Archives for posts with tag: frontline workers

Prayer for Infrastructure
by Rick Lupert

The prayer for being able to order food online

A hundred years ago
check that – fifty years ago
check that – ten years ago
our path to filling the refrigerator
and the cabinets, and ultimately
our stomachs and the stomachs of those we love
involved driving to the supermarket and
wandering its aisles with a cart we had
no license to drive.

We knew something might be up when
they started providing wipes for the handles
God forbid we should touch something
someone else has touched.

We can still put our masks on and
as long as we stay six feet from anyone who breathes
and honor the spaced-out marks taped to the floors
we can still search those aisles, though
the images of too many empty shelves
is haunting. As far as I can tell, there’s no flour
for a million miles.

But if we choose not to assume this in-person risk
the electronic Gods have provided us with
the buttons we need to bring the essentials into our homes.
The Freshs, The Instas, The Dashes, the Grubs
All we have to do is move our mice, or rub our fingers
across our personal devices and the staples of our existence
not to mention the fully prepared offerings of our
favorite in-person haunts, will arrive at our door
contact-free on the porches of our limitation.

No one goes hungry during this pandemic.

We will drink
We will eat
We will be sated

The prayer for being able to Zoom

Whoa is the person who lives alone during the pandemic.
their only friend being familial glimpses in the mirror

Whoa are the roommates who only have each other’s air to breathe.
Whoa are the spouses who originally agreed to til death do is part
but assumed there’d be breaks, right?

Whoa are the people who crave physical human touch
the huggers, the hand holders and shakers, the fist bumpers.
the sound of another breath missing from our track.

In another generation we’d have almost forgotten
the movement of lips, the blinks of eyes, the tenor of voices.

But today our electronic infrastructure allows us
to be in the same room as everyone we’ve ever known.

Our parents in whatever state they’re in.
Our regular crowds for Passover seders.
You want concerts? There’s more live music
broadcasting to your screens than anything ever-paloozad.

We are safer electronically together.
We are growing our beards and not just because of the Omer.
We are seeing the true colors of our hairs
on the head of everyone we’ve ever loved or wanted to love.
We are Zoom-zooming and adding the word live to
our entire online ennui.

We hardly had to learn how to do this.
It was already there when they turned off the outside.
We’ve been preparing for this the whole time.

So until we can go skin on skin
breath on breath again.

Thank you to the prophets of Silicon Valley
for making it so we can digitally commingle.
As it says in the very first story –
It is not good for us to be alone.

and thanks to them
we are not.

The prayer for front line workers

We used to be specific about who we
applied the word hero to.
Our doctors, and firefighting professionals
Our activists, and soldiers
Our law enforcement professionals
and the occasional politician who stuck to their morals.

We sometimes confabulate the words hero and fame
We’re in awe of our rock stars and movie stars
Certain authors get the royal treatment
and in some communities just being the person who tells you the weather
will get you a better seat at dinner.

We never considered the grocery store shelf stocker
the checkout person, the mail carrier
the one who brings us our boxes, often in two days or less.
How about the one who is willing to go into
the store for us, or the restaurant
to gather the things we need, or even just want.

Someone’s bringing me a new TV today because
I wouldn’t dare leave the house.

These people doing these tasks we used to think mundane
are literally, and I’m, literally not one to use the word literally
risking their lives so ours can continue to thrive.
I’d say they are our new heroes
but I think they’ve been our silent heroes this whole time.
Anyone who does anything to keep the world moving
so we are given the confidence to know that the
sun will keep shining on the next new day
is essential.

Blessed are people and everything they do.
Our world goes around on the back of their Torah.

SOURCE: The third part of this poem (The prayer for front line workers) originally appeared on the Union for Reform Judaism’s blog.

