During the Pandemic….Sheltering-in-Place #11

from During the Pandemic….Rick Barot

During the pandemic, I watched the weather. The sky brought forth its clean clouds. The trees put forth their green like store awnings. You could go online and look at the places in every weather. I loved best what was ours. Rain so hard it sounded like a crowd. Ours, like a postcard in the mail or the sparkles on a cake. It was spring, a rash season. Then the sun on everything. The sun never knew how great it was,” the architect said, “until it hit the side of a building.”

During the pandemic, I noticed the pencils. One kept a window open a crack. Another held up the tendril growing out of the avocado seed in a cup. One waited on my nightstand next to a pad of hotel stationery. The hotel had been by the interstate cutting across the middle of the map. Driving from one end of the country to the other, I knew I was in the thick of my own story. I looked down to the lit hotel pool. Even though it was late, there were people there, caught in gestures that made me think of Pompeii.

During the pandemic, I knew each neighbor by one thing. The neighbors above, the baby. The neighbors below, the dog. Someone down the hall, fried fish. Someone else down the hall, the opera when their door opened. I made my rooms quieter by standing in the middle of each one, my mind moving intently, like an old man in slippers. I wonder what one thing the neighbors would know me by. What truth an inadvertence would betray.

During the pandemic, I went outside as into an abstraction, every body a vector, every public space a possible inflection point, the very air a moral injury. But there was no abstracting this: the bus driver died. The shoemaker. The chef. The playwright. The nurse and the doctors. The ambassador. The princess. The leader of the band. The scholar of Derrida.

During the pandemic, I had days when I felt I was by myself on a shore drained of the tide, dragging a stick across the miles of wet sand.There were also days when I was a boy again, sliding down a now hill on a flattened cardboard box. And there were days when I remembered the teach who made us memorize a poem each week, and when we asked why she said we might one day find ourselves in a wreck at the side of the road and we would recite these poems to stay alive.

This is the first poetry of Rick Barot I have read. He was born in the Philippines and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. I found his poem in Together in a Sudden Strangeness: America’s Poets Respond to the Pandemic edited by Alice Quinn. It was in one of my San Francisco neighborhood’s Free Little Libraries. A good find.