During the sheltering-in-place, I met a friend to play tennis.
We both work in health care, so we met at opposite ends,
yelled across the court, “Good to see you” and “I’ll serve first.”
And she did. A nurse who said, on the phone, she has so many
patients come in thinking they have coronavirus when they don’t
even have a cough, no fever, no complaints or symptoms at all;
“I’m just worried,” said one patient, as if worry can make you
test positive. She went up forty-love. I, on the other hand,
get patients with high fevers, coughs like rusty car engines,
and they insist they don’t have anything, that it’ll pass, that I
don’t need to wear a mask, insulted that I’d wear a mask at all.
And we don’t wear masks on the court as we play, because
we’re low at the hospital, and in the ambulance. Low as hell.
As we see a group of teenagers walk by, flock by, maybe six
of them, none masked, except one wearing what looks like
two masks on top of each other, and they yell, “Armageddon!”
to us, and then they yell, “We’re not afraid to die either!”
and they fade, how streets swallow you. And she goes up 6-0.
And we sit, on opposite ends, breathing heavily. “How’s work
been?” I yell. “Crazy! And you?” “Yup,” I yell, “Crazy.”
And the sun dreams of children. And clouds have fevers
today, sleeping somewhere we can’t see. And then, from
where the teens had disappeared, emerges a man, what I think
is a man, dressed all in black, and I stare and my tennis partner,
a girl I fell for eight years ago, heavily, fell like I was a trauma
victim, had said to me, “Just so you know, I don’t think I could
ever love anyone.” “What do you mean?” “I don’t love,” she
said. And she didn’t. And I left. And she didn’t leave, just
continued. Addicted to her job. And we both stared in silence
as this man approached, black shoes, black pants, a black robe
with the chest Ved open so that you could see all of this hair
and he had on a long tall hat like witches wear in fairy tales
and on his face was a huge black bird’s beak, the strap holding
it in place hidden, and he walked up to the fence that separated
us and he stared in, silent, the beak pressed up against the wire
mesh, and we stared and he stared and Berkeley stared and
the fence was infected and we were infected and, in an hour,
the sun would quit for the day, the night thundering its way in.
RON RIEKKI’s books include U.P. (Ghost Road Press), Posttraumatic (Hoot ‘n’ Waddle), and My Ancestors are Reindeer Herders and I Am Melting in Extinction (Loyola University Maryland’s Apprentice House Press). Riekki co-edited Undocumented: Great Lakes Poets Laureate on Social Justice (Michigan State University Press) and The Many Lives of The Evil Dead (McFarland), and edited And Here (MSU Press), Here: Women Writing on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (MSU Press, Independent Publisher Book Award), and The Way North: Collected Upper Peninsula New Works (Wayne State University Press, Michigan Notable Book). Other works my first response, shelter flarf
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