Season of Virus: Poems Written During the Pandemic

The following poems were written during our year in quarantine, from 2020-2021, by older adults in virtual creating aging programs through Teachers & Writers Collaborative and our partners. The first set is from participants in the oral history and storytelling program with Visions Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired, a workshop led by Dave Johnson with the assistance of Omar Ovalle and Napoleon Felipe.  Rebecca Rikleen is a participant and gifted poet in the memoir-writing program at Morningside Retirement and Health Services, led by Susan Willerman.  

Rebecca Rikleen is 97 1/2. She lived alone until March of last year in her apartment up a steep hill in Morningside Heights. We have appreciated hearing about her life during Covid with her daughter and family at Lake Cayuga for many months. She is now with her son and family in Maryland. She writes prose and poetry in our group, writes of the past and of the present and is also a visual artist.


MLK in Tenth Grade

by Mary Conner

I was in tenth grade.

We had heard on the news.

My mother was laying on the bed. And mama said he passed. I didn’t want to go to school. This girl named Cheryl said you better stay home. When we got on the subway to go home it was packed. Students knocked out windows. And the cops were hitting people with Billy Clubs. I had to get on a train to Brooklyn to my aunts. I couldn’t get home to St. Albans, Queens from Richmond Hill HS. We were on elevated trains and they pulled the emergency break. And we were going around a curve. And I was sure it was going to fall off the tracks. They rioted all weekend and I stayed in my aunties house all weekend. I called my mother to tell her where I was and I was ok. That’s what I remember. They didn’t teach us about MLK at my school. But I learned much about him. As Stevie Wonder says, “Love’s in Need of Love.”

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The Invisible Enemy

By Debra Zanca 

We have an invisible enemy that

is neither Republican nor Democrat.

It wears no crown of gold or Jules,

But a crown of lives it takes with its tools.

So those in power should change their tune,

Because men, women, children, none are immune.

Note: this is a warning from mother nature to the powers that be.

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Note from Dave Johnson: This one is from one of our seniors who wrote this for her sister who works at the hospital in Corona, Queens.

Falling

By Helen Wong 

In the corridors of the hospital, where my sister works.

There are patients of all ages lined up in beds in rooms and hallways. You can hear patients making all kinds of human sounds from crying out loud,

to whimpering of pain in both body, mind and soul.

One can stop and turn and see patients sneezing aachoo or a deep hacking cough that shakes a person’s entire body.

Next as you turn to enter another room, you can encounter a patient fighting to breathe but can’t and has his hands circling around his neck.

The nurse rushes over to him with a ventilator.

To help him open up his lungs to breathe easier.

The next patient across the hall is feverish for the past few days.

His body is as hot as a furnace to my sister’s hands.

He’s so hot and is starting to hallucinate.

He’s mumbling words of help me please.

The nurse with gentle hands sponges him down with a cool washcloth. Checks his temperature and administers a Tylenol and charts it. These are some of the fallen ones with COVID-19, echoes of pain and discomfort sounds are heard throughout the corridors of this hospital.

Medical staffs hurriedly rushing about to check nonstop on each patients’ progress.

The doctors and nurses are all working 12-hour shift or even more. Pushing to the limit with barely enough protective gears.

To keep them safe in caring and saving lives of the ones fallen to COVID-19.

My sister cries with frustration on the lack of basic medical supplies such as surgical masks, gowns, and gloves.

She been a nurse for almost 2 decades. Never seen anything like this. Other nurses less seasoned crying, “I didn’t sign up for this.”

Barely enough time for lunch or a quick bathroom break. Finally, the end of a 12-hour shift at the hospital.

She heads to her car parked outside.

Feeling totally drained both mentally and physically. She rests her head on the seat of her car.

The strong need to just catch her breath and take a quick nap before driving home.

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My Voice

By Lyda Schoenfeld 

On this International Women’s Day,

in our centennial year celebrating our hard-fought-for right to vote so valiantly won, I raise my voice in song and poem to every woman everywhere.

Struggling long, progress exhaustingly slow:

in patience, all too tempting, by no means allowed to distract us or thwart our efforts to push onward.

I sing my praises to sisters

reaching some extremely high mountain tops.

Such peak experiences bring opportunities for taking full charge of our lives to make our best personal choices: for equal justice, quality of life and safety, dignity and respect in all our endeavors, whatever our life circumstances.

Yet so many mountains left to scale and explore

for claiming with our victory! We savor well-deserved affirmation for our work well-done and lives well-lived.

Now, our next frontier to conquer? lecting a woman president! She’s right at the top of my bucket-list of desires I wish fulfilled before I must leave this life.

We begin our new century in this democracy possibly electing a woman president! Let’s all raise our voices acknowledging our history as we express our hopes for an even better future for all women everywhere!

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90th Birthday Reflections

By Carmen Becker 

It’s overwhelming. I just didn’t realize it’s my birthday. I looked in the mirror and said girl you are 90 years old today.

I said while still looking in the mirror, good Lord when are you are going to take me, and if you are not going to take me then give me the strength to deal with these Son of a Bitches the people out in the street, strangers. So as usual they did not send me the right access-a-ride. So the driver at least helped me in the car, but he couldn’t speak English or Spanish. So there went my back because I need the lift you know. So while I was coming I called the access-a-ride and complained.