IMAGE: I and the Village by Marc Chagall (1911).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: The thing that really struck me when the quarantine started…when we were being bombarded with images of empty shelves, and people were hoarding toilet paper like we had just lost the recipe to make it, was how I could immediately take advantage of the existing electronic infrastructure to have whatever I need brought to my house, keeping me safe and provided for. This isn’t something that needed to be put together, but which was already here. I can’t imagine how they did this during the last pandemic. Amidst this terrible situation, we are so lucky.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rick Lupert has been involved with L.A. poetry since 1990. He is the recipient of the 2014 Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center Distinguished Service Award and was a co-director of the Valley Contemporary Poets for two years. He created the Poetry Super Highway  and hosted the weekly Cobalt Cafe reading for almost 21 years. His first spoken word album Rick Lupert Live and Dead, featuring 25 studio and live tracks, was released in March 2016. He’s authored 25 collections of poetry, including The Toyko-Van Nuys Express (Ain’t Got No Press, August 2020), Hunka Hunka Howdy, Beautiful Mistakes, and God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion, and edited the anthologies Ekphrastia Gone Wild,  A Poet’s Siddur, A Poet’s Haggadah, and the noir anthology The Night Goes on All Night. He also writes and draws (with Brendan Constantine) the daily web comic Cat and Banana and writes the Jewish Poetry column “From the Lupertverse” for Jewish Journal. He is regularly featured at venues all over the world. Follow him on Facebook.

Author Photo by Alexis Rhone Fancher


Thank you, Thanks you all.
by Joan Leotta

Driving North on I-95 in March During the Pandemic—Thank you to Everyone Along the Way, Thank you to the Workers Who Made Her Move Possible in the time of Covid.

Dogwood, redbud, already bloomed where we live in North Carolina,
now pop out from between leaf buds of their deciduous brethren in the more oaken than pine forests of Virginia as we glide north on an almost empty asphalt ribbon. Usually packed with cars and trucks, now only the occasional vehicle passes, and we hope that gas stations and state visitor centers are open for the necessities, gasoline, and rest stops. Lunch is packed this time to eat in the car as we drive up to help our daughter transition from her condo to a newly built townhouse.


Arriving, we bear witness with her the empty streets in Washington, closed stores, restricted hours, and help her balance on the emotional tightrope of possible closure and the need to leave her old house to transfer her goods, to make a new place her home. Will cable be able to connect so she can work from home? Will the movers be considered “essential?”

Amid all that uncertainty, we, her parents, bring the spring of certainty that whatever else has changed, whatever strictures, sadnesses that Covid carries, she has our love and will survive any storm and that she will surely bloom.

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Yes, the workers were allowed to finish the construction, bankers met, movers came on time, garage door was installed, cable was connected, and we were able celebrate with dinner in her new home. We stood at the window, looked out, and raised a glass to thank them all, although we could not invite them in.

Graphic by BilltheCat, used by permission. 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: When she is not playing with words on page or stage, Joan Leotta loves nothing more than sitting at table or walking the beach, laughing and talking with family. She spins poems, articles, essays, short stories, and performance pieces most often around her core interests—food, family, nature, travel, and strong women. Her poetry books include  Languid Lusciousness with Lemon (Finishing Line Press), Nature’s Gifts from Stanzaic Stylings (free online), and a mini-book from origami poems (free, but also printable). Another short collection will be released by Origami in 2020. Visit her at and on Facebook.

PHOTO: The author (left) with daughter Jennie and husband Joe.

Paul Kempner
The Trains Must Run on Time Even if the Cars Are Empty
by Howard Richard Debs

I have ridden the New Haven Line
on the Metro-North Railroad
coming in from New Rochelle
with stops along the way
at Pelham, Mt. Vernon East,
Botanical Garden, Tremont,
Melrose, Harlem
to end the run at
Grand Central Station
cathedral of train terminals
where people from all
these and other places
stream together in what
seem constant waves
filling the cavernous halls
to fulsome measure
for now, not so.
He works the Hudson Line,
starts at Poughkeepsie,
I’ve been there too, on
the way to Hyde Park
up the river to dine at
The Culinary Institute
of America, wondering
why the Hudson Line
didn’t extend that far;
it follows the river,
where the Sloop
Clearwater sails,
the organization emblem
of Pete Seeger’s dream;
soon they will restream
their Music Festival,
for now the virtual Great
Hudson River Revival
an annual call to
environmental action,
for now without echoes
on the river’s banks.
The train goes through
Beacon, Peekskill, Dobbs Ferry,
Yonkers, Riverdale, Yankees,
few tickets punched for that stop,
for now. He tells of
passengers who no longer
ride, the nonagenarian lawyer
who went into work in Manhattan
almost every day, and took the
last train going home. He’d
hold her bags and help her
down the platform. She
doesn’t travel into the city
for now, but he has her
number and they text each other—
for now.

