Today, my poem, Thoughts in Time of Plague, appears on the cover of the print edition of theToronto Star. The Star’s Books Editor, Deborah Dundas, also provides details of how I came to compose the poem during the pandemic. You can read both the interview and the poem and watch a video of my reading in self-isolation, here: Poetry of a pandemic: Toronto’s poet laureate explains how he approached writing about COVID-19 crisis.
Below, I have also provided my reading of the poem on the Star‘s Youtube channel as well as a transcription.
Thoughts in Time of Plague
When we set out, we knew
many would die on the way.
And yet, the journey was joyous.
When we made our home we knew
many would die there. And yet we loved
that house. All the views from its windows
we named “beauty”.
When we went down the road,
the light was different every mile.
What could be behind those mute windows
with sometimes a peering eye, what pleasure
in those almost empty gardens, what unknown work
in the factories, birds in the dense wood?
When dawn came in our bedroom
or we woke too late in the old
shattered kitchen amid food scraps, empty bottles,
didn’t our memory burn deeper? — the same
old scar, flaming anew, shifting, unmoved.
And when we were trembling by the sick
that we loved and feared — so many — was it different?
Whether on the road with nowhere
to lay them down, or in the room with nowhere
else to take them… When we had to watch
the threatened breathing or leave it
to go to work. When we had to hear they had died
without us — was it different? No. No different.
Except that we saw something we always knew
in the dark. Failure was not
and success had never been
the end. The end was care.
— A. F. Moritz, Poet Laureate of Toronto
as printed in The Toronto Star, 1 April 2020.
UPDATE: Thanks, as well, to David Brydges, who included this poem in the comments section of Marc Lacey’s piece in the New York Times, How Poetry Shakes Up the National Desk’s Morning Meetings.