Papa’s Scary Talk About COVID-19 and Pollution

Again, Papa drags the TV remote from my little girl,

his grimace listing all the ills of our nowadays children—

true, such headiness didn’t exist even in my own time;

and once they start the territorial dance of Agama agama

I quickly zip my lips and run into the kitchen

before his festering eyes ask how she became a dictator.


Mia’s a swashbuckler—I feign cackles and cheer her CBeebies.

I don’t know why Papa likes cold wars. Maybe, he

envies her for having all the things he only read

about in his own childhood. But I don’t bother him

about the things he couldn’t give me in my childhood.


Papa pressed the remote the way Mia traps roaches. CNN.

COVID-19 has hit world trade. Nigeria would learn to drink

her crude oil, to stuff her lungs with greenhouse gases/

It’s a beautiful thing, you know, Papa announces. I shriek.


But people are dying, I say. He shakes his head

like a mantis. There’s less pollution now, you know. Silence.

Good walks with evil—and that’s a fact, you know.


I nod and Papa plays on: Our globetrotting politicians being

home with us is wonderful, you know. Silence. Think, son.


Papa talks the way Mama talked the night she died.


—April 1, 2020


I’m in Tasmania, and here, it’s starting to look like we’re beating the virus. Every day, the numbers fall. Yesterday, there were zero new infections.

We closed our borders hard and early. We sent people home; we made rules. We’re in total lockdown – that’s why we’re winning.

The streets are so quiet and empty I feel as though I’ve been transported back to my childhood in the 1980s, to a world only half as crowded as the one we inhabit now. There’s no more struggling out of bed on too little sleep to sit in the car among too much traffic on a commute that runs too long. No constant hum of engines outside. No takeout meals. No rushing from work to university to side gigs to home. My schedule filled every second of my life, before. Now I can suddenly breathe again, and it’s shocking. We lived in a world that guaranteed – that required – constant growth: more work, more money, more efficiency, more fitness, more possessions, more, more, more. When constant growth occurs in the body, we call it cancer but when it happens in society, in industry, we call that normal.

It’s all stopped – paused, anyway. And I feel guilty, because though what’s happening to the world is a disaster like nothing in living memory, on a personal level I am free. My creative practice has the space it always needed and never had. My day job has us working from home, giving back all the time I previously lost on commutes. My country has brought in financial safety nets to keep the newly unemployed afloat. Many laid-off casual workers are making more money now than they did before. A surprising number of landlords are easing up on rent and reaching out to their tenants as human beings. The AirBnB owners who sucked all the properties out of the market and left local people fighting for rentals are suddenly, desperately looking for tenants, and we have our choice of homes at reasonable prices for the first time in years. The crushingly overpriced property market is about to crack, giving millenials the long-lost opportunity to own their own homes. We are finally helping the people who need help. The rich have always been able to help themselves.

If we are determined that nobody should have to pay for a cure for COVID-19, why do we accept people paying for cancer treatment? For heart surgery? For insulin? What makes those deaths acceptable over these deaths? Wouldn’t it be better to build a protective society geared towards resilience, so that when things go wrong the ground doesn’t collapse underneath us?

I’m not celebrating what’s happening. I’m saying we need to examine the sweeping changes we’re making, and ask ourselves: was the way we lived before necessary? Was it kind? Was it working? If so, why did we have to change it so drastically when the virus came?

The system had already failed so many of us. It just took the horror of COVID-19 to show us how. Defaulting back to ‘business as usual’ would be a mistake. COVID-19 is the first pandemic of this severity we’ve seen in living memory, but it may not be the last. We have an opportunity to remake ourselves – to grow stronger, and kinder, and better at taking care of each other.


—April 1, 2020

Pandemic life.

Pandemic life.

Resting on my bed dayindayout typingmousingtyping frantic to meet these deadlines—Irish immersion, rushing by like the Shannon in flood—tá mé go maith, cad é an t-am é, dé luain dé máirt dé luain dé máirt dé luain dé máirt dé ceadoin—and meanwhile this mad massive dive into all things wild boarwhere did you come from, fine piggy, fine sow? How did you grow so great? And the spear that took you down, and your bristles that crown the helmets of fine Celtic warriors, and all those piglets swinging from your teats.

Till my neck hardens, head pounds, back screams but—ah!—the luxury of unbroken days to work and eat and feed the birds and stretch these aching bits. No appointments. Few interruptions. Ahhh.

But no walks. No visits. Except online, on phone and online; who knew (I knew!) the things that we could do if only we decided. But why did it take catastrophe to bring us here?

Waiting for the words. Who will die?

Here’s a surprise. My sister, never one to look these things straight on if she can avoid it, suddenly and silently working out her will, and who will take her daughter, and who will take her sons, if she should fall?

Saddens me. Unthinkable. One father down. The mother must remain.

We are all afraid. But we are stretching in ways we never thought to stretch. My brother with one lung as of days ago, and all of us scattered across the globe reaching him through telephones and chat forums and webcams. Letting him know, baby brother, we are here.

One friend tells me stayathome! and brings me food. Another puts her scanner outside my door, touches palm to my palm through the glass, picks up the duct tape left there, retreats. One more brings a table and a chair so I can sit outside and be somewhere else but in-here.