PHOTO: Pictured is Paul Kempner, who has worked 22 years as a conductor for the Metro-North Railroad in New York. Photo by Stephen Wilkes, used with permission

Included quote from article by Marilyn Milloy, reprinted with permission, AARP The Magazine, Copyright 2020 AARP.  All rights reserved. Metro-North Railroad route map, used with permission

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: The theme for this series is Prime Movers, focusing, rightly so, on the people who keep things going in these harrowing times, people like Paul Kempner. But infrastructure, institutions, organizations, also have a major role as prime movers in a real sense too. The Metro-North Railroad is one such entity. For information about an important way those who may wish to do so can help others during the pandemic and receive a special gift for such help go to TrainsMustRun and thank you for that.


Howard Richard Debs is a recipient of the 2015 Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Award. His essays, fiction, and poetry appear internationally in numerous publications. His photography is featured in select publications, including in Rattle online as “Ekphrastic Challenge” artist and guest editor. His book Gallery: A Collection of Pictures and Words (Scarlet Leaf Publishing), is the recipient of a 2017 Best Book Award and 2018 Book Excellence Award. His new chapbook Political, ( will be released in October 2020. He is co-editor of New Voices: Contemporary Writers Confronting the Holocaust, forthcoming in 2021 from Vallentine Mitchell of London, publisher of the first English language edition of the diary of Anne Frank. He is listed in the Poets & Writers Directory.

usps face mask

My Postal Lady
by Michelle Kogan

My postal lady stands at attention–
Warden style, pensive and alert–
Garbed in one of her multiple-well-fitted masks,
behind interweaving layers of
which guard her, and are
only interrupted at intervals
for human hands to pass packages
into her quasi-protected lair.
Although from our social-distant spot
she may appear unapproachable—
Don’t be fooled,
if you wait your turn
you may be surprised . . .
Watch her as she dutifully
intercepts and directs all
our precious pieces of mail.

She will, JUMP—
Though will never draw blood.
She did with me,
after handing me my
International mail form,
for my poetry package
off to another poet friend
in Australia.
Gruffly she said,
mail from our country sits for weeks
after arriving in another country . . .
I asked, “Can I come to the front
after filling out my form?”
—“NO—Get back in line,”
I did, and filled out my form,
while waiting with others,
six feet between us,
with more waiting,
and more waiting

it was my turn,
I moved forward—
She prompted me with mail questions,
continuing with full cognition,
I stumbled with my credit card,
apologizing with, I’m rarely out
and out of practice.
“I’m teaching online,” I said,
“and the post office is
one of the few places I frequent.”
“You’re teaching online,” she asked.
“How’s that going?”
Her daughter came into our conversation,
A missed cruise they were supposed to take—
“How is she,” I asked.
“Fine, covered from head to toe in protective gear,
like an amazon warrior ready for battle.”
We laughed together,
She lingered in conversation—
Always attentive to her task—
“How are you,” I asked.
She chuckled and
shared her daily ritual
after returning from work.
Voiding all worn—
Selecting a new mask for tomorrow—
She’s received many masks from postal patrons,
and feels it’s only right to wear them.
Finally, she unwinds
with watching something.
Briefly we shared our universe . . .
We parted with thanks, and smiles.

Till next time—
My postal lady—
Dear postal lady
Be safe.

Till next time

A Chicago artist always writing poetry!

