turn myself to my camera. Looking through the viewfinder, I somehow hope to catch something new in the rather familiar surroundings around me. The pictures I take in black-and-white are monochromatic like life itself, myself also devoid of colors.

I try to look through the pitch-black darkness outside. Sometimes I succeed in doing that. It gives me a thrill and I feel a little better, albeit for a minuscule moment.

Doing street-photography in these times has become quite challenging and carries a huge amount of risk. 

I try not to get bogged down by the limitations and use my Canon 1200D wherever and whenever I possibly can. I look for hours and hours out of the window, gazing at the ever-changing cloudscape, the setting sun, the bright moon and the occasional airplanes flying in the sky, free.

By switching to my handy zoom-lens, I manage to capture the far-off things easily. In my eyes though, they too are devoid of any real colors. I shoot them in monochrome only to saturate them with excess colors in post-processing. It looks a little unreal, but then isn’t what we’ve been experiencing a little unreal too?

Feelings of loneliness and seclusion have often been central to our feelings during the lockdown period. To make myself less lonely, I try to consume myself, watching an unhealthy number of films and relentlessly obsessing about them. More often than not, it’s all for a lost cause as I again look out aimlessly and long for companionship and intimate conversations. 

Watching and analyzing a huge amount of movies has influenced my photography in a lot of ways. For example, my preferred mode for shooting pictures has become the landscape mode, usually in a very cinematic 16:9 aspect ratio. Also, I keep yearning for more drama in the pictures I click. 

However it very rarely comes out the way I imagine it in my head, which in turn leads to disappointment. 

Throughout my photography, I have refused to conform to a particular style or form. Always experimenting, I am perpetually on the search for a style that I could and would stand by.

But as I keep clicking more and more pictures, I realize that one cannot just choose a style for themselves. In the course of making images, the style chooses them. One does not have to force it. Till that moment though, I shall keep trying different approaches and methods in making pictures. Hopefully, my own distinct style will break out soon. 

Growing up, I had a natural affinity towards good artworks. I’d stare with awe at the paintings and with time, I learned to appreciate them. However, I wasn’t particularly talented with the paintbrush in my hand. Nor was I good at poetry. Not even sculpting.

So, I looked to other mediums to satisfy my artistic desire. That medium turned out to be photography, and the camera became my paintbrush. I caught on to it like a house on fire. Immensely curious, I’d spend hours every day learning about this beautiful device called the digital camera. 

My primary method of shooting photographs involves going out on long photowalks, on the most crowded of streets and shooting amid the utter chaos, in an act of uncomplicated honesty.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to indulge in this during the ongoing lockdown. There was only so much I could do inside the confines of my home.

While photographing things, I don’t really start-off with a lot of frames in my mind. The shooting process comes rather naturally to me. I tend to walk a lot and whenever an interesting object pops up, I take out my camera and frame it.

Technical details don’t matter as much to me as long as there’s a heart and soul to the photo. It’s only during processing later, that I really look at the pictures, analyzing them, and unearthing the hidden meaning behind it. 

I’m self-confessedly not the happiest person out there, and I don’t go out looking to capture pictures with a particular theme either. But as I’ve realized during the course of my two years of photography, there have been certain themes that continue to be present.

These themes, as I’ve analyzed, include feelings of isolation and loneliness in the modern city.

Especially at a time when we are legally prohibited from going out and about for our daily routines, such feelings are sure to overwhelm us. I sometimes wonder what kind of lost universes I would capture if I actually decided to undertake the task of photographing the emptiness of the long and unending network of streets.

Probably nothing at all.


Arkadeep Mitra is a 20 year old photographer from Calcutta. As a very disillusioned engineering student, he often indulges in photography to escape the realities of life. 

Though refusing to conform to any particular genre, you can usually Arkadeep in the streets looking through the unlikeliest of angles trying to frame the unlikeliest of pictures.

You can contact him and view more of his works here:

Note: All the pictures were taken in Singapore (where I was fortunate to visit before the pandemic kicked in) and in my hometown of Calcutta, India before and during the course of global-lockdown. 

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/arkadeep.mitra.54/
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/wongkarwhyy/
500px – https://500px.com/streetarc

2020 Contributing Writers Pandemic Prose

Meeting Outside

Written by Kathryn Cardin

I know that girl sitting in the window, warmly backlit by low-watt bulbs. She is dark, she is a shadow. A slow drag of a cigarette, a raised bottle to the mouth. She knows I’m watching but I’m too far below for her to see me.

More bodies move in the back near the light source. They laugh a guttural laugh and break what sounds like a plate against the floor. They laugh harder and more. Her feet edge up the windowpane, the toe of one worn-out sneaker in front of the other. She flicks her cigarette the same way I do except mine is always loud and makes a snap and hers is silent. Does she mind that her friends, or whomever is up there, just broke one of her dishes? Maybe she has dishes for breaking. 

I grab my own throat. It’s a tic, like a nervous tic when I don’t know what else to do with my hands. I don’t choke myself, just place my hand so my windpipe becomes conscious. It’s funny, I hate when some people touch my neck, or even their own necks. Like doctors, feeling for a node. Or when people in movies slit throats (their own, their enemy’s). In real life, it would make me sick, too. I’ve just only seen it on screen. If you kill me someday please just don’t go for the neck. Anywhere else is fine. 

But while fucking I do like to be choked. I always seem to cough right before my brain winks out. I have a strained relationship with throats. It’s either harder, harder, or pure repulsion. Intubating? How even—

She’s gone from the window and it’s been lowered to a crack. Remnants of her sit on the fire escape: an empty can for ash, a dried-up plant I’m sure she’s never watered. Maybe over watered. I don’t think she’s ever watered it. 

