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Creature Comforts
by Shelly Blankman

Dedicated to Dr. Barbara Feinstein and the staff of the Cat and Dog Hospital of Columbia, Maryland, and to all other animal caregivers who continue to work under difficult conditions to ensure that our pets stay healthy and safe.

Our calico cat curls in my lap, purrs softly
in sync with the engine of our car, now the
waiting room of the veterinarian’s office.

The glaring sun nearly blocks our windshield view
of masked vets and techs, their clothing wet with sweat,
rushing from car to car, lugging cages of sick cats,
cradling huge dogs, too sick to walk into the office,
now a barricade from a world too fragile for humanity.

Pan stirred, her hurt leg stiff. I kissed her soft fur,
whispered she would be fine, hoping she would be fine,
praying that in this pandemic world, worried owners
would not be waiting in their cars for empty cages, empty arms.
,
Doctors were hard to visit now. Receptionists were working
from home. Patients were seen by computer.
But veterinarians? They were there, the staff stripped of amenities,
layered with restrictions, always at the ready. No breaks, no backup.
They were there to help our Pan, our latest rescue,
in far worse pain than we’d realized, to diagnose her,
to be there for her and for so many other animals
in need of a healing, human touch.

These are the unsung heroes of the pandemic,
offering comfort to creatures who could not speak
the language of pain.

IMAGE: The Shepherdess by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1873).

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NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: My creative process differs from poem to poem, but is usually from personal experience. Animals are very close to my heart, and so when Pan was injured, it broke my heart. As often happens, the poem just evolved from my heart. The process from there was just a matter of mechanics.

PHOTO: Veterinarian Dr. Barbara Feinstein, Cat and Dog Hospital, of Columbia, Maryland.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Shelly Blankman and her husband live in Columbia, Maryland, and have two sons, Richard, who lives in New York, and Joshua, who lives in Texas. She is also an at-home mom of three rescue cats—Stripe, Sheldon, and Pan (found during the pandemic), and a foster dog, Mia. Shelly followed a career path of journalism, public relations, and copy editing. Now she has returned to her first love, poetry. Richard and Joshua surprised her with a book of her poetry, Pumpkinhead, available on Amazon.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Pan is doing fine now! She has been  my greatest source of  comfort following a series of deaths during the pandemic. I think animals are incredible and so are the people who go beyond the call of duty to care for them.

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Pharmacist
by Joan McNerney

She thought of herself as a
modern alchemist. Fluent
in an arcane language
about the composition of so
many minute capsules.

The rest of the store could
be in a gas station or bargain
store. Filled with candies,
lipsticks, other frivolous items.

If you simply had a cough, syrup
could be found on aisle three.
Her area was sacred to patients,
those with serious ailments.

Filling prescriptions navigating
insurance companies, seeking
authorizations. Always aware of
side effects, multiple drug reactions,
possible allergic problems.

Austere yet approachable,
she dispensed heroic potions
from her prized domain
as chemical priestess.

IMAGE: University of Vienna ceiling paintings (Medicine), detail showing Hygeia, goddess of health, by Gustav Klimt (c. 1900-1907).

NOTE: In Greek as well as Roman mythology, Hygeia was one of the Asclepiadae—the sons and daughters of the god of medicine, Asclepius, and his wife Epione. Hygeia was the goddess/personification of health cleanliness, and hygiene.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Quite a while ago I decided to write about people at work. Particularly during the pandemic, we should be grateful to these essential workers.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Joan McNerney’s poetry is found in many literary magazines, such as Seven Circle Press, Dinner with the Muse, Poet Warriors, Blueline, and Halcyon Days, as well as in four Bright Hills Press anthologies, several editions of the  Poppy Road Review, and numerous Spectrum Publications. She has four Best of the Net nominations. Her latest title, The Muse In Miniature, is available on Amazon.com and Cyberwit.net.

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I Do Not Know Your Name
by Ann Christine Tabaka

I do not know your name,
but you were there for me,
there for everybody.
I was hurting,
I was scared,
I needed help.

It was a frightening time – it IS a frightening time.
There are no answers, only questions.
The world is upside down.
There is nowhere to turn that is safe right now.
You stood there – a soldier for the cause,
letting me know / letting everyone know
it would be okay.

Quietly, efficiently, you did what you needed to do.
I was in your capable hands as I was rolled into surgery.
You were / are one of the countless,
behind the masks,
wearing white or green.
You put your life at risk every hour – every day.
Tirelessly you work to save others,
thinking little of yourself and your own needs.

Many would not be here today without you,
an angel in scrubs and sturdy shoes.
You are one among a rank of caring souls,
that reach out with a passion for life.
You left my world as quickly as you entered,
but you are there, always there …
I do not know your name – you are every Nurse.

