Trip to the Post Office, March 17, 2020
By Phyllis Hillinger
Loose money ready in pocket, flat rate box pre-addressed,
I wait for cars to leave the parking lot then suit up:
hat hitched down to eyebrows, glasses on,
surgical mask over nose and mouth, jacket zipped to chin,
blue nitrile gloves tight. Protection complete.
Selfie snapped for history. And kids.
Backwards, push door open, other rule-breakers inside.
Six feet between us, I stand silent, stare at The Indian Ladder
WPA mural— folks climb Helderberg Escarpment in simpler times.
“I’m not sick. Just old,” I tell clerk who checks my box to California.
Gloved finger hits nothing hazardous, not first class, OK on the touch machine.
I pay, pinch the printed receipt like poison.
Glasses fog, face sweats, I can’t leave fast enough.
On outside steps, I rip off mask, breathe. Glove grazes cheek.
Panic pulls confidence and gloves inside out.
Home, I stash sneakers in garage, coat and hat in washer,
eyeglasses in the sink. Wash my hands and face for twenty seconds.
Contemplate the future. Looking for comfort in chai tea,
I listen to news— deaths rising, DOW falling, borders closing,
anxiety weaving like the spiderweb of COVID-19 cells circling the planet.
Until there’s a vaccine, no more boxes will be sent.
On Every Limb
By Phyllis Hillinger
Red buds are blooming on maple trees, showy flowers on separate branches, every day increasing in size, glorious color
against gray bark and gloomy skies where so few planes are flying where suburban streets are silent because vehicles
have no destination save the driveway as we all stay home.
Red buds are blooming, sunny signs of spring in circular shapes that mimic coronavirus cells that float across
America’s TVs on news announcements recounting dire numbers of infected cases, rising deaths overnight
listed in the little box at the bottom right on a screen we obsessively watch for local updates in our town,
your town, foreign towns, a world upside down.
Red buds rise in our own spaces once comfortable now contaminated, counters where groceries taint, the morning paper,
daily mail, boxes left by Amazon, fearful we may have touched our face before we washed our hands, before we dumped
take-out containers into sanitized bowls, ignoring the flimsy receipt that might hold COVID-19.
Red buds burst open on maple trees as we don masks to take a walk but not talk to neighbors too close, too close,
just a wave and keep walking as long as we can because every cough every sneeze panics us;
the kids doing rainbow drawings on the kitchen table, school work sent on computers from stressed out teachers
with kids of their own bored indoors, out of sorts, away from friends, the routine of listening to someone not
your mother who tells you eat your vegetables now because there are no more until someone brave restocks shelves,
collects them for Instacart, drops paper bags at your door in disposable gloves until those run out,
like ventilators in New York City hospitals where ambulances arrive ten at a time sirens screaming nonstop
in the epicenter where few health care workers have time to take note of spring, where red buds fling filaments in the wind
dyeing the pavement where so many have fallen and sadness and grief hang on every limb.
Professionally, Phyllis Hillinger worked as an educational writer and editor for not-for-profit organizations in Albany, NY. Her poems and memoir pieces are published in anthologies and heard on NPR.
Phyllis writes with the Evergreen Poets Workshop, and is an avid reader, traveler, sailor, and sand castle builder.