Search the Site

Broken Lines

(Photo: “Caged,”  by Achraf Baznani, used by courtesy of the artist)

Diary with Broken Lines to Wile Away Viral Time

Monday 6 April

Is Sharif Elmusa afraid of Covid-19?
Yes, Sharif Elmusa is afraid of Covid-19
(apologies to Charles Simic for the paraphrase,
hope he’s in good form).

Life and death are not the glass
half full or half empty.
Death is a broken glass.
I am afraid to be broken,
and not be heard. 


Tuesday 7 April

Like it or not
this is the way of nature—
one thing lives off another
constant makeover
movement, change.

We are not at war
and the new stranger
is not an invading army
or a mass murderer.
It is not the round figure
with the red and grey dimples
staring at us,
tentacles ready to pounce.
Every period has its wolf
which looks handsome
once we clip the claws.

This is not a time of fighting,
it’s a time of so many dying
of rooms vacating
and coffins loading
a time of loss and grieving
a time for one hand to wash
the other hand,
a time for
life-giving metaphor. 

Wednesday 8 April

Some call to sacrifice senior citizens.
Please, say it unmasked
and be my guest
(but keep the proper distance)
and, as the song goes,
take a load off you
and you put the load on me
put the load right on me.
I’ll take one for the team.

We’re given this beautiful life
only once
and if my once has time left
I’ll consider it an afterlife
and gift it to others as their own
and if no one wants to bear my load
I’ll trail the unbridled horse. 

Neither fatalist nor saint
I know I could be the game
without being game.
In the meantime
and till the chess board is cleared
and the tangled nets disentangled
I’ll be sittin’ on the butt of the day
wastin’ like an ol’ lamb.

Thursday 9 April

Give me a hand. Handyman.
Hand me a towel, please.
Hand me downs. Bless your hands,
we used to say yesterday,
or was it so long ago?
Because they, not the tempting face
not the world-wide mouth
would get the blame
the good hands now cuff themselves
until they wash. Sanitize. And crack.
Not because they sinned
or to shoo a devil and please a god,
just for the raw body to survive. 

Life is not going on
it’s going away.
But I won’t wash my hands
of it, not yet. 

Friday 10 April

We crawl, like moles, out of our holes.
The streets are quiet, eerily so.
We miss the coming and going of the cars.
Don’t Worry  Be Happy
children’s chalk colors the curb.
Thank you.
Dogs follow and lead
prance poop and pee.
Thank you too.
The weather is sunny and warm.
We could burst into song. We could dance.

Others are sauntering our way.
We are all morsels of hazmat,
moles of Covid-19
(you hope they’re also thinking that)
we could squeeze each other
into extinction.    

Loops and more loops
inside fearing the outside
and outside the other side
the exiles waiting to go back home
waiting for Godot
like Samuel Beckett
that lazy bony bum.

Saturday 11 April

A Covid-19 show streamed
last night in my sleep.
I was on some college campus
with stone buildings and a bare wide yard.
I remember only a friend wearing
a red shirt and khaki pants
and a mailman pulling an empty cart.
But the yard was teeming with students
and we greeted, shook hands
hugged and laughed, when suddenly
a mighty wind storm began to blow
and something like a gong rang in my head—
You should have stayed away
and I ran, in panic, panting
against the raging wind. 

Am I getting used
to social distancing?
Was the life of the man who wrote
Hell is other people
a lasting nightmare? 

Sunday 12 April

Where are you hanging out
this is no time for drifting
we implore you
son of Apollo
god of healing and poetry
son of Calliope
head of all the Muses
we implore you
fetch your lyre
and come down fast
to the deep pit
where we’re dying
come down and sing
wake us up
we will rise
and follow you
nurses   doctors   truckers   pilots   all those who deliver
we will rise and follow you
senior citizens   the obese   the diabetic   the vulnerable   and the timid   all will follow you
Sing for the homeless   for the lonely   for the lovers far away from their loves   for the Natives /
          in the forests and on the reservations   and the refugees in the camps
Sing for the devoted   for the unequal   and the ones who say it’s hard every day
Sing  we have your back
our hearts are clapping for you 
still louder


SHARIF S. ELMUSA, Associate Professor Emeritus at the American University in Cairo, Egypt, writes on the environment and on Palestine; he is a widely published poet and translator, and author of the poetry collection Flawed Landscape.   

Join the email list for our latest news