As the pandemic has continued its course, Philip Resnick’s muse has continued to inspire his poetic reflections. Here we present a selection from the last six months. Philip’s book Pandemic Poems, covering the period from the outset of the pandemic to the end of 2020, is now available from Ronsdale Press in Vancouver.
Nov. 13, 2020
Friday the 13th,
an inauspicious calendar day,
heralding disaster on every front.
As though we haven’t had our share,
this annus horribilis,
the burning Austral bush to set it off,
the plague – a tiny far-off blip when it began –
escalating to pandemic size on a global scale,
an election dramatic enough
to keep one in perpetual suspense.
Yet somehow I take comfort on this day.
The numbers are well enough aligned
to ensure power will be transferred in the end,
however much the demagogue and his enablers bray.
The sound of mandolins on the radio
as I sip my tea
evoking Vivaldi’s Venice
and tales of plagues that ultimately fade away.
And the biscuit I dip into my cup
summoning up memories of happier days,
of why life, despite its treacheries,
remains the greatest gift we can receive.
Knowledge of the past as an aid to the understanding of the future.
We scorn the ancients at our own expense,
confident that ours is a vastly superior civilization,
with its industrial heft, technological prowess,
beggaring all that had preceded.
There are many more of us
on this beleaguered planet,
of every race, tribe, and ethnic description,
and the common lot,
at least in the more privileged corners of the globe,
has attained a living standard
that the helots or plebes of old
could only have envied.
But the ancients knew that hubris
– in great empires as in petty city-states –
came at a price,
that wars and plagues and civil discontents
were not one-off events
but part and parcel of the human disposition,
that what had once occurred
could haunt our future days.
We scorn the ancients at no small expense.
Through a Looking Glass
when we could greet each other
with a friendly gesture or an embrace,
engage in conversation face to face,
not have to give a second thought
to droplets in the air that might do us in
or set us back for weeks and months on end,
we were unaware a time might shortly come
when to interact would take place behind a mask
if peradventure we found ourselves in a common space,
but just as frequently through a looking glass,
in a parallel universe
where things were never quite the same.
If we were inventing gods,
as the Greeks were prone to do,
we might want to consecrate frailty too.
Democracy, as we have seen in recent months,
bears all its marks,
threatening to yield
whenever the impulses of the losing side
seek to sweep aside institutional barriers
in victory’s path.
As for our body parts,
we who take pride
in our species’ superior status,
heart, brain, lungs, pancreas and spleen,
limbs, lymph, arteries and veins
remain vulnerable to infection and collapse,
even without the pandemic to perform a victory lap.
And then there is the earth,
Gaia to recall her ancient name,
buffeted by forces from without and from within,
cosmic ones that in a flash could do her in,
stochastic ones like the fossil fuels driving climate change,
exterminationist ones implanted in our genes.
Souviens toi que le Temps est un joueur avide
Qui gagne sans tricher, à tout coup ! c’est la loi.
— Baudelaire, “L’horloge”
As the pandemic enters its second year
and fresh confinements weigh
like a grounded albatross with its leaden wings
or slate grey days without a glimmer of light
to brighten their melancholic charge
and we are forced to focus yet again on the steady movement of the clock,
on inveterate memories of things lost
and states beginning to fall apart,
we half surrender to the spirit of the age,
sensing that resistance would be in vain,
as time ticks down the hours
and perfidious actors swarm the stage.
We are becoming islands,
sheltering within our respective shorelines
and the narrower compass of homesteads
and familiar surroundings,
flights point south suspended,
travel within regions a risky undertaking,
as the second wave engenders a third,
with mutations the new year’s greeting card.
But though the numbers soar
into the hundred millions
and death seems posted
at every thousandth door,
we are suddenly old hands
at navigating the pandemic’s inner channels.
Globalization: Mark 2
It began with Wuhan,
bats and pangolins,
quickly spreading into every nook and cranny
on the planet.
Then came mutations in the spike protein,
the English variant, aka Kent,
the South African,
the Brazilian from Manaus on the Amazon,
its P1 variant facilitating a wave of reinfections.
Little by little
the virus is displacing capital
as the free vector
in the globalization game.
Brazil – Ordem e Progresso
Covid is taking over: Brazil plunges into deadliest chapter of its epidemic
— The Guardian, March 13, 2021
Like stations of the cross –
20, 19, 18 –
they’re lined up with tubes and ventilators
in rows of field hospital beds,
teams of health care workers monitoring vital signs
just outside their reach.
A picture from a sports coliseum in Santo André,
on the outskirts of São Paulo,
as COVID marks a sober anniversary
and a new surge of mutations and infected,
many in their middle years,
opens a more sinister round
in a land where order and progress
has morphed into political disaster.
As the Pendulum Swings
Cycles have their own strange dynamics,
much like the tribal gods one used to worship,
or the phases of the moon.
Only yesterday austerity was the reigning mantra
as monetarists, neocons, and globalizing gurus
buried the Keynesians of a previous era.
As for the Marxists,
with their predictions of recurring crises,
Friedrich List with his defence of national economics,
the mercantilists with their specie fixation,
Clio had long since dispatched them to the garbage bin.
a little virus out of nowhere
has turned economic thinking topsy-turvy,
with state expenditures overflowing,
corporate rapacity an object of derision,
inequality and sovereignty subjects back in fashion,
climate change a burgeoning concern,
as blustery winds blow through the firmament.
Death is the Only Truth
Uttered by a Hindu priest
presiding over 36 pyres in concrete cremation pits,
convinced that heaven awaits,
the phrase is meant as consolation.
But for relatives
searching in vain for canisters, placebos,
anything to relieve the anguish and breathlessness
of the stricken,
little solace from such priestly ministrations.
The heavy hand of Shiva has descended on Mother India
in this second wave,
and the boisterous talk from the Modi sycophants
and Hindutva crowd
cannot erase a single death.