I need a lift. Please give me a lift by the time I have to go home. They said they will write me up another ticket but call us up at 11oclock – which I did and I do have a ride to get home with the Lift. But the thing is now that I have the flowers, the balloons, (laughs) I am going to show him. Anyway, but I was overwhelmed with the Playwriting Workshop from Visions and Teachers & Writers.

I had no idea. I just thought I would Get a Happy Birthday and a song or two, but I got so many well wishes from everybody and nobody believes I am 90. I am 90. (laughs) I was born in 1930. So and to tell you the truth there is longevity in my family. My great grandmother lived to 106 – my godmother lived to 102 and she just died last year. And other members of my family were all in their 90s when they died.

Well someone asked me, do you have any thoughts about getting older? Well the only thing I know is drink a lot of water and stay away from toxic people. If I would have known this when I was in my 30s – I would have been a raving beauty by now. (Laughs) But um now that I am older, I really do that. I don’t hang around with people that want to take me to a negative place. You know I just politely move away and keep on going about my business. And that includes family.

I put them in the same category. I do not discriminate male or female or what have you. I do not discriminate. I am a happy person.

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COVID19, Up Yours!

By Liz Hernandez

Covid19, stop right where you are!

You are a menace to society.

Halt your evil ways.

You put a big dent in our economy.

You put the brakes on all social events!

You have blood on your hands.

For you have killed so many innocent

men, women, and children.

Covid19, we are a strong nation

and we will fight you with every piece

of equipment in our arsenal.

Covid19, I am locked up in my apartment,

but I am surrounded with many things to keep occupied.

I have a washing machine, a computer, telephone, tv, and radio.

I have plenty of food that is delivered to me from

Meals on Wheels.

Best of all, I have Mr. Coffee to keep me company.

Covid19, I give you my middle finger!

So there! Take that! Up yours!

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SPACE

By Rebecca Rikleen

Space is the distance

Between you and me

We need to see

One another

To know you are still

in my ken,  in my life

so many miles away

I cannot touch your hand,

Meet you in the museum

We cannot walk together

Stop to breathe

I cannot show you what I’m working on

Comment on the passing scene

Wait for the proper bus to come

But yet

This new magic of Zoom

Let’s me see you

Part of you

Lets me hear you

We have not yet conquered space enough

I can see only a small part of you

And only when the camera permits

But I can hear your voice

When you remember to unmute

But it IS YOUR voice

I cannot touch your hand

share your bread

taste your dessert

but even though we’re in different states

I  see, I hear,

I know you’re there

Space may only SEEM empty,

FOR ME It is  a reminder to know

I have a friend.

SEASON of VIRUS 

By Rebecca Rikleen 

Here I am on the shore of Lake Cayuga

This is where I am in the season

of deadly virus

In the season of fear, isolation, avoidance, face masks, 

Keeping six feet apart

No touching

Here I am

Alongside the long  deep gouge

of the ancient glacier

That filled with water 

to form a  finger of lake that ripples

Kisses the sky,

 laps the shore.

Hugs the wind

Welcomes home the birds

after hostile winter

Returning north

From sheltering south, 

To feed on rattling seeds

And stirring worms

Welcome tufted titmouse, robin

Chickadee, red winged blackbird

Welcome delicate red blossoms

of red maple trees

riding the wind to find a mate

You are my new neighbors

Full of hope and expectations

Free to share the feeder

Staying a respectful six feet apart

Not shunning,

waiting your turn

I drink in the  long ribbons of cloud

grey and rosy layers

I shiver in the unyielding winds

Stirring the land.

Here it is  the time

For renewal

In languages with no human vocabulary

We humans

Rulers of the world

With our words

And postures of control

Quiver before

The lowly virus

Shiver with loneliness

And look to one another

And cry “Help me”

Here I am, privileged

to have the sky, the lake, the birds, the winds, the seeds of the future

the renascence of spring

Free to taste humbleness and gratitude

and hope. And hope.

I’m Leaving 

By Rebecca Rikleen

While I still can see and remember

I’m leaving my refuge of 8 months

my hiding from the virus

I am saying goodbye

with tears.

I will miss you

Glorious red maple stretching up more than

five stories, still clutching the orange, red

and yellow leaves turning crisp and brown

defying gravity and winter chill

I watched you in March sharp winds

Revive from winter sleep, burst alive with tiny red flowers

Inviting birds and squirrels, Opossums, racoons

Calling  “Come. make your home; start your family

Enjoy with me glorious lake Cayuga”.

Ancient horse chestnut full of holes from abandoned nests

and sugar maple already reduced to naked bare branches

I remember your glory rich with luxuriant greenery

Dear Cayuga so ancient and storied,

How I already miss your restless ever changing

currents responding to the shifting winds

Telling stories calm; sometimes

heaving up in angry froth

Lofty sky glowing with infinite distance, iridescent colors 

Shifting clouds silky white or menacing dark

I long already for your ever intricate variety

You are heaven and earth, my solid support,

my infinite pleasure, my changing story

in whispers or thunder,

telling tales of the past, the present and hints

of stories to come

You three have sustained me in my displacement

Far from my earthly habits and belongings

Parting is a stab of pain

Thank you for your comfort

Thank you for sharing your beauty and variety

While I, like the exiles of ancient Greece, will wander,

a refugee.

My family who took me in, gave me shelter,

Chose this spot, planted these trees, welcome the moon visits

abide the wandering sun,  the capricious rain, fickle winds

and with great generosity shared them with me.



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