There is joy in this calculated loving. There is joy in having time to read and think and write what we must write. A language is trickling into me. A beautiful vision of an enigmatic beast and how another species came to see it, reflect it, live on it, deify it, strive to embody it steadily grows with every paper I consume, every tale I review, every voice that speaks to me of the great and bristled boar. It will coalesce, I know it. Chants will come of it. Dreams will come of it. Looking in and seeing who and what we can be and are—all of this will come of it, and soon. Deadlines, recall.

While on my feeder a red-lined cloak flares and folds: the flicker male with his stabbing beak. Finches settle. chickadees quarrel. Sparrows hophophop.

It is a beautiful thing. There is death and life together in this moment as never before. My brother soon to leave us. My sister fearing for her life—with reason, I should say. And me, alone yet not alone, in pain and relative safety, drinking in the sight of juncoes on my step, the sound of small birds muttering, the cool air settling toward night. And the Irish washes in. The boar rouses my blood and makes me seek. And the kindnesses abounding among friends and strangers carries me away.


—March 30, 2020

The Solace of Connection

“Thank God we have the work,” my godmother and I keep saying to each other, “thank God we have the work, I don’t know what we’d do without the work.” She’s a painter, and I write. We said it last year when my dad, her big brother, died unexpectedly. We’re saying it now.

Everyone copes differently with stress. For me, writing is a solace, but I sometimes get afraid of saying so because people use that as a bludgeon on themselves: if someone else can do it, why can’t I? Because people vary. People and circumstances vary. So in addition to the novel I’m still revising, I’ve written two stories I wouldn’t have thought of without this, not about plagues or pandemics or anything like that, but still, two completely new from scratch stories. This happened when my dad was in the hospital, too. Different things came to me. The exhaustion came later.

What kind of world will that exhaustion come into? I honestly don’t know. I don’t think any of us does. My hope is that we will have an awareness of how connected we all are, whatever happens. There will be terrible losses, both of people and of the kind of small, quirky institution that does some of the best work for change. We are long past the point where we can pretend that those losses won’t happen, and to do so would be inhumane. But I do have some faint hope that while we will mourn them individually, we will come away with a clearer understanding of what kind of global ecosystem we really do live in. We can’t say, “this is China’s problem,” or “this is Italy’s problem.” Like so much else, it is a human problem, it is a global problem.

The very act of trying to isolate shows us how isolated we aren’t, we can’t be. I hope we’ll remember and learn from that. Since we have to be here, we might as well look around, look closely, and try to learn something. I hope it’s that no one is truly isolated. I hope it’s that none of us, not one of us, is expendable.


—March 28, 2020

A Coronavirus Call for Answers

Dear Everyone,


I hope you’re safe and healthy and away from risk; I hope you’ve got somebody to be with in this. I hope you’re settling in. Getting comfortable, if you can. It becomes clear this isn’t going to be over quick. Everything has been happening so fast, but there’s going to be time to think, to process. For some of us, anyway.

I’m as safe as one can be, where I am: as of yesterday Michigan is third in the US for confirmed cases, and Oakland County is second in the state, ever so slightly beating out Detroit. But I’m isolated, in my own house, with a lot of homebrewed beer and homemade preserves in the basement, a sourdough starter in the fridge, woods, meadows and marshes in walking distance. The garden will be popping soon. I’m home schooling my kid, there’s only one of him, it’s not too bad. I always worked from home.

As for my mental health? I find I want to hear how everyone’s doing all the time. I start to feel like a broken record, asking, but at this same moment in which I’ve never felt less confident in the human capacity to communicate, meaningfully and accurately, I’m also suddenly deeply invested in the everyday boringness of my neighbors, my sisters and my kid’s best friend’s mom trying to figure out how to teach their kids. I want constant reaffirmation that everyone is as okay as they can be under these extraordinary circumstances.

I know a lot of people aren’t.

Environmental justice is a public health issue. This pandemic is exacerbated by climate change, just like extreme weather events, refugee crises and xenophobia. And the people worst hit by it are the people without a safety net: the poor, marginalized, colonized, refugees, people who were already dependent on health care, people who’ve been drinking and breathing pollution all their lives, people without the option to self-isolate, people who’ve been given every reason to distrust the voice of authority. To have spent all this time learning to recognize these effects, preparing to watch them get slowly worse, only to suddenly see that change accelerate exponentially and in real time, is devastating, and has only intensified the feeling that I need to do more–the same feeling that made me start Reckoning in the first place.

So I appealed to Reckoning contributors and staff—some of the people I trust and root for most in the world—to let me know how they’re doing, and to think together about where this is going. This is the result: Creativity and Coronavirus, a series of short essays and poetry on living, thinking for and creating about the future in this time of crisis.


We might end up doing more, but for now, this is it. New words every Monday, as they’re written, until we run out, starting today. Subscribe here, it’s free. As always, Reckoning is a publicly funded non-profit; your support is deeply appreciated though not required. We’re always open to submissions, actively seeking all kinds of writing from marginalized voices. Please submit.

Be safe.