PHOTO: Post Office face mask by MadeBeyoutiful, available at

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I draw, paint, and write stories and an unending output of poems. This flow began about 10 years ago with haikus—I’d write while on walks—and has grown over the years in amount, forms, and desire. I also started following a handful of poetry blogs, reading more poetry, and attending poetry workshops at the Poetry Foundation in Chicago. I love the challenge and focus of poem prompts—to me they’re a puzzle waiting to be solved. A prompt is an invitation to write on something I may not have written on; it may bring ah-ha moments and spur on other ideas. I’ve always loved words. When I was very young I would underline and write down words I didn’t know so I could look them up. The magic came in the dictionary—there were rivers and rivers of words, and I went down many rabbit holes when looking for just a few definitions. And then there were pictures too, and I planned on studying art. I have these two equally powerful passions, writing and art—I have to do both, it’s like breathing.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Michelle Kogan, a poet, writer, artist, and instructor, balances her writing and art with nature, critters, and calls from humanity, emerging from her Chicago roots and beyond. Her poems are in a handful of poetry anthologies, including The Best of Today’s Little Ditty Volume I, II, and III, and Imperfect: poems about mistakes: an anthology for middle schoolers. Her artwork is in the collection of The University of Illinois Chicago, Biological Sciences Department; the Chicago Academy of Sciences and its Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, Chicago, Illinois; private collections, the book Chicago Creatures: Animal Encounters in the Chicago Wilderness; and many catalogues. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram. Find out more at her website:; her blog:, and her Etsy Shop:

A Small Coop Market Helps Local Farmers
by Beth Fox

How will they make it? I wonder,
when the pandemic hits the tiny coop
on a back street, in small town New Hampshire.
The struggle is on to find products
fill shelves, provide
what discerning clients want.

I watch events unfold. Online,
the eye-catching checklists
become easier to use.
Texting to check for timing
and product, it is so easy
to pick up bagged groceries
with the slide of a card,
smile behind masks.
To keep everyone safe, there
are free handmade masks
for anyone who needs one.

Meal planning goes back to
the old-time way; I use
what’s in the cupboard.

Then the coop fosters
the pop-up farmer’s market,
enlisting a vacant parking lot
at their doors. Windy Saturdays
in March, hungry locals drive thru,
wait in line for orders pre-placed.

We get better at it,
pick out the boys’ fresh catch,
fish that couldn’t be any fresher,
crusty bread and fragrant pastries
winter stored root vegetables,
potatoes with a little dirt on them,
First greens from micro gardens,
soaps, herbs and spices
and yes, the hand sanitizer
that’s been impossible to find.
I use my own bags
take products from gloved
hands, numb with cold. With a nod,
I applaud their teamwork, ingenuity
take home the spirit of community,
their unspoken gift.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Here are Tracey and Erin at The Wolfeboro Natural Foods Store. An active Board behind the scenes provides energy and support. This little coop amazingly provides everything I need, and more.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Beth Fox has been published in Poet’s Touchstone, The Seacoast Anthology, Avocet, Prey Tell, and The 2010 Poets Guide to NH: More Places, More Poets. She was a finalist in the Center for the Arts annual poetry contest and Touchstone Member Contest. Beth contributed to an anthology for Seniors, Other Voices, Other Lives.  A retired teacher, she lives in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. 

Clean up on aisle . . .
by Bridget Harris

All days
make me feel bad
for existing.

Like are white claws really an essential item?

I am glad
to be wearing
a mask.

It will disguise
the embarrassed look
on my face
as I walk up
to the check-out counter.

The least I can do
is smize
at the grocer
who has
probably been dealing
with people
like me
all day.

I ask how his day is going so far . . .
He says:
well an hour ago
somebody came
into the store
set up a yoga mat
and started
doing yoga
in the middle
of the aisle
so I had to say
excuse me, ma’am, uh,
you aren’t allowed to do yoga in Jewel-Osco.

I tried to make his day.
He just made mine.

