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poetry Spring

California poet Jessica Cohn touches the early days of shelter-in-place “when hope was/a shell game.”

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By Jessica Cohn

It was the spring when dry goods

held our fascination. We bottled gold

hand-pumped mucus. Toilet paper

became currency. The cut of ethyl

alcohol sharpened elbows. We took

our contact in fluid ounces, returned

to fire escapes, back steps, the opposite

side of the street. The public square

emptied, and the crosswalk followed.

Masters of airports called the airplanes

home. The cars stopped moving from

their spaces along side streets. Certain

mornings, a bird might appear, its soft

tweeting out of place. A day would pass,

its tally of losses. People died. First, in

abstraction and then a name we knew.

And the geography of the world came

into focus. There was a fat man in charge,

or so they said, and he named the virus

China. But the tankers and the cargo

ships and the thin layer of hyperclean

water under every screen called it home.

Some of us bought bullets. Some of us

bought stock, trading on the corpses

and their deep pockets. But there

were many more who saw beauty in far-

sighted blue sea hemming in our patchwork

boundaries. It was the spring when hope was

a shell game. And there were winners even then.

Jessica Cohn works as a reporter, a nonfiction writer, and an editor—and writes poetry almost compulsively. Her most recent poems can be found at Rattle, at Split Rock Review, at phren-Z, and in California Fire & Water: A Climate Crisis Anthology.