The three of us have seen only each other for eleven days. Our fevers are low-grade and only one of us coughs through the night. Under each window, the city is empty as the moon. Sirens startle the bruised sky and my father-in-law still doesn’t believe we’re in danger. From Sappho’s work, we have fragments—what cannot be said will be wept. Imagine if we could behold her, whole. The doctor upstairs cannot calm her children. When they trample the wooden floors, it sounds as if they’re hammering coffins. News, news, charts, news. My mother sends photos of her pear trees—subject line: nothing can stop spring. I’ve started bargaining. Oh, the things I have given up in the crook of night. The books beg to be opened one last time. Sappho wrote someone, I tell you, in another time will remember us.
For fifteen years, the plague doctor’s beaked mask from Venice hung on my wall. I try to sleep while two inhalers and a stack of books perch beside me. Headlines praise plague-time productivity of Shakespeare between articles on job loss, exploitation of essential workers, and the death count. My students flatten to faces on a screen. I scroll past memes of Dickinson as saint of social distancing and unfriend everyone who claims we shouldn’t stay inside. Two drinks in, my brother texts with grim predictions while I try to read twelve pages of War & Peace for an online book club, sprung up overnight. Musicians play to an empty theatre. Two kinds of cancer continue to grow in my father, his surgery suspended while they ready the hospital for hundreds of patients who can’t breathe. Like a spell, I write a list of everyone I want to save and repeat their names while the dog sleeps beside me. I start and end with you. It is already morning in Italy; quarantined neighbors sing to each other from open windows. Swans swim the Venice canals.
Jennifer Franklin has published two full-length collections, most recently No Small Gift (Four Way Books, 2018). Her third book, If Some God Shakes Your House, will be published by Four Way Books in 2023. Her work is in the September/October 2020 issue of American Poetry Review and has appeared or is forthcoming in Boston Review, Broadsided Press, Gettysburg Review, JAMA, Love’s Executive Order, The Nation, Paris Review, “poem-a-day” on poets.org, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. She teaches in Manhattanville’s MFA program and the Hudson Valley Writers Center, where she serves as Program Director. She lives in New York City.