“Dispatch from a Pandemic: Chicago” by Natania Rosenfeld

From the manuscript “Here We Are: Pandemic Poems”

I open the window
spring making hesitant
forward steps. On our
walk the hound and I
noted something fecund
something fearful yet
adamant  the fronts
of the old craftsman houses
stolid face the street
where nothing much happens
people and dogs as usual
but at odd times of day now
he sniffs some new grass
certainly the green is fresh
the apartment stale I thrust
the window open and hear
my neighbors’ Lebanese radio
see the little family on their porch
in this way we are together.

But what is a seder if we can’t feel proximity of bodies, look into one another’s faces, eyes.
How can we know it was we who escaped Egypt, we who must take care of one another
in the desert as in our own land, if we can’t touch, smell each other’s scent, see the shine
in the other one’s hair? All we are is exiles—not enslaved, not oppressed—but cut off from one another, and afraid. My heart is not here, but tucked away, shivering, clenched, a bird sheltering from the hail that fell here yesterday and today, just as it fell in Exodus.

All day, wind sun snow
Now the moon orange
over the roofs of Edgewater
a face with no face
to answer it

I see a man
on the ground
I see the other
keep his hand
in his pocket
like a trophy


Look Ma! he says
and something

in my throat


He will not stand
up again  cannot

say I never wanted
to be an animal

or a corpse  and sure
as hell did not want

to be a symbol

We post our sentiments
in the window

We choke
on the sentiments
in our window

Our bodies,
unaffected, sloppy
with disuse

for conflict

Is it time
to get a gun?

We walk to the lake at Loyola
to loll a bit under the saints’ names
it’s a hot hot evening 
but a breeze comes and the water
billows like a sheet on the line
students have returned
chalking the sidewalks
with the mantras of our moment
they sit in pairs and clusters
wearing masks they must be aching
to remove for what is youth
if you can’t meet close beer
in your hand and holler
kissing-distance from another’s
shining face? Not young but
ardent still I rest my chin on
your head kiss your furred skull.
Back on our own block
a cousin of yours walks past
tall and certain. He does not falter
or lie down in hope and expectation.  
My little dear we are the runts are we not?

After atonement and attempts
at fasting, we met again to eat.
Brothers and sisters, it’s good
to sit down together, even
in cold dusk, hatted and gloved,
in your shared garage, while
behind us, rats skitter through
the alley. We are like remnants,
the last of our kind, huddled
around candles at nightfall.

You’d think they’d have put
a zebra here said my brother-
in-law, crossing the road.
He said it “zebbra,” and I knew
what he meant, because after
many years, I understand him
(though not wholly) at last.
Also the hedging about
with tenses, the conditionals.
But he took my arm, and got
us safely to the other side.
So that today, when he calls
to say it’s cancer, I know that
though the cheer goes deep,
underneath, we share our mortal fear.


natania.jpgNatania Rosenfeld is a writer, independent scholar and professor emerita of English at Knox College. She has published a poetry collection, Wild Domestic (Sheep Meadow Press 2015), and a critical book, Outsiders Together: Virginia and Leonard Woolf (Princeton 2000). An e-chapbook, She and I, appeared in 2018 from Essay Press. Her essays, poems and fiction are forthcoming or have appeared in AGNI, the Yale Review, APR, Raritan, Gettysburg Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, and Southwest Review. Four essays have been designated “notable” in the Best American Essays collections. “Beret,” a poem published in the Yale Review, received special mention in the 2020 Pushcart Prize anthology. She was recently named one of thirty “Writers to Watch” by the Guild Complex in Chicago, where she has lived since 2018. This is her second piece for ACM online.