Two Pandemic Sonnets

Poet and physician John Okrent will speak at the Wellfleet Library on September 8.

John Okrent’s first book, This costly season: a crown of sonnets, was published by Arrowsmith Press in 2021. Okrent is a family physician who works at Sea Mar Community Health Center in Tacoma, Washington, where he lives with his wife and two young children in a fisherman’s cabin in Puget Sound. His poetry has appeared in Ploughshares, Feather, Northwest Poetry, Field, and the Seattle Times, and he won the 2021 Jeff Marks Memorial Prize. The book’s 49 poems, written between March and September 2020, express his experience on the frontlines of the Covid-19 outbreak. Okrent will speak at the Wellfleet Public Library in its Author Lecture Series on Thursday, September 8 at 7 p.m.

March 22, 2020

You don’t know what I mean but if beauty

is the truth, the beauty of the truth, then life is in layers

in redundancy. It was fog on fog on fern moss

this morning when I took my daughter

for a walk in the woods. From the palm

from my hand, she took pieces of granola. Crown-

virus has killed its thousands now, and now

its tens of thousands. two teenagers

ran by us on the way; the smell of their deodorant

reminded me of a time when the world was exuberant,

or floating, at least. He sinks,

this flowing thing. We haven’t seen another soul all day.

The look seemed prehistoric on my bare face.

I shaved off my beard so the mask could hold.

May 5, 2020

It’s nice to be happy to see a person

every time you see them, like I had to see Juan,

the maintenance man, with whom it was always the same

fraternal greeting – each of us clapping our fists

on his heart and smiling, as if we were sharing a joke,

or bread. I barely knew him. Evenings in the clinic,

me finishing my work, him starting his…

fluorescence dulling at onset of darkness. He was not even fifty years old,

had four grandchildren, fixed what was broken, cleaned

for us, caught the virus and died on his couch

Last weekend. And by what right did I write this poem,

who will not see him in his ash uniform,

just remember him, in his Seahawks cap, and far from sick,

lock himself in after me, put on his music.

Both poems copyright 2021 by John Okrent; All rights reserved. Reprinted from This Expensive Season: A Crown of Sonnets (Arrowsmith Press) with permission from the author.

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