PHOTO: Guardian angel nurse by Sathish Kumar Periyasamy, used by permission.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This is a true story. I am 69 years old and needed surgery during the midst of the pandemic, when many elective surgeries were put on hold. I had to find a new doctor since mine had left the area.  The new doctor was wonderful, and scheduled me to have the surgery within two weeks’ time. All the nurses and technicians at the hospital were wonderful and caring. I never learned all of their names, but each one treated me as if I was the most important person in the world at that exact moment.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ann Christine Tabaka was nominated for the 2017 Pushcart Prize in Poetry. She is the winner of Spillwords Press 2020 Publication of the Year, and her bio is featured in the “Who’s Who of Emerging Writers 2020,” published by Sweetycat Press. Internationally published, she has won poetry awards from numerous publications. Her work has been translated into Sequoyah-Cherokee Syllabics and into Spanish. She is the author of 11 poetry books and has recently been published in several micro-fiction anthologies and short story publications.  A resident of Delaware, where she lives with her husband and four cats, she loves gardening and cooking. Her most recent credits are The American Writers Review; The Phoenix; Burningword Literary Journal; Muddy River Poetry Review; The Write Connection; The Scribe, North of Oxford, Pomona Valley Review, Page & Spine, West Texas Literary Review, The Hungry Chimera, Sheila-Na-Gig, Foliate Oak Review, The Stray Branch, The McKinley Review, Fourth & Sycamore. Visit her at annchristinetabaka.com and on her Amazon author’s page.

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Nurse
by Mary McCarthy

She knew death
Was always in the cards
Whether slow or sudden
The eventual outcome
Coming to us all
Knew it from the first
Days in training
Hands and mind learning
All the sorrows of the flesh
The ones we hope to cure
And those we can offer
No more than comfort
And she knew it never was
And never would be easy—
But now the cruel terms
Of this pandemic
Teach an even harder lesson
Forcing so many
To die among strangers
With no beloved face
No familiar voice
Or hand to hold
Without the chance to speak
One last time
Silenced by the machine
That breathes for them
Stealing all the words
They might have said
She is there for them
Day after day
Behind her mask and shield
Her gown and gloves
Her living heart
Taking on the burden
Of loss after loss
Bearing witness and comfort
In her hands
The last to see them
To touch and speak
To be with them
And forever
Remember all their names

PHOTO: Nurse wearing PPE. Photo by Anupong Intawong, used by permission.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:  I was recently in the hospital for Covid-19, and witnessed the nurses on the pandemic’s front line as they kept all the quarantine protocols in action, and were invariably kind through all the stresses of working on a ward with all patients in isolation, many critically ill, while they worked long shifts wearing layers of protective gear. For someone, like me, who had been a nurse, this pandemic carries a sense of solidarity and understanding for the front-line workers. I had to spend a (blessedly) brief time on the Covid unit of my local hospital when pneumonia made the simple act of breathing an exhausting struggle. I watched the nurses as they kept strict isolation with care and efficiency, putting on all the cumbrous gear every time they entered my room, stripping it all off when they left, being careful not to carry things from room to room, and yet being unfailingly kind, responsive, and observant. Their situation working in this environment reminded me of my own experiences when AIDS was something new and deadly that we knew very little about, and everyone worked with apprehension as well as dedication and determination to give the best care and be the best advocate for the patient, who was also frightened, and often without much real family support.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mary McCarthy spent most of her working life as a Registered Nurse. She is also a writer whose work has appeared in many journals and anthologies, and has an electronic chapbook,  Things I Was Told Not to Think About, available as a free download from Praxis magazine.

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Lullaby at Dawn
by Jo Taylor

I remember it was your college years.
A weekend at home, and you were sleeping
in. An act of mutiny for your grandmother
who had raised nine children during
the Great Depression and the war years
and who had never slept past sunup
in the nine decades of her life. She simply
could not contain herself. Now that one
don’t do nothin’.

Today in this global pandemic, I see
you working the night shift,
your big brown eyes behind shield
and N-95, and I swell with pride. I hear
your stories from the ICU, about another
granddaughter facetiming you to help
her say goodbye to her beloved matriarch,
your sobs and chest heaves clouding
the plexiglass masque like steam rising
from a body of water after a summer rain;
about a coworker holding her sibling’s hand
every day, exhorting him to return to life;
about the young nursing student with whom
you feel a special affinity, rallying when iron
lung and human spirit and the Divine mesh
for a miracle.

And for the record, my daughter, as Aurora
signals the end of yet one more long night,
I suggest there are other kin beaming
and bragging and swelling with pride.
If you close your eyes and lean in quietly,
you might hear the aged one humming
“Brahms’ Lullaby” from across the Milky Way.
I bet she is whispering, Sweet dreams.

