by Rafaël Newman
Arma virusque cano: Sing,
O Muse, through me, the wandering
Of something lowly, microscopic,
But found at both Poles, and each Tropic.
An opportunist virus, which
Is banished by mere soap (or bleach),
And yet has billions, masked, in arma,
Awaiting backup from Big Pharma!
Now, whether to the Orient
The creature traces its descent,
Or simply sprang across the barrier
Which cordons beast from human carrier,
And might have done so anywhere
That folk are fond of carnal fare –
Yet from the hellish depths have risen
Those who would make of chance a prison:
Who’ve seized upon a place of birth
In any random plot of earth
To build a fable of malfeasance,
Of trade wars, tariff hikes, and treasons;
Who’ve leveraged the lockdown here
To redirect Our gen’ral fear
Towards a Them there, over yonder:
The fascist’s faithful first responder.
To counter which, we’ve cried, “Unite!
We’ll pledge ourselves to righteous fight
Against the foe that would divide us:
That dreary retrograde King Midas!
An alchemist à contresens
Who makes of merry gold mere dross;
Whose Internationale’s inverted,
Whose harmonies are disconcerted!
We’ll scotch the pestilential scourge
With martial pomp, not fun’ral dirge,
And then, our forces massed together,
We’ll end the plague, and change the weather!”
One flaw, alas, our tactic dogs,
As we make war on demagogues
Who stymy our recuperation
By pitting planet versus nation:
We cannot mass us mindfully
Or break us of our binding free,
For fear of contact and contagion
Caused by the very strike engaged in.
For this is how we live today,
Like Aragon, à la Ferré:
Until we build up our resistance,
Our kisses follow from a distance.
We’ll have to learn a different lay
Than versified in Vergil’s day:
No Venus from our toils to free us
As she did once antique Aeneas,
The son of that Godhead of Love
Whose proem I have placed above;
And whose adventures pleased Augustus,
Who heard in them poetic justice.
This epic’s antihero kills
Not with the sword, but with the chills;
Nor vanquished can it be by squaddies,
But must be met with antibodies.
Here is no ancient half-divine,
The pride of Priam’s second line,
Earmarked to carry Trojan lares
Westward to savage adversaries.
In spite of lineage (“19”),
This scion’s crown is less pristine:
What there was awesome, here’s but awful;
Where that was epic, this is novel.
Instead of sparing piously
Its sire the gore and the melee,
It murders greybeards with abandon:
All those it gets its unwashed hand on.
It does not pause to court the Queen
Of Carthage in her fair demesne
Before consigning her to ruin,
But aims headlong at her undoin’.
The tender princeling at its side,
Does it embark on saving tide?
No; rather sends him back to battle
Armed only with a mere death rattle.
Still, landed on Italian shores,
Both sailors waged imperial wars –
Except, while that one fathered Caesars,
This other’s filled funereal freezers.
Both summon tears, it must be said,
Recalling the departed dead:
Sunt lacrimae – REDRUM! – which nearer
Reflects the horror of this era.
Since whether as the final Teen
Or premiere Twenty, this has been
A year that will be called epochal –
For dread malaise and mad debacle.
Flood, fire, and death of first-born sons,
And daughters too, and younger ones:
The hornets spared us, else we’d hadda
Write our own revised Haggadah.
So many fall’n in time of peace,
Too many felled by the police;
Thus let the Latin noster pater
Cede to our vulgate “Black Lives Matter!”
But terrorists will have their day:
By fed’ral writ in the USA;
With guns in Hanau and Vienna –
Eine gemütliche Gehenna.
Then there were those whom Old Man Bones
Took in their time, like Terry Jones,
Ruth Klüger, Max von Sydow, Christo,
Or Little Richard, Rock’s aristo.
Diana Rigg, John le Carré,
Uderzo, ave et valé!
D. Maradona and Her Honor
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, peace upon her.
For one, a son of Maywood, IL,
I beg we be a moment still:
John Prine, we wish you’d come back to us,
With old Sam Stone, and Barbara Lewis.
Against the strains of this lament,
Now let us praise what we were lent
This year by way of boon and bounty,
Though each bound in our sep’rate county:
New books by Amis, Koestenbaum,
Messud and Mantel, whose aplomb
With ancient vermin rivals Patrick’s,
But would not stretch to a Booker hat trick.
In art the elders caught a break,
With sales of Hockney, shows of Blake;
While as for Banksy, birthday unknown,
He made the headlines, cover unblown.
A Richter retrospective ran
Just eight days: no flash in the pan,
But forced to close by the very ailment
That’s caused our current broad curtailment.
Thank heavens, then, for galleries
That shore up artists’ salaries
With online tours and web exhibits
To keep them off the fiscal gibbets.
And o’er the flood of fatal news
Has sung the sweetest-sounding Muse:
Euterpe, of the nine the nearest
Eponymously, lovely lyrist,
The matron saint of Music’s craft –
Her lists have not been understaffed;
For we’ve been crooned to, serenaded,
Though in our quarters barricaded,
From balconies and on the net,
By orchestra and by duet,
With Lieder, chansons, operettas,
By scores of virtual go-getters!
For all of which our thanks we raise
In choruses of weary praise
And stints applauding in the gloaming
Our entertainers, likewise homing.
Yet what has truly kept our lip
And courage stiff in face of grippe?
What deities have come to aid us
Against the fear of our invaders?
The very gods who got us in
Our present mess; the selfsame sin
Of Babel-building world-connection
That brought the plague, has brought protection –
At least from bane bred by the woe
Of going sole insane, and slow,
While isolating comme il faut
And having nowhere else to go
Since everybody that you know
Has joined the archipelago
Of islands going with the flow,
Athwart the viral undertow –
Who saved us from a lonely doom?
Our Tiu was Teams; our Zeus was Zoom.
We did not worship sky- but Skypewards,
On WhatsApp swift as we could type words.
We queered our quarantines in quest
Of the perfectly pronoun-ed online guest;
Shared tantric techniques, gin-&-tonics,
Handwashing know-how, high colonics;
We kept our own and others’ groove –
And all of this at safe remove.
In short, we were each other’s savior,
Reducing thus riskier behavior.
So may we face the year ahead
With similarly viral spread
Of bonhomie and fellow feeling,
Of Jitsi joy and textual healing.
Nor must our single melody
Be merry gladness, manic glee,
But let us likewise keep in chorus
Protesting ills that lie before us!
By all means kick against the pricks,
Except the one to end our fix:
From Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna;
From Mainz, Manhattan, Oxford – Smyrna.
Let’s roll our sleeves up, one and all,
From Mandalay to Montreal,
And build against annihilation
One truly epic vacci-nation!