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poetry On Social Distancing

California poet Jacki Rigoni responds to the phrase social distancing, just added to the dictionary in March, and how much we were doing without naming it.

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On Social Distancing

By Jacki Rigoni

isn’t social distancing

what we’ve been practicing

all along?

sheltering in place

inside our six-foot radii of

us                                 them

we install barbed-wire words 

unfriend childhood friends

block uncles 

ghost lovers

we box up students

by date of birth

classroom by classroom

wall grandparents

and their war-tested wisdom

in “homes”

we construct prisons

more prisons



we drone our brothers and sisters

from such distance

we no longer have to face


in the whites of their eyes

haven’t we gerrymandered

and ghettoed ourselves already

species by disappearing species?


so this is what it takes

a .125 micron particle

to reveal how countries are illusions

how a Wuhan doctor’s body

is a Daegu teacher’s body

is a Tehranian mother’s body

is a Venetian shopkeeper’s body

is a Kirkland grandpa’s body

is my body

it takes a microorganism 500 times smaller 

than the diameter of a human hair

to infect us with this truth

that borders cannot keep us

from each other

and separation has always been

our sickness

so here we are

mouths behind facemasks

smiling with our eyes

hands pressing hands through glass

reaching across quarantines

through airwaves and screens

the way sunlight streams

through the only pinhole in a wall

a California poppy oranges

through cement

water empties itself of a vase

through a hairline crack

without struggle

or because struggle

hope spreads

like a virus

or an Italian aria balcony to balcony

Jacki Rigoni is the current Poet Laureate of Belmont, California. She has an M.A. in English from UC Berkeley and is a credentialed teacher. A finalist for the 2018 Francine Ringold Award for New Writers, Jacki’s poems appear in Nimrod International Journal, Moon City Review, and Poems-For-All, as well as anthologies. Her poetry collection, Seven Skirts, is forthcoming in fall 2020 by Paloma Press.