We walk this same path over and over, Moppit and I.
The pattern is unchanging.
Open the front door at 7 a.m.
Glance up into the sky and count the hot air balloons.
Or remark on their absence.
Today was a day to note their absence.
The air was crisp, the sky was blue.
On another Friday there might be three drifting by.
On another Friday there might be people on the ground.
Today was a day to note their absence, too.
We used to revel in the parents
With their children, hand-in-hand,
Walking to school.
Laughing, talking, teasing, reviewing lessons,
Carrying school projects too big for tykes to lug.
I miss the chirpy life that filled these cobblestone streets.
Though, not all are gone.
Laborers still strut in threes to the new houses going up.
Shop girls and clerks in surgical masks bustle by, eyes down, earbuds on.
Abuelas in shawls and leaning on canes, keel and yaw slowly toward church.
Fresh from her facelift, the skin still so shiny and tight,
Parque Juarez is an emerald island in this sea of absence.
Joggers still jog, dog walkers still walk, strollers still stroll.
The still-sparkly basketball courts are jammed with young men
Bouncing and passing what looks like the spitting image of a COVID-19 cell.
Three abuelas scrunch together on a park bench.
Some day, brass effigies will be cast in their honor so no one will notice their absence.
Encased in magical shawls, wool caps, winter jackets, and leggings
The ladies talk nonstop, they laugh, they nudge each other
Comfortable that they have weathered worse over long lives.
I walk by at a distance and fight the urge to photograph them.
What right do I have to intrude upon this daily ritual?
But my eyes have caught the eyes of the one in the middle
She breaks away and smiles. We both know what that means:
“¡Buenos dias, señoras! Bon dia! Bon dia! Bon dia!”
Even in the Age of Pandemia, manners apply.
At the entrance to Bonfourno’s
The air of Purell has replaced croissants and fresh bread.
A table at the door admonishes you to sanitize
Before picking out your muffins and pastries
I sprayed moments before after touching the ATM
So I didn’t
And I’m sure it looked bad.
So I left a ridiculously huge tip
To ease my conscience and ease their pain.
Money won’t cure coronavirus
But it sure seems to be about all anyone is talking about.
I sip a large Americano and read that senators
Knew enough to sell off stocks
But not enough to warn the American public.
Everyone is excited that the peso is tanking
So U.S. dollars are pouring into Mexico
(Probably infected dollars) to snap them up at 24-to-1
Even I wonder if I will get the windfall promised
To every American by the government.
Once Wall Street and corporate America are properly succored.
I also hope that I live long enough to spend it.
A foolish thought, I know.
But foolish thoughts rush in during the Age of Pandemia.
My son Facetimes me from Truckee, surrounded by fresh-fallen snow.
He is sitting before his computer, waiting.
Waiting for word that he is laid off from one job
And word that he has been hired for another.
It is one of life’s emotionally draining balancing acts.
We talk a long while, more than ever lately.
I “play” with my grandson who shows me a big yellow truck and a small green one.
Every once and a while my son glances down and says
“No word, yet.”
And we all think a coronavirus is about fevers and breathing and death.
A million small deaths are happening every day
To people who will never be infected
Who did nothing to deserve this affliction.
I return home and register for a five-day Buddhist workshop
I return to studying Spanish.
So I can call out in the middle of the night
And a neighbor might understand me.
But also so that I can wish my Mexican friends well
And let them know how much I care about them.
So we live in a land where the poor are truly poor,
Where safety nets only keep the pigeons from roosting
On your roof.
Where working and not working really is the difference
Between life and death.
We’re told to practice social distancing
Among the most tactile, loving people in the world.
Our neighbors have lived with disease, germs, viruses, wars, cartels
Their entire lives. It is part of their history.
Even their president says they have a heavyweight immune system.
We are less into the mythical and mystic than we thought
So we don’t know if an abuela’s shawl holds magic.
We don’t know if a mother’s dirt, spit and hug cure all.
Maybe it did at one time in our own culture, too.
But we’ve sanitized magic out of our lives.
And now we are paying for it.
One government proclamations, one scientific alert,
One mind-numbing press conference, one bottle of hand-sanitizer,
One spiking growth graph, one really bad virus joke on the Internet
at a time.