Browsing Tag


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 Art Contributing Creators Pandemic Photography

Disposable Gloves

Photos by Andrew Lawrence

In these days of pandemics, natural disasters, and stress, worry and fear about family, friends, and work, we all need a respite, a break. Something positive and uplifting – and quick – to take our mind off our problems – if only for a few moments. In today’s society, and especially in turbulent times, we need something to instantly make us feel better, naturally.

— Andrew Lawrence on the place for art in the pandemic.

Disposable Glove on the Ground
Disposable Glove in Space
Black Disposable Gloves

Andrew Lawrence is a Los Angeles photographic artist with 20 years experience in high-end fashion photography. In the fine art arena, he takes “normal” objects and turns them into colorful, often abstract photos. His recent work also includes a collection of pandemic art. You can find more of his work at

2020 Contributing Writers Pandemic Poetry


Written by Ann McLean

The world as we knew it has come to an end,
The shelves are bare, no money to spend.
The markets are crashing, we are hoarding and stashing,
The airlines and cruise ships are taking a thrashing.
No handshakes, no hugs, wash your hands scrub your mugs.
No cuddling or kissing, no sharing your bugs.
Keep your distance don’t touch, just smile and stand back,
If you sniffle or sneeze you’ll cause a panic attack.
The virus is spreading all over the planet,
Science can’t stop it, slow it or can it.
Our leaders are stunned, they don’t know what to do
They thought it was just a new strain of the flu.
Trump gave the order, he’s closing the border
And Trudeau’s deflated, he’s now isolated.
Italy and Korea are locked down in fear,
China and Japan, are now in high gear.
Over in London, Boris is blundering,
How long can this last he is constantly wondering.
The media’s gone viral in a continuous spiral,
Reporting the numbers, their staff never slumbers.
The news is depressing, disturbing, distressing
When will it end, it leaves us all guessing.
How will history look back on this epic outbreak
Which shook the whole world like a massive earthquake.
Will we remember it casually, as the corona caper.
When our greatest concern was no more toilet paper.
An affluent society that has never known need
This pestilence will make us humble indeed.
We think only money, makes our world go around
This little bug has shown, he can shut it all down.
As always, our pride goes before a fall,
Our ego is big and our wisdom is small
If our world should return to it’s former normality
Will we remember the fragility of our own brief mortality
Pandemics bring change, may this be for the best.
Our human values are being put to the test.

Ann McLean is a painter and poet.

2020 Art Contributing Creators Pandemic Photography

Masked Figure

Photos by Thomas Pickarski

As a traditional landscape artist, recently I yearned to create a visually stunning yet meaningful installation on the landscape. In my photographic Masked Figure series, a human figure depicting reptilian characteristics is portrayed as both witness and victim to the disappearance of life as we know it.

Masked Figure no. 4

Masked Figure no. 5
2020 Article Contributing Writers Pandemic Prose

On Seeking Joy in a Vacuum

Written by Madison Kerlan

I swallow joy in pill-capsules, two a night, hoping that while I sleep—if I sleep—the joy will seep into the empty cavities of my body and stop my bones from trembling in the morning when my dreams of somewhere else dissolve into the reality of here and now—of an entire planet perched precariously on the edge of collapse, gravity distended. Early, before my alarm prods the sleep away, my partner crawls over my blanket-coddled body, an apparition clouded by my night-swept eyelashes, drifting off to work in the remote office of our living room. I smell that smell belonging to only them and think they may someday be the love of my life; I hear a hush, go back to sleep. Go back to sleep, they insist. Joy should live in my chest, wrapped tight against the flesh and pulsing arteries of my heart, but it doesn’t. I lay in bed alone, wondering what the future looks like suspended in the abyss of uncertainty, eyes pointed at the ceiling till my alarm prods my body into mechanical motion.

Winter blends into spring. You can see the fault lines separating and binding them at once, if you look closely: early spring is cold as winter but more hopeful, usually. The tulips in the lawn of my childhood home will bloom soon, usually. Petals crack the skin of the ground. The skin of my knuckles bleed from too much hand washing and not enough lotion. I sit cross-legged with bandaged fingers in unkempt grass, in the lawn of the house I will inhabit for two months—till I have somewhere else to go. An empty carton of almond milk and an empty carton of cigarettes sit a few meters off. I watch the cartons in silence, feeling a beam of sunlight grace the back of my unshaven neck. I wonder who brought them here to commiserate with me and the broken lawn chair at my side, with the tattered seat. You’ve seen some shit, I offer. For a moment, the breeze rustles the dry twigs of the skeleton bushes. We all sit together, thinking about circumstance. Spring blends into winter. I’ve lost track of the days of the week. 

For years, I’ve been collecting joy in Polaroids, a jar of fireflies tucked away on the bookshelf for later. I shake the photo album out onto the carpet to remind myself of it. The joy seeps between my fingers as I hold the corners of the film loose and buzzing in my palms: joy is driving nowhere and ending up in another state just because you can—just because you’re young and the world can afford to unbuckle you from its machinery for twenty-four hours of wandering, of going somewhere else, says a photo of my best friends and I standing, arms raised, on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Joy is a lonely vending machine on the outskirts of town, the pin in the map marking the origin of a proper, rural adventure, says a photo of my favorite person sitting in gravel, can of Sprite in hand, tab popped. Joy is a pair of gardening gloves, roller-skating pads, and a tangled heap of climbing rope, says a photo of a childhood friend crouched beneath the trestle of an abandoned canal bridge, victorious.