PHOTO: The author’s daughter, Cortney Wade, at the hospital where she works.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: “Lullaby at Dawn” was written to recognize my daughter’s contribution to alleviating suffering during the coronavirus pandemic. She is a perfusionist, who, in normal times, is part of a heart surgery team, but who in these days also works with COVID patients who rely on the ECMO (a machine that circulates blood through an iron lung, allowing the body to rest). Her stories are both heartwarming and heart-wrenching.  Needless to say, her work makes a mother proud.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jo Taylor is a retired, 35-year English teacher from Georgia. Her favorite genre to teach high school students was poetry, and today she dedicates more time to writing it. She writes to bear witness, to give testimony to the past and to her heritage. She has been published in The Ekphrastic Review, Silver Birch Press, Poets Online, Literary North, Heart of Flesh Literary Journal, and One Art.

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A Family of Doctors Treating Covid
by Margaret Duda

My son, my daughter, and my son-in-law don PPEs,
Examine patients, offer assurances, ignore risks to treat,
Then come home to undress, wash clothes, and shower,
Before feeding families also dependent on their care.
Already exhausted, they assist children in virtual classes,
Call others in college, offer spousal support to those they love.
On family zooms, I see lines under their eyes and furrowed brows,
As they join games of Boggle and wish they were in bed asleep.
The days turn into weeks which turn into months of detailed
Tele-med calls to patients at high risk, long shifts at hospitals.
I wait and hear about millions infected, thousands dying, and worry,
Worry about my children working through a pandemic to save lives.

IMAGE: Minerva, Roman goddess of medicine. Detail from painting Pallas and the Centaur by Sandro Botticelli (1482). 

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Mother to four and grandmother to seven, I worry about everyone in my large family, but that is what mothers do.  I have not been able to hug them since Christmas because of my age and risk factors, but am trying to stay well for myself and for them. I know the doctors did not dream of being in this position someday, and they work with doctors who have gotten ill themselves. I cannot imagine the courage it takes for them just to go to work. Most patients do not realize they have other lives, where their families depend on them as well. I pray for an end to the pandemic so that I can breathe again.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: A professional author, photographer, and jewelry designer, Margaret Duda has had her work published in The Kansas Quarterly, The Michigan Quarterly Review, Crosscurrents, The South Carolina Review, The Green River Review, Fine Arts Discovery, The Green River Review, and Venture.  One of her short stories made the distinctive list of Best American Short Stories. She also had a play produced in Michigan, has had several books of nonfiction published, and took travel photos for the New York Times for 10 years. She lives in Pennsylvania and is now working on the final draft of an immigrant family saga novel set in a steel mill town, and is writing poetry to find a shred of sanity during this pandemic.

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House Sparrows
by Kelley White

–after Mary Oliver

–for Annie, Janine, Frances, Kathleen & Linda

You do not have to be brave.
You do not have to come into work
when the disease flares
or chemotherapy
leaves you retching.
You only have to let the dear spirit of your
body heal
when it heals.
Tell me about your pain, yours, and I will listen
despite mine.
Meanwhile this life goes on.
Meanwhile the children laugh and the sweet bubbles of
their laugher
are singing across the ghetto
over abandoned houses and crack vials,
over the empty lots and projects.
Meanwhile the brown and gray sparrows, busy in the dull
gray sky
are building their nests.
I know you, I think of you living alone,
I praise your hope and dedication,
I watch you work like the sparrows, steady and
faithful,
building and rebuilding your peace
in the anger of life.

Published in Philadelphia Poets, July 2008

PHOTO: Sparrow building a nest. Photo by Mehul Agrawal, used by permission. 

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NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This older poem came to mind when I began reading the wonderful work in the PRIME MOVERS Series. Many of my co-workers, the mainstays of the urban neighborhood health center where I have worked for nearly three decades, are older women with underlying health conditions. (Actually, that group includes me.) Throughout the pandemic they have continued to arrive daily to serve their duties as the unsung workers in the health field—reception staff, medical record clerks, medical assistants, telephone operators—often needing to take several types of public transportation. Many are well past retirement age (two are in their eighties!) but are still the major wage earners in their families. They face anxious and challenging patients with few thanks. I hope I remember to respect and thank them.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: This 1989 photograph shows a pregnant me (right) with one of my favorite medical assistants. We worked together from 1983 till about 1990 in an urban community health center. Remarkably, I still work with a medical assistant who was at the center several years before I joined, which is nearly 40 years ago. I spent 1983-2008 at a federally qualified health center in a tough part of Philadelphia then moved back to my home state, New Hampshire, to be near my mother in the last decade of her life, working at a rural FQHC from 2008-2018. I never thought I’d return to Philadelphia but after my mother’s death at age 91, I found myself with grandchildren in the city and returned to the original health center, finding an aging but still dedicated staff and now see many grandchildren of my original patients.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Pediatrician Kelley White has worked in inner city Philadelphia and rural New Hampshire. Her poems have appeared in Exquisite Corpse, Rattle and JAMA. Her recent books are Toxic Environment (Boston Poet Press) and Two Birds in Flame (Beech River Books.) She received a 2008 Pennsylvania Council on the Arts grant.

