Barbara Leeds > Samples > Pandemic Poems >

Sheltering in Place

May 2020
Barbara Leeds

Deadly new illness: COVID-19
Medical personnel rush into battle
Without adequate protection
Or knowledge of the enemy
Grocery store employees
Their jobs suddenly dangerous
Report to work anyway
To keep the country from starving

To help the cause
I stay home
Missing massages, haircuts,
Choir rehearsals, writers group meetings,
Restaurant meals, entertainments
(How I’d looked forward to the Gilbert & Sullivan singalong!),
Library runs, dental cleanings,
Visits with neighbors
(Some housebound even before the pandemic),
Tai chi classes, Ping-Pong, the rowing machine at the gym,
Even hiking
Outside so it’s safer
But the trails are crowded

N95 masks in great demand
I bought some a few years ago
During the North Bay fires
Distributed a box among my neighbors
When smoke was our biggest worry
In the cupboard a second box
Donate it to a hospital
I still have half a box of the cheap kind
For hiking during hay-fever season
You wear one for a two-hour jaunt then throw it away
Can’t wash it
How many wearings for a disposable mask?
How long the pandemic?

Afraid to venture out to the grocery store
I gratefully accept a neighbor’s offer to shop for me
Want him to understand how much I appreciate this gift
Don’t want to be seen as a crabby old lady
Old lady, yes
Trying not to be crabby

Ask for soymilk or oat milk and bananas and frozen blueberries
To make smoothies
My pills too big to swallow
In normal times I get my meds down
By opening the capsules
Blending the contents into a smoothie

I receive almond milk, fewer bananas than requested, no blueberries
Smoothies taste awful
I examine the almond-milk container
Oh: unsweetened
I rummage through the pantry
Unearth cans and jars so old they’re scary
And there in the back
A box of sugar
Do some experimentation and math
Learn to make unsweetened almond milk tolerable
With a half-teaspoon of sugar
Mary Poppins had the right idea
I can take my medicine after all
(And with fewer calories than before)

Cooking more now
I realize I’m almost out of black pepper
Add it to my list
Receive a new jar too tall for my spice rack
Wonder how to handle
Sweet potatoes the size of my upper arm
Normally I buy the smallest one
Flavor for a veggie pilaf
Wish I could get disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer
Keep putting them on my list

Wash my hands a lot
Better put soap on the list too
Do stores still have soap?
Concerned about the toilet paper situation
I pee less often

Do laundry less often too
The laundry room
Normally a venue for pleasant neighborly interaction
Now scary
My neighbors too

My hair hasn’t been this long
Since elementary school
Don’t know what to do with it
My body screaming for exercise
I walk in an empty parking lot
Security guard approaches
“The campus is closed. You have to leave.”

In my home office
One of the track lights dies
Out of reach, tricky
My skills
Spelling, grammar, punctuation, rhyme
Not useful here
I’d ask my neighbor Jim
Fix-it guy, Ping-Pong buddy, good heart
But I don’t want anyone in my home
Don’t go to anyone else’s
Too dangerous
The track has three other bulbs
I can live with that

Jim is moving soon
Selling the condo
Can’t afford to stay in the Bay Area
“I bought a house,” he says
“Three hours from here
Lots of rooms
No Ping-Pong table
But plenty of hiking trails
You could come visit”
I can’t go anywhere
Not till it’s safe

Hair growing wild
Getting in my eyes
Hands dry and cracking
I read the same boring novel
Boring is okay
Boring helps me sleep

Twenty-one hours after Jim leaves
The ceiling fixture in my dining room
Installed when I moved in
Twenty-one years ago
Goes out
For the first time

The home office track light no big deal
But the dining room!
I use the ceiling fixture even during the day
Not just for meals
But for all those puzzles I do
To distract myself

My upstairs neighbor’s deck
Shades my patio
Darkens my dining room
But the underside of the deck
Provides a cozy nook
Along with supporting beam and joist
And a tangle of untended vines
For my patio’s first birds’ nest

I stare in wonder
At this small, dark nest
From my small, dark dining room
Yearning to see the details
Of life marching on

I find that video again
“Make your own no-sew cloth mask”
Watch it a few more times
Take a deep breath and start folding
Origami with bandana and rubber bands
I wear my new mask
To empty mountains of trash

Returning from the dumpsters
I encounter a neighbor in the driveway
He stops his car, rolls down the window
“I found hand sanitizer. Want a bottle?”
Moments later at my front door
Hand sanitizer in hand
I find a box of disinfectant wipes

I dig out my sewing scissors
Decades old, rarely used
Start in on my hair

Copyright 2020 Barbara Leeds