What the Muse Says

& now it’s for real! Not the science fiction

of books or movies, test tube anomalies

reported from overseas, alien


contagion you could only survive given

regulated ventilation, capsulating spacesuit

NASA style. Say all you want


about mock-scenarios: Travolta’s The Boy in the

Plastic Bubble: the hellish loneliness of isolation

& quarantine, the psalmist who forewarned


of a “great trouble” I’d witness after she

took my $100 and told me in parting,

in no uncertain terms, that like the animals


who flocked to Noah’s Ark, I’d be spared,

Anita and the boys too, all of us protected

by the agency of some mystical


ministration. & then, almost overnite,

the pandemic surged like a tsunami,

came crashing with a shuddering BOOM!


In an instant life ceased to exist as we knew it.

Suddenly no one talked about wars,

the constant threat of terrorism, batting stances,


box scores, fast-breaks, Kobe or the triangle offense.

International flights were ordered home

as confirmed cases & death tolls


started to mount. Rubber gloves and surgical masks

became the accepted norm as hysteria & fear

ratcheted up & lockdown &


social distancing went from memes to everyday lingo.

& then the stern & troubling projections

from the C.D.C. of souls lost,


the World Health Organizations holocaust-like forecast

models; how airborne viruses mutate, flourish in

more welcoming environments—


the least resistant the more accommodating the host.

Contagions have gripped the earth before, left

a nasty trail of death & pestilence.


From S.A.R.S. to Swine to Covid-19, we have

Felt its brunt. But NOTHING compares

to the scourage of the Black Plague,


the Great Mortality, the Pestilence, the Great Bubonic,

the Great Plague, or lastly, because the world

had never seen the likes of it before,


because Europe & its counterparts, Eurasia & its outliers,

satellite societies, fringe nomadic & Mongols,

only a hundred years since the last


sighting of Genghis Khan upon the steppe, in the saddle

of a fine Arab Charger, before massive,

uncontrollable death—


millions upon millions upon millions—

more than ever accounted for

in the totality of wars.


& now we enlist them by anacronyms,

refer to them by geographic or animal

origin; the long history of illness


independent of questioning how or why.

You can trace the migration of the Plague

back to the Silk Road


where it swept through Crimea & then upon the yaw

& creak of Genoese merchants

bound for parts of Judea & Galilee,


the archipelagos of Thrace, the coastline of the Aegean

& Ionian Seas, from the stiletto

boot to the Strait of Gibraltar, rats scurrying


off the decks & gangplanks infecting

the under-belly of Europe.

O’ sickness, how it wiped-out the land—


from soothsayers to merchants to prostitutes

to great barrons— O’ bodies left roadside,

no shelter remained to conceal the dying,


the rotting. & the gripping reality of naked histrionics:

the caterwauling, the protracted gasp and breath,

the sudden collapse of the living


upon the dead, crying into the stale breath

of what they said would spread.

Stepping around or over


the faces of the known— bluish, purplish

luminesces cauliflowering the neck,

hair greased with sweat,


bacteria & fungi doing their dirty work.

Tonight Time’s Square is a flashing ghostown.

The remedies for pain have


different denominators, and they know what

they are— depression, drugs & daily exercise;

faith in god or 4 more oxycotin


pilfered from my wife’s purse. I’ll toss them in a box,

shake & offer: whichever you get

must be followed to completion.


What does the muse say? Grin & bear it.



Tony Tracy

Tony Tracy is the author of three poetry collections: The Christening, Without Notice and his newly released book overseas, Welcome To Your Life. He is a Pushcart Prize-nominated writer whose poetry has recently appeared or is forthcoming in North American Review, Burningword, Jelly Bucket, Poetry East, Tar River Poetry, Rattle, Hotel Amerika, Painted Bride Quarterly, Potomac Review, Briar Cliff Review, and various other magazines and journals.

The Man inside the Effigy

Not until his funeral did I begin to realize how much of Dad’s life I had misjudged. I was too busy rebelling, even at age 37, which is how old I was when he died on his 61st birthday.

But I got a glimpse of the man I couldn’t see when several members of a Japanese-American family unexpectedly attended his funeral. We had no idea who they were or why they were there.

One of us Euro-American mourners approached them after the service, and we learned the Japanese-American family had owned a grocery store in our Portland, Oregon, neighborhood. But it had been more than 25 years since we had moved away from the area and 34 years since the incident that prompted their attendance at his funeral.

During World War II, they had been forced to relocate from Portland to an internment camp. (Imprisoning families of other ethnicities is a measure of our chronic barbarism.) After their release in 1945, Dad was the first to welcome them home. It seems a simple act, yet it had great meaning for them, and their gratitude lasted his lifetime.

This was the man the Japanese-American family saw, and it is to them that I owe the prompt for a larger view of his life.


Richard LeBlond

Richard LeBlond is a retired biologist living in North Carolina. His essays and photographs have appeared in many U.S. and international journals, including Montreal Review, Redux, Compose, Concis, Lowestoft Chronicle, Trampset, and Still Point Arts Quarterly. His work has been nominated for “Best American Travel Writing” and “Best of the Net.”

Sonny Rollins’s Bridge*

It wasn’t his bridge, of course.

It wasn’t even his city, and it certainly wasn’t

his world. It’s your world, jazz music says,

I’m just living in it. And the world’s a workshop.


Sonny was different, though. Even for one

we’d call young gifted & black without being

bromidic. Sonny heard so much but mostly

only listened to himself, waiting and creating

his own kind of way, expressing everything.


How do we describe the kind of man already

in rarified air deciding he wasn’t high enough

(having already eschewed the artificial ecstasy

that ruins veins and soils brains, Body and Soul)?


This colossus, keeping his own council, split

his apartment to set up shop in the crow’s nest

of the Williamsburg Bridge, perhaps the one

place aside from the Arctic Circle where no one

could see or hear history being picked apart

like a carcass, and then reassembled in real time.


Three years of this. Almost a thousand days

while the world spun, the cash registers rung,

and so many pretenders to the throne ascended

for lack of better options. Sun turned to snow

and dawn turned to dark and there were still

all those sounds: a style being tweaked, a gift

being refined, an experiment being improvised.


The quest for vision, it’s said, will make

otherwise steady men see outlandish sights:

as they deprive themselves of human fuel

they become something at once less & more

than a vessel; the spirits speak to and through

them and once that barrier is broken, one sees

oneself changed, then begins changing the world.


(*In 1959, feeling pressured by his unexpected rise to fame, Rollins took a three-year hiatus to focus on perfecting his craft. A resident of the Lower East Side of Manhattan with no private space to play, he took his saxophone up to the Williamsburg Bridge to practice alone.)


Sean Murphy

Sean Murphy has appeared on NPR’s “All Things Considered” and been quoted in USA Today, The New York Times, The Huffington Post, and AdAge. His work has also appeared in Salon, The Village Voice, The New York Post, The Good Men Project, Memoir Magazine, and others. His chapbook, The Blackened Blues, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. He has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and served as writer-in-residence of the Noepe Center at Martha’s Vineyard. He’s Founding Director of 1455 (www.1455litarts.org). To learn more, please visit seanmurphy.net/ and @bullmurph.

Listed at Duotrope
Listed with Poets & Writers
CLMP Member
List with Art Deadline
Follow us on MagCloud