yungkans copy
Like Some Pocket History of the World, So General
     after John Ashbery
by Jonathan Yungkans

—stretching silences into footfalls from eye to hand,
dimes left to gravity beneath a black steel banister—

bandit black masked and surgeon milk-blue masked

—steps weighed with groceries, skirted and sweatered,
or business suited, tie dancing a hanged man’s jig—

clothed in antiseptic lack of words to avoid contagion

—briefcase full of day’s crimes and misdemeanors,
muted clatter reverberant in heartbeat and vibration—

past averted eyes, astringent shoot-in-self-defense eyes

—hurry and drag, the unsocialness of social distancing,
fear to keep distant, so as not to share breath and die—

as if lack of eye contact would somehow kill a virus

—in the hollow iron ring of flight after flight of stairs,
clatter of loose change, a fall without a hand to catch—

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: While I’ve experienced some welcome moments of empathy and solidarity during the Covid-19 pandemic, there has more often been an atmosphere of tenuousness, of not knowing who might literally kill you though a kind gesture or conversation. As a health-care provider, I have to go into public places as part of my job, so my clients can survive. This poem came in snatches—individual sounds and images—and centered themselves like people up and down a staircase. It is partly ekphrastic, thanks to a photograph by Kenneth Borg, and partly inspired by the story of Jacob’s dream (Genesis 28:12), when he saw angels ascending and descending a staircase between earth and heaven. The Ashbery line used as the title reminds me that we can’t divorce ourselves from humanity, no matter how much we self-isolate. The word “pocket” also suggests face masks, stuffing our faces into pockets in a bid to survive—and the painful sequestering of our sense of community into someplace deep and hidden, in dread that we might lose our lives.


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.