Viral Voices: Prose and Poetry of the Pandemic


Notes on the Pandemic by Ruth Botzow


When the COVID-19 pandemic began my husband Bill and I were in San Diego visiting my father. Once home I wrote some notes about how our actions began to change, even in the airport on our flight out. I haven’t kept a journal, but when Kathy asked for material for our newsletter I decided to share this with you. It was written in early April and has been lightly edited since then.

It was walking into the unknown…do I really need to wash my hands again after touching that luggage bin? Do I really need to hip bump the door open? Do I really need to avoid hugging my niece? So that whole first week, beginning March 6 on a flight to San Diego, was, although we didn’t know it yet, practice. We shrugged and stepped back, a little embarrassed, when we didn’t hug a friend hello; we accepted the offer of a squirt of hand sanitizer wondering if it was really necessary; we ate outdoors at a restaurant. It all felt unreal. Yes, we knew the news from China was bad, but really, that was far away, would that really affect us here? Still a bit of “but we’re in the United States” innocence. Yes, there was that case (or was it a few?) in Washington but the virus seemed contained. Oh, now there are more cases? Well, still, 70 cases in 325 million people…how bad can it be? Ah, the naivety of early March. By the next weekend, our behavior still felt like ‘practice’ (surely no one I know is sick) but with a bit more underlying discomfort. A small gathering of local friends had not been canceled, though changes were implemented—an outdoor handwashing station, paper (not cloth) towels in the bathroom, using disposable plates and utensils. No hugs, sitting, well, not 6 feet apart, but certainly 4. The highway signs that day flashed “LESS IS MORE/AVOID GATHERING”. By the time we departed San Diego a week later those signs directed “STAY HOME”.

So, this was real. No more practice. The second week we began to limit our social interactions, by the weekend to only my brother and sister-in-law and then to well, no one. Our plans for a celebration dwindled from a night out with family and friends to a night in with family and friends, to a night with family, to a night with just the two of us.

Though San Diego in March was far more pleasant than Vermont, we had no real reason to stay (my Dad’s assisted living facility had closed to all visitors). If we became ill we’d rather be home, plus with our growing anxiety about getting home, we decided to return to Vermont. Although flights on our original airline were limited (one of the towers at Midway in Chicago was closed due to COVID-19 illness) it was easy to find another airline with a flight to Albany.

On the trip home the airport terminal was sparsely populated—probably half the people present were employees. All the shops and restaurants on the concourse were closed. It was easy to socially distance as there were very, very few people around. Twelve people got off the plane (a 737) and twenty boarded. We not only had a row to ourselves, there was no one in the 3 rows in front or behind us.

Walking into our house in the middle of the night also felt a bit like walking into the unknown. We needed new routines, and felt we knew of no way to protect ourselves other than to wash our hands. How would we get groceries? Mail? We decided one person would go to the store and do a “big” shop. That trip to the grocery story was extremely uncomfortable—there were many people and few in masks. Was my cart clean? Was it safe to open the dairy case door? Were both the checkout clerk and bagger healthy? There was so much we didn’t know about keeping ourselves and our immediate environment safe.


It has been over 4 months since the national emergency was declared and we know much more about COVID-19. One thing we don’t know is how long this pandemic will last. We are all tired of it, yet many of us are acknowledging that the pandemic, or at least this virus, may be with us for a long time. In some ways my life is not all that different. I like being home, I have gardens to tend and appreciate, lots of indoor projects and chores and Bill and I enjoy our time together. I am lucky.

I am sad, however, that so many people have had to cancel major plans and celebrations—graduations, reunions, weddings, travel—and now can’t even safely travel to attend funerals and memorial services. But it also feels that many people are using this time to reflect deeply on their life and actions and have renewed gratitude for their life.

As you move through this pandemic, I hope there are many bright moments, times of personal growth, and perhaps even time to undertake some long dormant project. May all of you, your families, friends and colleagues be well. I miss you and look forward to when we can warmly greet one another in person.


The Muse is Gone — Blame it on Covid-19! by Althea Church

I’ve always felt content being an under achiever.  Still, in the past there would be occasional periods of creativity.  Not infrequent, just occasional.  An idea would set me off thinking, planning, doing the engineering in my mind as I fell asleep at night, so that in the morning I knew exactly how to proceed on the creative work in my studio.  What a wonderful way to fall sleep!  The project could keep me busy all day, every day, for a week, a month.

Then things would return to normal.  I would cook meals, do a bit of socializing, a little (very little) housework, tidy the studio for the next visit by the Muse.

In the last several years, as I age, the Muse’s visits seem fewer and farther between.  Of course the motor skills have declined, but that was gradual and acceptable as I switched to different sets of motor skills.  The skills of the mind are more difficult to bear.

