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Chris J. Rice


March 8th, my son’s 44th birthday, was the last social event I attended in the flesh. My girlfriend’s daughter turned 25 years old that day, and my girlfriend baked a cake to celebrate. Severely disabled by a rare seizure disorder, her daughter is a beautiful young woman with a full head of curly dark hair, and wise expressive eyes.

I haven’t seen my own child for twenty-seven years. A lifetime.

My friend and I toasted our children that day unable to fully comprehend how or why our lives with them were taken from us. The ability to laugh, and sing and cry with them, as they became adults, snatched away like sudden death.

Early on it was reported that the majority of those most vulnerable to Covid-19 were those over the age of 65, those with co-occurring illnesses, and the disabled.

People said: “It’s just the flu.”

Then: “Oh, it doesn’t matter what you do, everyone gets sick.”

In continuing exchanges a former colleague texted: some people say getting rid of 30% of the world’s population is the best that could happen to the planet. You know over population, exhausting our resources, etc.

Useless eaters are what the Nazi’s called them, I responded. Angry he seemed to be prioritizing jobs over human lives, I rage typed. Livid. Forgetting he was a German native who’d immigrated to this country.

You have gone over the deep end you really have, he texted back. And once someone compares me to a Nazi there is no reason to have further discussion. Do not contact me again.

Don’t worry, I responded. I won’t.

Afterwards, I texted a message to the most current number I have for my son. Hope you are safe and warm in this crazy world right now. Thinking of you today as I do every day and holding you close to my heart. Mom.

No one calls me “mom” in my everyday life. Still. I am a mom. As is my girlfriend whose daughter cannot say the word. Not even to her mother, who cares for her day and night.

I don’t want her to die, my girlfriend texted after one of those hard nights.

Ashes. Ashes. We all fall down.

In the background of all our nightmares a nursery rhyme come from a plague.

A much younger friend asked me via text message: which poems R your favorites?

I sent her lines from W.H. Auden’s, The Age of Anxiety, a Baroque Eclogue, published in 1947. A book-length poem I discovered while shelving books in a public library. Reading in bits and pieces as I worked.

We would rather be ruined than changed we would rather die in our dread than climb the cross of the moment and let our illusions die.

Written in the aftermath of a world war, pain knifing through a collective unconscious struggling to comprehend the murderous powers among us. The misery and the wickedness, and like now, the grieving mothers holding their children’s hearts in the cup of their hands.

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All images other than author photos and artist artwork ©Matthew Batt 2020