Joy is sitting on the balcony alone after midnight, eyeing streetlamps pinpricked along distant roads that curve out of focus.

Joy is in the pinpricks of the fading stick ‘n’ poke on my thigh, dotted by a friend of a friend while I crunched ice cubes horizontal on her kitchen floor. 

Joy is the slap of wet footsteps echoing toward us, a stranger in briefs with an invitation to jump into the lake and the exchange of silent, agreeing nods that follows.

Joy is the crackle of a blown car stereo, resilient against the crescendo of volume.

Joy is the orange of a stolen traffic cone peeking out of the trunk—that gleefully welcomed fifth passenger.

Joy is a misplaced cigar on the dark and grassy crest of Flagstaff Hill, the smoke obscuring low-voiced stories shared in confidence.

Joy is a spoonful of honey and blackberry jam spread thick over buttery morning toast. 

Joy is my mother waiting for me at the edge of the airport terminal, the descent from the escalator and into her arms.

Joy is drive-thru sherbet in the insurmountable heat of summer; leaving pennies on railroad tracks and waiting, cross-legged for hours, ears tuned to the whistle of the next commercial train on its way somewhere else; a beer on the roof of the family bar, waiting up for the long-awaited Sunday sunrise after my last shift of the week.

I lay on the carpet like a chalk outline, lined with evidence of joy. Gathering the photos in my hands, I return the fireflies to their plastic album sleeves—all but one: joy is my grandmother’s wide grin, a black jellybean pressed to her front tooth, says a photo of us holding one another behind the bar counter. Today is her birthday and we are not celebrating this year because she has been dead for months. The illusion dissipates in a plume of smoke. I find the world still ablaze outside my window. I leave the bedroom to join the almond milk, the Marlboros, and the busted lawn chair, eating the blackberries I used to pluck from her garden bushes and watching over deserted city streets, the image of an impending dystopia, the air stale and timeless. To touch a memory does not emulate joy. It emulates the desire for joy. 

I wonder how my desire for joy fits into the puzzled frame of a global crisis; how desire spoils rancid when people around you are dying in the past and the present and the future. When the clouds loom and the city is painted in ruins, overcast and forgotten in isolation. When the grass reaches unkempt and untrampled around your bare ankles, pleading for company. When a centipede steals into the dark polyester of the bedsheets, seeking refuge from somewhere else: you’ve seen some shit, I offer, extending a broken hand. When the posters peel from the ceiling; a mounted record shatters against the dresser; the television grows fussy; the strings of lights swing from the doorframe during the night, which is too quiet even with the windows propped open. It’s an extended metaphor, my partner says. 

We sit on the third step of a wooden-railed staircase, an appendage of the deserted bedroom of a former housemate. Smoke twists and drifts in tendrils rising from a spiraled glass bowl, a potent dose of bud that could be medical grade but isn’t. Stars pocket the space of the sky and I lean back against the ridges of wooden planks, breathing. The constellations seem to line themselves tonight, stars extending, joining hands in a galactic game of connect the dots. My knees bump against the knees beside me, important knees, cherished knees, their knees. They have been talking for a while about the world and its intricate mechanics—about everything and nothing in particular at once—emptying vessels of thoughts like glistening nectar beneath the moonlight. I watch the way their mouth moves as they speak, their upper lip tugging, energized by the bud and a lowered guard. The canvas of stars lines the profile of their face, cross-illuminated by the lamp sitting warm behind the basement windowsill and the lights of tired trucks rumbling down empty 3am highways, en route somewhere else. This is a nice memory, they say at last, clasping my knee, head tilted upward. I feel joy for the first time in weeks and I hold onto it tight, arms wrapped around their shoulders in the silent hum of the evening, the soothing rush of the wind.

Every so often, joy turns up in the crevices of small moments, looking only slightly different from before. I can feel it in the familiar laughter of my therapist over the phone; in my professor introducing their dog in the last thirty seconds of a pre-recorded lecture; in wearing overalls and sandals on the porch; in the morning fire alarm sounding like clockwork when my partner fries bacon; in rolling over into them in the middle of the night and being lulled back to sleep by the rhythm of their rising chest; in the words I love you ringing from my best friend’s mouth; in smoking a joint with my housemates, wrapped in blankets from the couch; in watching the reliable sunrise seep through the bedroom window; in listening to music with the forgotten blades of grass and the trash on the back lawn. The world may feel different, but the air is the same and every evening the stars return to the sky again. Joy is tender, fragile, and fleeting, but joy is not gone. If you’re quiet, you can still find joy at the bottom of a pot of coffee or between the folds of fresh linens, in the breeze of a mild afternoon or waiting at the edge of the porch steps after rainfall, in the echo of a familiar voice and the brush of cherished knees against your own, nudging your mind alive, reminding you of what remains in the rubble. To desire joy amid suffering is to remain hopeful for all that is left.

Madison Kerlan studies non-fiction writing and gender. They are a staff writer for Sampsonia Way Magazine.