Letters from the Pandemic 1: Sit Down, Death

Letters from the Pandemic 1

Main Street, Vancouver, March 2020. Photo by Dan Toulgoet courtesy Vancouver Courier

Sit Down, Death
by Jennifer Moss

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“There is, let us confess it […] a childish outspokenness in illness; things are said, truths blurted out, which the cautious respectability of health conceals.” — Virginia Woolf, “On Being Ill,” 1926

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Dear Death,

You might as well sit down now.
We know you’re here.
We can see you, hovering in the corner, hat in hand.
Because yes, you still wear a hat, but never indoors.
You do not presume;
Rather, you wait.
You wait quietly, awkwardly, shifting from leg to leg.
You wait for the last breath, the bloody handkerchief, the Telltale Heart to reveal itself.
You wait for the ill wind to blow.
And blow it will.
We would like to apologize.
Before this, we pretended not to see you.
We walked miles to avoid your gaze.
Wars and pestilences plagued the old world.
Such things happened back then. Over there.
Death was in Venice.
New York never slept.
But you have brought the worlds together, and now we feel their suffering as our own.
Their dying cattle, their blood sacrifices.
Their readings of the bones of birds.
These things belong to us now.
Their vaccines are our vaccines.
Their hospital ships set sail from our harbours.
John Keats on a voyage to cure his tuberculosis.
We know he never returned.
Virginia Woolf watching those she loved “float with the sticks on the stream” in their white linen sick beds.
We want to hold her hand.
We know these stories now, in our bodies.
In the way we cannot hug our mothers.
In the fear we cannot hide from our children.
In the absence of expression, how masked faces never smile.
In the cold light of Zoom.
But you have always known the plot, in the way a timpani drummer knows the end is near.
So come in, you might as well sit down now.
Grab an extra plate.
Let us tie a white napkin around your royal neck.
Let us enjoy this final meal of spicy takeout together,
Opening packages slowly, with great anticipation.
Small boxes, each one a world of grandmother’s recipes.
Each one a direct line stretching back to someone’s past.
Sit down, Death.  It’s time to eat.

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Jennifer Moss. Photo by Marina Dodis

Jennifer Moss is currently a Master’s student in the Graduate Liberal Studies program at Simon Fraser University. In her other life, she’s a new media producer, runs a podcasting company, and teaches Creative Writing for New Media and Podcasting at the University of British Columbia. Her writing focuses on the migration of ideas and stories across geography and spaces.

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The Ormsby Review. More Books. More Reviews. More Often.

Publisher and Editor: Richard Mackie

The Ormsby Review is a journal service for in-depth coverage of B.C. books and authors. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Robin Fisher, Cole Harris, Wade Davis, Hugh Johnston, Patricia Roy, David Stouck, and Graeme Wynn. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Provincial Government Patron since September 2018: Creative BC

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2 comments on “Letters from the Pandemic 1: Sit Down, Death

  1. Hi Jennifer: This is a powerful poem, and beautifully constructed. I know we’ve been through the same GLS programme as indicated by your Virginia Woolf and Death in Venice references, as well as others! What’s been is now; what’s gone before is our world in the present. You link the literary pieces to today’s COVID reality seamlessly. Cathy Patel

    1. Thanks, Cathy … yes I am very struck by how “present” all these people from books feel to me now, with their consumption and their influenza and their social strife…

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