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27 April, 2021: Brink

Read a Poem


By Karen Schubert

In some New Orleans neighborhoods they had four minutes
to get to the roof where they should have stowed an axe,
really should have left. The city is 290 years old, new houses
up on stilts. My mom and I ride the Katrina Tour bus. Our driver
lived in a FEMA trailer two years and is monitored for mesothelioma.
This is my first time here. My mom was here fifty years ago
on her honeymoon–she was nineteen and her husband thirty-one.
After a number of Singapore slings, she could not lift the fork.
I don’t know what he was thinking, my father, when he plucked
this country girl from college. She was learning chemistry,
not how to jump onto a floating house with children in her arms.
In the bungalow where the bus pauses, a couple drowned in the attic.
The debris is gone. I am living in Texas, the farthest I have lived
from her. I sip my first mint julep at a bistro on Canal Street.
She does not want me to live in Texas. There are trolley car sculptures
all over New Orleans. When we spot our first, we think it is a coffin.
One man, holding two children, leaped onto a house. He set them down,
vaulted back to get his mother. She had a heart attack and died.
He picked up the last child, jumped, she slipped his arms. They never
found her. In the cemetery, the early dead were stowed to rot above ground,
bones swept out for the next family member. My daughter lives
in the Midwest. My mother left my father when I was twelve.
She took me. I left my daughter with her father because he asked me to.
On roofs, survivors beat back snakes and alligators while waiting
for helicopters to drop them onto a piece of bridge under water
on both ends. There are blue tarps all over New Orleans, bikers,
birds, jazz, wrought iron, a riot of flowers, X’s on buildings
with the number of dead. A bikini in heels beckons us from a bar
on Bourbon Street. My daughter calls. I hope to bring her here someday.
My mom and I chat up the oyster shucker. He’s the best in the city.
He shows us his awards, and the tiny stones he calls pearls.
“Brink” by Karen Schubert, from The Compost Reader. Accents Publishing. 2020. Used by permission of the author.
Karen Schubert is the author of The Compost Reader (Accents Publishing) and five chapbooks. Her poetry and creative nonfiction appear or are forthcoming in New World Writing, 21st Century Plague: Poems and Prose for a Pandemic; Ohio Poetry Association Common Threads; and Raw Data: Living in the Fallout from the Coronavirus. Her awards include a 2021 Palm Beach Poetry Festival Thomas Lux Fellowship, Wick Poetry Center Chapbook Prize, Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award, and residencies at the Vermont Studio Center and Headlands Center for the Arts. She is Founding Director of Lit Youngstown. Find her at and on Twitter: @karen_jedemeure
Write a Poem
Write a poem that has nothing to do with Coronavirus but uses one or more of these words: social distancing, contact tracing, mask, vaccine, second dose, herd immunity.
Sierra Polsinelli
He was complex, unpredictable.
He was awkward among others.
He knew this and practiced a form
of social distancing.

He would be there
in the room,
but far away, separate and alone.

He watched and listened.
Everyone he came in contact with
went on a mental list.
He could recite them all from memory.
A perfect form of contact tracing.

He feared illness and was obsessively clean.
His mannerisms a form of vaccine.
Each washing, sterilizing, each action
one more dose of protection.
Was it enough, maybe he’d need a second dose.

If only others would be this careful
we could reach herd immunity.
He smiled to himself – yes
everyone distant, careful, alone.
4/27/2021 6:38:27 PM

Mary M Chadbourne
This brave piece gains force from the juxtaposed images of horror and aplomb, the aplomb perhaps a numbness. Lives wrenched from one's hands and in memory live on side by side in these shards of family biographies. Superb work.
4/27/2021 3:10:20 PM

seems like a lot of voices drifting through this poem, a whole busload! My mother and grandmother went to school in New Orleans at H. Sophie Newcomb College, once the premier women's college in the south, but gone now, another victim of Katrina. When she died, my mother requested donations for Louisiana Flood relief in lieu of flowers.
4/27/2021 2:58:23 PM

RE: Yesterday’s Fiction: Today’s Reality
loved this line: "Let’s all be five again." Great little poem, Bill.
4/27/2021 12:26:57 PM

re: Brink enjoyed the opportunity to read "Brink" very powerful. Awesome title!
4/27/2021 12:24:58 PM

POEM DAY 27: Write a poem that has nothing to do with Coronavirus but uses one or more of these words: social distancing, contact tracing, mask, vaccine, second dose, herd immunity.