I’ve tried to analyze the problem, to think of ways to invite the Muse back to my studio.  First, what can I NOT change?  My husband is mostly retired, he is not going to an office again, ever.  (I should explain, the Muse does not like company when she visits, i.e., I work better in solitude.)  Deal with it.

Too many UFO’s?  I have eliminated lots of them, and the accompanying craft supplies.  A purge of projects is always helpful in organizing the mind, as well as the space.  If the project isn’t started, and it’s #37 on the priority list, out it goes! If it was started, but is now dated (why did I ever think that was a good idea?), out it goes!

Procrastination?  That could be my middle name.  However, I have found remedies for this human frailty in the past, as least in my studio – prep the project the evening before.  Pattern unfolded, fabric washed and pressed, supplies and equipment set out and set up (e.g., sewing machine threaded).  The following morning it’s easy to jump right into the project.  I’m starting to reinstate this practice.

Distraction?  Now that the studio is organized (and possibly the mind), where is the Muse?!  Where are the creative ideas?  It is not only Covid-19, the last five years have been somewhat traumatic –- our daughter’s serious illness, two+ moves, retirement.  But just when life should be settling into the routine of retirement, here comes a Pandemic!  As the self-appointed keeper of our extended family’s health, I can’t seem to concentrate on much else.  There is so much Covid-19 news that I must keep abreast of!  How does it spread?  Germs on doorknobs?  Sanitize!  Air borne droplets, millions of them!  What is the best style mask to ward off all those droplets?  Sew several different mask patterns for family and friends.  How best to wear it?  Am I the only one wearing it properly?  What are the Vermont Covid numbers?  Massachusetts, New York, North Dakota, Mississippi?!  New symptoms are added to the growing list, I must keep informed by checking the news on my phone many times a day.  Our daughter has symptoms, she tests negative, then moves in with us and self isolates.  That took planning on my part – how to make an apartment out of a guest room, how to deliver meals, which now must be planned ahead and fresh foods purchased safely.

To say that Covid-19 has distracted me from creative pursuits is a bit of an understatement, ask my family.  I am sure they would like it very much if the Muse and I returned to the studio for an intense creative project that doesn’t involve…mask making.  And telling everyone how and when to use them!


Snapshot by Madeline Kennedy

On days when the stay-at-home order becomes tiresome, I think of my husband’s grandmother during the 1918 influenza pandemic.  Picture Hermine, the lone adult in her Manhattan apartment, her sea captain husband is away for months.  She is in quarantine to protect herself and her feisty and active two-year-old daughter (my future mother-in-law), and pregnant.  There is a quarantine sign on the door.  Neighbors help by shopping for her, leaving the groceries in the hall.  She doesn’t see another adult for months!  So I stay home with gratitude for my comforts, modern communication, and admiration for what she and others experienced and lived through so long ago.


“What Can I Say?” by Claudia Dalton

It’s a confounding combination
of complete enervation
and nervous excitation
watching the curve
rising and plateauing
round the nation.

Home is where the heart
is stuck for the duration;
it’s a staycation in a state
of suspended animation.

We’re like a mime caught
In the middle of moving
furniture on a bare stage,
or a reader losing power
in the middle of the page.

So here I am with a mute muse
and news that just won’t suit
at this momentous moment.
Writing a tongue twister
is about all I’m good for,
for today at least, my Sister!


Coronavirus Dialog by Judy Kniffin

Mother Nature, everywhere and in the altogether:

“Well, blast it. The mix of life on this Planet Earth has gotten way out of balance once again! Thinking back a blink or two, I remember when the dinosaur numbers exploded. I had to step in with some pretty nasty weather events. They worked—perhaps a little too well, heh heh! But, you know, you can’t always sweat the small stuff. Then Homo Erectus, in various experimental forms, began to fill in some of the vacated lands—that is until Homo Sapiens moved in, took over, and started multiplying shamelessly. It’s that ornery Sapiens part: they always know just enough to undo the natural restraints I put on their increasing numbers.

Now, here’s a chuckle. They now claim they have a category called ‘teenagers’. The problem, they say, with teenagers is that they’ve acquired a basic pool of knowledge, combined with the titillating sense that they are on the threshold of control. Wait a split second, not so long ago, knowledge and control were relegated to the realm of the divine—first to Goddess, and later to God. But it appears that God is going the way of the grandfather clock. That means these Sapiens think they’re in charge of overseeing this planet. They even refer to it as ‘their’ planet! …Sound like teenagers to me, the whole pack of them!

