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.