PHOTO: From the book Yoga and the City by Alexey Wind, available at 

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Like many, I have tried to “get through” this pandemic. And yet, in my effort to “get through” it, I often forget that other people are experiencing this period of time in a completely different way than I am. Most of my days are full of the same monotonous nothing, but I am grateful for the people who grace me with their presence and surprise me. This one is for the grocer who rang me up at Jewel-Osco. May everyone reading this experience a moment of sonder for someone else that you encounter. Their day was in fact different than yours.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Bridget Harris is an actress, writer, and creator born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada.  Now in Chicago, Illinois, she believes the future of art is collaborative, paying artists equitably, uplifting untold stories, and recognizing our shared humanity. Visit her on instagram: @b_frances_h and @yourqueenscratch


Essential Words
by Joan Leotta

When the pandemic closed this county’s library buildings, our librarians still went to work to keep the internet “fires burning” so that those in our area without service could access signals from the parking lot—a literal beacon in Covid’s storm. Essential workers with no contact allowed. No checking out books permitted—at first.

My own bookshelf provided solace in a broad range of offerings for rereading—meetings with old friends that took me to Italy, to the West, to the past—on wings of words, trips not even Covid could cancel.

I began to read and borrow books online, in spite of eye difficulties with computer reading. At last, drive-up service came. We can now roll up to the door, call inside, and Kim or Christie or another librarian, pops out, books in hand. These angels with book carts know us, and often add items to our requests—things we might enjoy, things we may have found if we had browsed or talked with them.

The hallowed halls of my branch where shelves of books take the place of treasured frescoes are made holy by the ministrations of our librarians. The books themselves are secondary. Book clubs can continue by zoom, but the librarians are the beating heart of what makes the library my happy place. Books are important, but it’s the encouraging words (and actions) of our librarians that have been, are, and will be essential during and after the pandemic.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: This photo is of the two librarians (Kim WIlson, left, and Christi Iffergan) that I interact with most at the SW Branch of the Brunswick Library system here in Brunswick County, North Carolina.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This is more of an homage than prose poem or vignette—a cheer for the librarians who have kept up the sense of community here in rural Brunswick County with their unfailing attention to individuals—expressed as best they could (in emails, in calls) even when the library was closed, and as it opened, like a flowering bud, provided more and more of the aroma of kindness that is essential to all human life. Our librarians are great!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: When she is not playing with words on page or stage, Joan Leotta loves nothing more than sitting at table or walking the beach, laughing and talking with family. She spins poems, articles, essays, short stories, and performance pieces most often around her core interests—food, family, nature, travel, and strong women. Her poetry books include  Languid Lusciousness with Lemon (Finishing Line Press), Nature’s Gifts from Stanzaic Stylings (free online), and a mini-book from origami poems (free, but also printable). Another short collection will be released by Origami in 2020. Visit her at and on Facebook.

wee dezign licensed
Writing the Sky
by Mary Langer Thompson

Zebra Learners, touch your nose
if you practiced your letters.

How do I make a little b?

First you make your…


No. The bat.
First you make the bat.
Start at the top and go down.
Watch me write in the air.

Oh, good. I’ll hit the ball with my bat.

Everyone, take out your hands.
Max, I need to see your hands.

Say the letter.


Say the letter. Use big arm movements.

Now m.
m goes all the way to the ground.
Take your time. Good job.
You know what? It’s okay.
’cause I’m here to help.
Let’s rescue the sinking letters.

Look, we’re making the mountains meet.

Like when we made the v’s touch.

Teacher, can you walk on air?

When I’m with you, I do.

PHOTO: Kindergarten class by Wee Dezign, used by permission. 

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This poem was inspired by an actual teacher and lesson I observed several years ago. The kindergarten teacher really cared for her students, as do so many of the hero teachers who are teaching virtually, a new challenge. I know that teachers like the one in the poem will be just fine because they really care about children.

ADDITIONAL NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: My mother, former teacher June Langer (shown on the left), painted this schoolhouse. She did not start painting until her 80s and is now in her 90s and still painting and writing. She is a member of the “Wise Women” critique group of the High Desert California Writers Club and believes it’s never too late to start doing what you really want to do.   

