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Since the pandemic is over

By Khadijah Queen

Let’s skip past the facts, uncounted
deaths, pretend the seas of free faces soothe &
vaccines can protect us, you, me, my loves, stuck home
since early 2020, but I saw the slide
happening sooner, got sick mid-fall
2019 on the plane home from London, locked myself in
my cold bedroom so no one else would suffer,
held my sick breath under blankets &
heated ginger & honey & lemon & garlic &
clove & cayenne concoctions on the stove for six days.
Recovery took the rest of October & November too
but I kept my family well & since the pandemic is
over, I’m often the only masked one
left in any room, carting purifiers & Clorox
everywhere. No chance of embarrassment
shaming me into silly-risking health & lives.
The president declared the pandemic
over—I agree. Disaster mutates
intention in directions more sinister,
spiking the language of care
sharp with lies so transparent you don’t feel
how they cut you until you drop dead
but maybe you feel the wound open every time
you go outside & see how many people have to
or decide to playact in the name of paychecks & meetings
& concerts & mani-pedis & indoor dining. Fun!
Since the pandemic is over I drive
eight-turned-eleven hours in New York City
bridge traffic to reach my mother
two days after she half-recovered from her second
infection in four months, surrender to the numbers
& charts made meaningless by media neglect
since the pandemic is over. How long
will I get to hold my mother’s cool hands, evenings,
sanitizing after, since dry coughs still
erupt, hold my breath under the mask & sear in memory
each wrinkle loved & worked
& suffered into being & I hate
I can’t bring her home with me, quit my job
since the pandemic is over, lavish
a daughter’s care on her last visions
turned delusions since the beforetimes,
made violent by virtue of repetition & a lifetime’s naïve
habit of walking into harm. I visit her small room
since she can’t walk anymore, bring healthy treats,
bring all the protections I can afford, little packets of
pecans & industrial purifiers, small drawings & soft blankets,
shea butter & collagen cream we hope won’t get stolen, watch
the masks of care workers cascade down
red noses, watch their fingers pull baggy blues
below chins to clarify speech, dousing us in breath
tests fail to catch viruses in, since
the pandemic is over. I bought mom a smart TV
because she likes to watch the news, old movies,
animal shows. Mouths on screen
move & make too-rich whiteness froth
over our eyes. Captioned words milk the green
electronically from us, automatic
before seeding anything living
since, supposedly, the pandemic ended.
I watch televised officials enforce a slavish capital
allegiance to commercial radiance,
death-reddened states greened to get us
back to work, ignorance
keening open our sad wallets.
Since TV declared low interest in masks,
interest rates began climbing instead.
We breathe in the invisible culling
animated on early socials as
neon particles passed between models—
computer-constructed humanoids, faces
smooth & eyeless, masked or not. What shadows.
Now the pandemic is over. Open
mouths go viral with sneezes,
snot & coughs travel the air unfiltered, masks no longer
mountaining evilly over the danger-holes
our faces represent. Smiles rule now, benevolent
teeth beaming white since the pandemic
became “endemic.” Never mind the overfull
children’s hospitals & mass graves at the start,
an April 2022 with my aunt getting COVID in the hospital
& dying, my cousin weeping over her feet, her hands,
my mother nearly losing the will to live
inside the grief of her sister disappearing
too soon & wrongly into the millions & millions dead,
more to come—but we’ve stopped counting since
the pandemic is over. Now,
crowds risk with individual joy
each one of their 60,000 miles of blood
vessels the virus attacks, yes, multiplied by the hundreds
of millions, serving our dollar-driven
public mission: denial. It’s over
isn’t it, I’ll have to keep on losing
time, faith, health, sisters, blow up photos of my elders
& keep from weeping over their ashes
so as not to disturb, not ask for more
grieving room, a free space to remember
their good & constant care, their hands that held me so
close, I still feel them




Listen as Khadijah Queen readsSince the pandemic is over.”

Added: Wednesday, September 6, 2023  /  Used with permission.
Khadijah Queen
Photo by T. Amari.

Khadijah Queen is the author of six books of poetry and hybrid prose, most recently Anodyne (Tin House 2020), winner of the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America. Individual poems, interviews, and essays appear in Ploughshares, American Poetry Review, Georgia Review, The Believer, Poets & Writers Magazine, Fence, Poetry, Gulf Coast, The Offing, The Poetry Review (UK), and widely elsewhere. With K. Ibura, she co-edited Infinite Constellations (FC2 2023), a multi-genre anthology of speculative writing by authors from the global majority. A Cave Canem alum and a 2022 United States Artists Disability Futures Fellow, she holds a PhD in English and Literary Arts from University of Denver.

Image Description: Khadijah Queen looks forward with a slight smile. Her long silver hair is swept to one side and rests on her right shoulder. She wears a white v-neck shirt, a small gold necklace, and gold earrings with a braided texture. In the background, there is a white house with blue shutters, a boat floating on a body of water, and a clear blue sky.

Other poems by this author