She began to study breath
long before her students were born,
how to manage
& what to imagine,
when you breathe in
through the nose
&—oh, sweet release—out
through the mouth.
She was a master of breath,
a teacher to any & all
(or at least those who could
afford her class).
Imagine, then, her distress
when she learned it’s breath—
transmits the virus.
& was always the same:
a classroom packed
each one of them,
at her instruction,
the room filling
with a viral mist.
She’d go on teaching
yoga & meditation
but her virtual students
took to whispering
behind her back:
Karen, they said,
Karen was no longer a breath
of fresh air.
“Man,” Oscar quipped,
"is least himself when he talks
in his own person.
“Give him a mask,
and he will tell you
And now we know why
won’t wear a mask.
COVID CRUISING II
“What’s her name? She is so pretty.”
“Nice! My cats’ names are Clytemnestra and Iphigenia. I call them Clyty and Iphy. Basically, I think they respond to anything ending in ee.”
“Or just the tone of your voice.”
“I’ve been trying not to pet people’s dogs—social distancing, you know. Hand hygiene. So thanks for letting me pet Ariel here. I miss dogs. And you’re such a pretty girl. Aren’t you, Ariel?”
“It’s funny,” he says. “Before the pandemic, she didn’t have much separation anxiety. Now that she spends so much time with us, she’s a ball of anxiety whenever my wife and I aren’t in her sights.”
I take a cursory glance at the child—a baby—strapped belly-down to his chest. Ariel largely ignores me and watches the grocery store. I suspect the wife is shopping its aisles.
The husband cum dad and I are standing at a corner. He is twenty- or thirty-something, with a blond, not overly-managed pony tail, and bright green eyes. At about 130 pounds, he might get lost in a crowd of bigger guys, but he’s open-faced and it’s crystal clear when he smiles under his DIY mask.
“Yes,” I keep the conversation going, “my cats and I have become so much closer in 2020.”
“We spend so much more time with our pets in 2020,” he says.
“Good for them, bad for us.”
“Yes,” he says, “or bad for them, good for us.”
We both laugh.
The baby, meanwhile, is motionless against his chest. It might as well be dead.
All around us restaurants are open for outdoor dining. Strings of lights. Loud music. Drinks-to-go.
“Well, goodnight,” I say, “and thanks again. Good night, Ariel.”
“Yes,” he says, “goodnight. And goodnight to Clytemnestra, goodnight to Iphigenia.”
I see the world through breath-coated lenses
& while it’s nice to know I’m still alive—
& breathing—it’s maddening. I can’t read
through condensation—can’t fully assess
the man sitting across from me on the Q.
Is he as tall & masked as I think he is?
Just as my fellow big-city citizens must heed
traffic lights flashing overhead—
now green, now yellow, suddenly red—
I, too, must obey the stop sign, must be
certain when to cruise & when to hit
the brakes. But it’s hard to sense,
these days, whether it’s love I see
or hate, whether the object of my ever
growing affections is gay or straight.
Steven Cordova’s collection of poetry, Long Distance, was published by Bilingual Review Press in 2010. His poems are forthcoming in New Orleans Review, and have appeared in Bellevue Literary Review, Callaloo, The Journal, Notre Dame Review, and the Los Angeles Review. He reviews fiction and nonfiction for Lambda Literary. From San Antonio, TX, he lives in Brooklyn.