MLT copy

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mary Langer Thompson is a retired school principal and former English teacher who now writes full time. Her poetry has been published in such journals as Popshot, Snapdragon, and Silver Birch Press. In 2012, she was the Senior Poet Laureate of California. Her collection Poems in Water is available on

johnston 1

The Quarterback of Team Food Service
by Joseph Johnston

There’s a Hormel factory in Beloit where
they make the canned chili we remember
from tailgating and a shelf-stable
pork spread sent to Guatemalans to
prevent them from starving.

There’s a manager at this plant
who stands twenty feet tall and
two semis wide. He’s the quarterback
of Team Food Service. He didn’t
choose this version of this life 

but he kicks its ass daily and twice
on Sundays. For real. On the day of
rest he shows up unrested to hand out
masks and take the temperatures of the
line workers lined up to process our food.

This is my best friend Bubs. He’s the
quarterback of Team Food Service. Back
in High School he was the center, but that
was just physics. In our minds he was the
chief. The natural leader. Holding court

like a Supreme Court judge, unrested but
tested, exhausted but rising and galvanizing
a harmonizing strategy through tragedy so
you and I can fortify and eat meat and repeat.
All hail the quarterback of Team Food Service!

NOTE: Matt Groves (left) and the author. Top: Recent years; Bottom: Back in the day. 

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: My best friend Matt Groves is a manager at a Hormel Foods plant in Beloit, Wisconsin. We first met in kindergarten, playing marbles and T-ball. In high school we both joined Team Food Service when we got jobs as dishwashers for a local cafeteria. Then we went to college together, and five years after that we stood up in each other’s weddings. Twenty years after that, the pandemic hit and everything turned upside down. He has always been the natural leader of our ragtag gang of cutthroats and outlaws, the Bo Diddley to my Jerome Green, the Mick to my Keef. Hormel is lucky to have him, but I miss him terribly and worry about his safety every day.

johnston 2

Joseph Johnston is a writer and filmmaker from Michigan. His work has appeared in Iron Horse Literary Review, Midwestern Gothic, Matador Review, and elsewhere. He is currently figuring out remote public schooling with his wife and two kids in the Detroit area while working on a chapbook of prose poems about various points along the Interstate Highway System.

Miller’s Pub
by Jennifer Finstrom

“From one monotonous day, another day
follows, identically monotonous.”
–“Monotony,” C. P. Cavafy, translated by Aliki Barnstone

The first time you go downtown to
the Loop for brunch, you meet at
Miller’s Pub, close to your job on
campus and close to the Art Institute,
places you haven’t been for months,
and not so very long ago, sitting so
close to the street would have seemed
uncomfortable, not picturesque, but
now you watch cars and bicyclists
with attention, let the vibration and
rattle of the Brown Line above Wabash
bear you away from your own food,
your own cocktails, your own four walls.
You waited tables for twenty-five years
starting in 1989, and the man you’re with
asks how you would feel about working
in a restaurant now, and you really don’t
know. You have your first Negroni
in six months followed quickly by
your second, and the server seems so
happy for you you’re sure it’s genuine

PHOTO: Miller’s Pub, 134 S. Wabash, Chicago, Illinois—a downtown institution since 1935. Photo by Brandon Klein, used by permission. 


NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I feel a real connection to food service workers after spending so many years in the industry. All of my outdoor dining experiences this summer have been so positive, but this one at Miller’s Pub really stood out to me. 

PHOTO: The authors’s first (or second) Negroni in six months, enjoyed in outdoor seating at Miller’s Pub, downtown Chicago. 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jen Finstrom is both part-time faculty and staff at DePaul University. She was the poetry editor of Eclectica Magazine for 13 years, and recent publications include Dime Show Review, Gingerbread House Literary Magazine, Rust + Moth, Stirring, and Thimble Literary Magazine. Her work also appears in Ides: A Collection of Poetry Chapbooks and several other Silver Birch Press anthologies. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram