Letter from New York

My dear Jane, here the morgues are full.
Our dead have become a logistical nightmare.
Churches closed their doors. Priests offer
Virtual prayers to those who can access the ether.

This morning I am thinking about virtual prayers.
You say there in London you relive your childhood,
World War Two: shortages, community gathering in,
Exchanging words of encouragement.

But here in New York the sick line up along
The avenues, coughing, waiting for the hospitals
Where doctors without protective gear
Must tend to them, no matter what.

One spent 17,000 US dollars on masks
Bought from the black market, the price
Marked up 800 times. In one day he sees
Almost as many patients as there are days in a year.

The thieves hoard lifesaving equipment for profit.
Our president has a little price tag for our parents:
He says the economy must be open by Easter,
He says he imagines the churches full of people!

I am reliving the house arrest years, the Cold War,
Then the enemy outside the front door
Had keys to let itself into the house.
Now the enemy is invisible and I can’t hear the keys.

Our Governor went on television to demand
Help for the hospitals: “Where are the respirators?”
He said we need 30,000, we have 400.
Our loved ones have become a string of numbers.

*

It’s not all dark, Jane. The robin hops by the front door.
The grass turned green almost overnight,
Our first blue hyacinth bloomed at the back of the house
And the yew stirs with red cardinals and blue jays.

I am going to spend the day contemplating
The meaning of virtual prayer, and thinking about virtue.
But I will also cook, clean, and walk with my children,
To feel the real, to protect myself against the imagined.

March 26, 2020

Carmen Bugan

Carmen Bugan

Carmen Bugan, a George Orwell Prize Fellow, is the author of four poetry collections, a memoir, and a critical study. Her new and selected poems, Lilies from America, is a Poetry Book Society Special Commendation. Burying the Typewriter: Childhood Under the Eye of the Secret Police was a BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week, won the Bread Loaf Conference Bakeless Prize for Nonfiction, and was a finalist in the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. Her critical study is Seamus Heaney and East European Poetry in Translation: Poetics of Exile, and her book of essays, Poetry and the Language of Oppression, is forthcoming from Oxford University Press.She has a doctorate in English literature from Balliol College, Oxford University, UK. Bugan, who was the 2018 Helen DeRoy Professor in Honors at the University of Michigan, lectures at universities, international book fairs and conferences, and has been a guest on current affairs and history programs on the BBC, ABC, NPR, The Foreign Desk (Monocle, London).
Carmen Bugan

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Author: Carmen Bugan

Carmen Bugan, a George Orwell Prize Fellow, is the author of four poetry collections, a memoir, and a critical study. Her new and selected poems, Lilies from America, is a Poetry Book Society Special Commendation. Burying the Typewriter: Childhood Under the Eye of the Secret Police was a BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week, won the Bread Loaf Conference Bakeless Prize for Nonfiction, and was a finalist in the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. Her critical study is Seamus Heaney and East European Poetry in Translation: Poetics of Exile, and her book of essays, Poetry and the Language of Oppression, is forthcoming from Oxford University Press. She has a doctorate in English literature from Balliol College, Oxford University, UK. Bugan, who was the 2018 Helen DeRoy Professor in Honors at the University of Michigan, lectures at universities, international book fairs and conferences, and has been a guest on current affairs and history programs on the BBC, ABC, NPR, The Foreign Desk (Monocle, London).