And look at what they’re doing to ‘their’ planet! They’ve looted and polluted layers of soil and rock, depleted and fouled bodies of water, and are seriously altering the air that all life breathes. What’s more, they’re not slowing down. Whoa, dudes! Maybe it’s time for another massive scourge to put this planet back into balance.  Let’s see, though…we don’t want to destroy all manner of life; most of it is quite useful and plays fairly well together. It’s just that Homo Sapiens…

Homo Sapiens Judy, warmly protected in a tiny corner of southwestern Vermont:

O.K., here we are, battling Mother Nature once again, obstinate children that we are. Children?  No, maybe not. How about teenagers—teenagers who exult in our acquired knowledge and the distinct sense that we are almost in control. Of what?  Of everything, of course! And our traditional ‘Parent’ is no longer apparent (chuckle). Most recently, that was God, but we’ve pretty much shoved Him into a closet and are pushing the door closed. Just like long ago, we booted the Goddess.

Well, let’s look at this Coronavirus disaster another way. What if we allowed Mother Nature’s police force—the varied and ever-changing natural phenomena she has at her disposal—to address the acute imbalance we have created? Yes, it would be destructive—at this juncture, massively so. That’s the point! Yes, it would engender a tremendous amount of personal grief. So does war. So does homelessness; incarceration; starvation; mental illness. Are we cowards?

I’ll grant you I am putting these words to print with most of my life behind me and in the comfort of my living room, with a well-stocked refrigerator in the kitchen, and two large bottles of vitamin C within reach. Does that make these thoughts thoroughly contemptible? Probably.

Does contempt make them wrong? That’s your call.


Distance Gathering   by   Kathy Wagenknecht

it’s all the rage
to beat isolation
in virtual meetings with friends
given my age
and past education
I’m not really pleased with the trend
of seeing your face
of hearing your voice
yet missing the warmth of your touch
in today’s viral place
there isn’t much choice
we distance ourselves from such
face-to-face meetings
to flatten the curve
oh even the semblance of you
smiling with greetings
bolsters my nerve
I’ll see you tomorrow on Zoom


Perilous Times by Nancy Schoerke

March 12, 2020 marked Day 1 of Lock-down for our family due to the pandemic sparked by the highly infectious novel coronavirus, Covid-19.

The virus has introduced a new lexicon, phrases that have altered our conversations. News reports are peppered with terms such as “hot zones,” “lock-downs,” “quarantines” and “isolation.” Leaders urge “social distancing” and “sheltering in place” as well as “flattening the curve.” “Contact tracing” is a means of detecting how and when persons became infected by the virus. We are urged to wash our hands frequently, remain at home and when we are in public to wear a mask and keep six feet away from others. Online groups and newspapers offer sewing instructions for making masks.

I don’t mind being at home. I enjoy having time to slow down, take stock and get things done.  Unlike my friends, by an unwitting twist of fate, my preparation for lock-down and social distancing began three years ago with the sudden onset of macular degeneration in one eye. Then last summer the vision in my right eye deteriorated. I could no longer read a newspaper. For a while I continued to drive, but it became more dicey on sunny days when sunshine and shadow played havoc with my vision. As I drove home one afternoon in late July, I knew it was the last time I’d be behind the wheel

I think this experience prepared me for pandemic stay-at-home. I could no longer jump in the car to stop by the library, do a quick errand or visit a friend. Now I need to have someone drive me places. However, since we’ve been quarantined I haven’t seen the inside of a grocery store since March 11th.

So now what do we do to amaze and amuse ourselves? One of the first things I decided was to free myself from the daily bondage of my bra. I also decided to let my hair grow. In the evening we began watching favorite old movies and the TV series Foyle’s War, one episode at a time. I have downloaded books onto my iPad that I listen to and find very rewarding. At another time in my life I would have spent much of my time at my sewing machine, probably making masks. I may yet work out a way to resume sewing.

We no longer meet in person at our church and other meetings, but we have continued to get together via Zoom. This way we can actually see each other.

We’re told this will continue until a vaccine is available. We also have a presidential election in less than four months. 2020 has been a year of continuing sagas. Stay tuned.


A Covid Afternoon by Ruth Bornholdt Olsson

               Feed the dog.
               Walk the dog.
Listen to the wind. Watch the branches wave.
Do Tuesday’s crossword puzzle.
Call your friend from sixth grade,
          and for life.
Think about why there is no space on your kitchen counter.
Make a plan. 
          Or not.
Walk the length of your house ten times for exercise;
think about riding the lumbar bike.
Investigate the sound of tapping coming from outside;
secure the thermometer.
Peel an apple. Be thankful. Hold the world in your hand.
Read. Read a lot. Read some more.
Listen to the wind. Where have the birds gone?
               Feed the dog.
               Walk the dog.



Covid Mourning  by Suzanne Kirkpatrick

I’m aware that it’s day,
but stay
Here in the hay
Eyes still closed shut

Dreading the rut.
Another day
Of stay away
No-one to see
I am not free!

But we conform
As Covid swarms
And one day soon
Freedom will bloom.