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Poetry in the Time of Corona

BY CLAUDE SOLNIK | An emergency room doctor recently talked about “scrubbing the coronavirus off my body, if not my soul.”

While journalism documents events, in a time of crisis, language can do more than just document and describe — it can capture what’s going on with emotion. It can help “scrub” the soul, if not keep us safe.

With that in mind, in addition to conventional coverage, we’ll be bringing you verbal snapshots, an effort to use language to score small victories and document events, a different kind of coverage of this crisis from the heroism to the heartbreak.

We will seek to use words to chronicle the coronavirus crisis, what’s happening in the soul as well as society, to scrub our souls and feed our hearts, honor our heroes and record what’s been happening.


First Masks

I remember the first ones now,

How strange these medical

Masks looked on a sunny day,


Blooming like white, blue and

Pink flowers in the city, a few 

Faces wearing this new wardrobe,


As if they were aware there was

Something in the air, as if 

Someone had poisoned the atmosphere


While I paid very little attention,

Not realizing  these were the

First signs of a wildfire that had


Already begun to spread across

Another part of the globe far away 

Within the same forest.


On St. Mark’s Place, between First Ave. and Avenue A. (Photo by Isaac Rosenthal)


Shopping Safari

Shopping has become a safari

as I go strolling down the aisle

Aware of any ambush that 


Could be set, hidden on

A shopping cart handle or

Among a bag of groceries,


Offended when a man nonchalantly

Brushes against my shoulder

Near people wearing masks


Once reserved for medicine,

A strange universe of the unknown

As I navigate the supermarket


Which has become a wilderness.



Statue of Liberty’s Lesson

in Social Distancing

We’re all talking about social distancing

As if it’s a contradiction in terms and

It is, of course, since closeness is 


About touch and feel and yet

True proximity is much deeper 

Than skin against skin, a


Spiritual connection that can 

Bring us closer amid calamity,

That can unite us even more


As distance draws us apart,

Even as the Statue of Liberty

Stands solitary, also a symbol of


The solidarity that neither politics

Nor plague can ever destroy.



No More NBA for Now

When the NBA announced

It would stop playing,

Suddenly we all saw that


A basketball game is the

Workplace for the players

Who were starting to 


Test positive for the virus,

Showing us that the game 

Couldn’t just go on with 


Crowds in the seats or empty

Arenas filled with ghosts and 

Players passing around a virus


With no referee to call

A foul when infection moves

Even faster than a basketball.


All of a sudden a high five

Became a wrong turn and

The basketball went from


Being the rock that bounces

And flies into the hoop to

A way to spread infection


And remind us that when

The game is over, all the

Players are on the same team.



Hand Ballet

Horror brings out humor

And so a well-dressed man

In a tux washes his hands to music,


Moving both hands almost

Like a conductor or a magician,

Faster and slower to match


The notes as if he’s going to  make

The disease disappear like a dove,

Keeping rhythm with the orchestra,


Hands moving in a choreography

As elaborate as Balanchine,

A beautiful set of dancing hands,


Ten fingers like five couples

Tangoing, waltzing, weaving in

And out of so many chords,


A reminder that washing hands

Has gone from an occasional

Motion to an elaborate ritual


And the front line of a battle

Where sanitizer and alcohol

Can put out fires that burn


Without flames but still

Engulf the gorgeous

Ember of the earth.


All poems by Claude Solnik.

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