I look at my own window. Past it, into the conjoined living room and kitchen. There is no difference between where I am now and inside. In there the air still has a tinge of something bad. Old smoke. Dog. Out here it’s rotten wood. Dog. I think about who lives there. Me, of course. But someone else, too. I think about how differently we live in the exact same space. How we use the same shower and shampoo but we smell nothing alike. 

I tap my grown-out and unpainted nails on the tabletop. I haven’t bartended in three months, so my nails are unusually long and have been throwing off my balance. Maybe that’s why I haven’t been returning anyone’s texts: the clicking on the glass screen all uneven and acute. Or maybe it’s because isolation breeds more isolation when it comes to me

I don’t think I’m alone in this isolation, though. Ha. There are tons of girls in tons of windows and tons of people sitting in shadows looking up at them. Maybe she will be my friend. We are neighbors, after all. 

I glance up and the window has opened again but her and her shadow are gone. The voices are gone, too. Now it’s just the hiss of summer air and my nails tapping against grime and tempered glass. As if the tapping is Morse Code she appears, summoned to look out at the window a final time. “Hey,” I speak. I am shocked at myself. Being social at a time like this? She responds, “hey,” and tosses a hard seltzer out the window and over the fire escape barrier bars like it’s something I asked to borrow. “Want to come up?” she asks. 

I do. 


Kathryn Cardin lives in Brooklyn, NY with her dog, cat, and boyfriend. She is a freelance writer/editor and co-publisher of Tart magazine. Follow her on Instagram @slimkatyyy.

2020 Contributing Writers Pandemic Poetry

Dancing Around Corners: Poems written during a pandemic

Written by Anne Pia

My Mother’s Rosary

my nightmares play on repeat
sequence follows sequence
colour-bled animations
stain these fresh walls
a silent wilderness freezes on white geometry.
I leak secrets in sweat
am grateful for steady breath,
sound landmarks towards north…journeying still,
and in my palm finally
I clench a greening crucifix, mould and metal;
yellowed beads drop one by one through frail fingers,
each and every one defiant at
this craving to catch my mother’s smell.

Another siren splits clagging air.
Another missile.


Love Letters in Lockdown

In the last days of a world we thought was solid
massing of dark cloud, warrior winds summoning strength,
Corona settled, we cowered, made ourselves invisible,
and in the void
there was only the nearness of our own breath
of reality collapsed to window frames
the stillness of trees, as we all waited.

Somewhere along the rim of consciousness
there was the thought of ending,
the day I would delete you my old friend, from my phone
you no longer walking those sands I promised to visit,
or those wild flowered fields down by the river,
or like the well-loved notes of a much played tune,
finding myself speaking your words, spoken in a distant memory,
singing your song, as I speed along a motorway.

Then through the small, careful steps of day after day,
of small discoveries,
of dancing with strangers around corners,
the unaccustomed smile of a neighbour
that brought tears,
opening a front door wide to the unknown,
dismantling a home delivery,
like a forgotten war bomb,
on small screens, you became larger,
in unfamiliar alphabets
we evolved a new language;
and we learned to walk new leylines
learned a new geography of human,
of friendship and worth.

We laid foundations afresh.


Lessons in Coffee

my prosaic kitchen is the set stage of a Glass opera
replacing green-tiled, brutal style coffee shops
entombed now in plywood , drawbridge well shut
its lean anatomy is rearranged;
crumbs of love in coffee beans,
shallow breathing from a sleek Moka machine,
and out of sober, white bags,
sought after treasures from a Portobello bakery,
small miracles…
the slow rise of sweet scones,
dimpled dough basking in spring sunshine,
fattening on my windowsill,
earth scents of confettied rosemary,
whirlpools of olive oil,
rich crackle of crusting in an ample oven.

Amid the starkness of masks somewhere on the outside
beyond the trees and unused road,
with yeast, godlike particles,
I plough fresh tracks in flour,
pour out warmth in water.
I live a new innocence.


Notes

Don’t ask me for words
words won’t suffice,
can’t speak for me…
give no comfort
ask too much.
Wordless
I wrap myself in a blanket
working strings and bow…
seeking only small solutions.

In the late morning from sturdy sound structures,
I drift to the unknown …
in Higdon and Auerbach…
massaging grief
in the mythic fantasies of a Hebridean fiddle.

My rough-laid shelf,
is made of splinters..smoked salmon in a Tesco bag,
a first latte after lockdown, Wednesday tunes, zoom with friends,
or by a lake cooking sausages together, amidst Bay-leaved willows,
a neat stove, three laughing swimmers and the chatter of rain,
soft needles on a crater of glass.

My cold computer screen
contains me,
reminds me I cannot reach my daughters’ warmth,
I review photographs of that other time,
the wood strains against the force, fails,
no match for tears
or the fucking rage.


Game Over

Bring back the masquerades and the make-up
I am a self I do not recognise
where have I gone?


Anne Pia is based in Edinburgh, and is a language graduate with a Doctorate in Education. Her interests include language, dialogue, and identity.

Her memoir Language of My Choosing was  shortlisted for the Saltire First Book of the Year 2017 and won the Premio Flaiano Linguistica 2018.

Transitory, her first poetry collection, was published in April, 2018.

Anne’s writing has appeared in Northwards Now, Poetry Scotland, New Voices Press, Southbank Poetry London, The Blue Nib.