PHOTO: The author with granddaughter Evelyn.

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PHOTO: Shoppers practice social distancing while lined up at Costco (April 2020). Photo by Kathy Images1, used by permission.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I’ve been a health-care worker for In-Home Support Services for over three years and was a private care provider before that. As an essential worker, I do the shopping and other legwork so my client can stay home and not be exposed to COVID-19. I couldn’t tell you how much of what people feel in the first-responder line is shared necessity, how much is shared time with others serving our communities, or how much is an enforced time-out that lets us regroup.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jonathan Yungkans is a Los Angeles-based writer and photographer with an MFA from California State University, Long Beach. His work has appeared in San Pedro Poetry Review, Synkroniciti, West Texas Literary Review, and other publications. His second poetry chapbook, Beneath a Glazed Shimmer, won the 2019 Clockwise Chapbook Prize and is slated for release by Tebor Bach Publishing in 2020.

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Graphic by Yekaterina Nalimanova, used by permission.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: My Aunt, who resides in an upstate New York state nursing facility, is the topic of this true poem. She is grateful to the dedicated medical staff, both caregivers and companions. Her family is most grateful that she is safe and hope to be able to resume in-person visits soon.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Julie A. Dickson is a New Hampshire poet whose work addresses nature, current events, animal welfare, elephants in captivity. Her poetry has appeared in various journals, including Ekphrastic Review, Poetry Quarterly, Blue Heron Review, The Avocet and The Harvard Press. She is a member of the Poetry Society of New Hampshire, and has coordinated workshops as well as 100 Thousand Poets for Change. Her full-length works of poetry and Young Adult fiction can be found on Amazon.

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The Bubble Gum Effect
by Vandita Dharni

Relentless efforts of the caregiver have spawned atoms of resilience and kept dad sprightly and positive despite battling with the immobilizing Parkinson’s disease. This short-statured, unassuming lad regales his patient by administering tidal waves of laughter to combat the avalanches of depression that would have otherwise surfaced.

Raj can heave up a patient almost five inches taller than him like a professional WWF wrestler. He is a true companion, taking dad for regular walks within the periphery of our home and keeping him well-groomed with a meticulous sense of hygiene. He keeps a track of his doctor’s appointments, medication schedules, and physiotherapy despite Dad’s restricted movement due to his age, the Parkinson’s disease, and now the fear of contracting the ghost virus that stalks us.

Since the onslaught of Covid-19 in April, Raj has voluntarily taken up lodgings at our home as commuting everyday would put the family at risk, especially our 80-year-old dad who has low immunity and a B-12 deficiency, the result of his strict vegetarianism. Our Man Friday ensures that the diet contains adequate nutrients to prevent osteoporosis and further complications. Fruits, salads, and cheese have fostered Dad’s immunity and kept the doctor away and depression at bay so far. Raj’s comforting presence soothes Dad’s irritability that often stems from dementia and childish stubbornness, particularly his insistence on wanting to venture out despite the hazards of the deadly virus.

I often find them laughing at ludicrous jokes on the phone or when our handy man is tickling a funny bone that erupts in guffaws. Seeing Dad happy, evokes a sense of relief that in these challenging times, we still have love and laughter sticking to us like bubble gum.

PHOTO: Selfie snapped by Raj.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Covid-19 has crippled the lifestyle of people across the globe, including the city of Chandigarh, India. However, we are blessed to have a wonderful and compassionate caregiver for our dad. Our dad is an 80-year-old army veteran grappling with Parkinson’s disease. Raj has been a constant companion who keeps motivating dad to be positive, and so far we have been able to ward off the threat of the virus. Raj has worked as a Patient Care Assistant at the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), a medical and research institution in Chandigarh, a leading tertiary care hospital of the region that caters to patients from all over Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, and Haryana.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Vandita Dharni is an acclaimed poet, scholar and, a gold medalist from the University of Allahabad, India. She has a Ph.D.  degree in American Literature from the same university. Her articles, poems, and stories have been published in many journals, including Criterion, Ruminations, GNOSIS, HellBound Publishing House, as well as International magazines such as Immagine, Poessia, Synchronised Chaos, Poleart Albani, Sipay, Fasihi, Guido Gozzano. Her books include The Oyster of Love,  Rippling Overtures, and Quintessential Outpourings, and she is the proud recipient of the Poetic Galaxy Award 2018, the World Poetic Star Award 2019, and the Rabindranath Tagore Award 2020. Her work recently appeared in Our Poetry Archive.