A little social tap dance, Papa near the window, laughing.
His phone is ringing “Twilight- Zone” from the 1960’s
and he thinks Rod Serling is calling from the Finger Lakes.
It’s the moment distancing—a present-tense participle,
ignored since the third grade, is tolerated.

Time to contact father.

The cell phone sings on and on, without connection.
Papa is too busy searching for Rod under his bed.
He asks an over-weight nurses’-aide about a secret universe—a dimension he dreamed about last week.
Tracing her mop over every inch of floor beneath Papa’s bed,
she proves Rod has finally left the building.

He loves the plump nurse and calls her “Auntie”. He’s decided
she’s family and worries about the surgical-mask she never removes.
It has little lady-bugs tattooed on light blue fabric and Papa thinks
they’re stains from her tears.

Vaccine. It’s a word he keeps hearing on radio.
He thinks it means Rod Serling’s secret universe is under attack.
He refuses to watch anymore television.
Auntie saw fit to remove the compact flat-screen from his room.
A Sirius radio sits on his dresser instead of pictures of his kids.
It’s the second one we’ve provided in less than a month.

“Like I need another dose of Public Radio treating the world like a herd of spastic goats!” His laugh, his twinkling thank-you-eyes haunt us.
We miss him and press smart phone buttons over and over.
We connect, like an invasion.
But before there’s a chorus of “Papa!” he interrupts,

“Kids, immunity—all the talk is about isolation—even the rainbow has separated into a secret color.

Papa starts coughing. The nurses’ aide leaves the room.
He’s about to tell us his dreams.
We can’t stop listening;
we’re about to write everything down.
There’s a sound like a long-ago whisper,
a frail, dry sound that takes up too much space…

…all dialogue crumbles, breaks apart
and the cell-phone dies before Papa can begin.

© Tovli 2021
4/27/2021 12:21:02 PM

Arya F Jenkins
A very vivid, precise, skillful and moving poem. New Orleans and Katrina circumscribed:

"birds, jazz, wrought iron, a riot of flowers, X’s on buildings
with the number of dead. A bikini in heels beckons us from a bar."
4/27/2021 11:50:26 AM

Tim Richards
A vivid memory, powerful and scary. Good job, Karen, and thanks for sharing your life through poetry.
4/27/2021 11:34:03 AM

Marion E Boyer
This poem, Karen, is so deft, so very moving and unsettling. Well done. Loved reading it here.
4/27/2021 11:09:23 AM

Bill Ritz
Yesterday’s Fiction: Today’s Reality

Brave new world, 1984.
Fahrenheit 451.
Yesterday’s prognostications
veiled as literature, fiction.
“Imagine”...fruition in 2020.
Suspect everyone.
Keep a safe, social distance,
Better yet: be unsociable.
A surgical mask becomes your badge,
and you had better be a member.
Inoculate, vaccinate:
“Kool Aide” for the masses.
Don’t get close - second dose.
Herd theory - herd immunity.
The sheep feed willingly at the trough.
Benevolent dictator - kindergarten teacher:
Let’s all be five again.
Take care of us - we give you the freedom.
Just tell us what to do.
We’re all in this together.
4/27/2021 10:51:52 AM

Your poem is very powerful. I plan to share it with a friend who is in his 80's, born and raised in Louisiana. He's lived in Ohio for more than 40 years now, but his heart is still in Louisiana. Even from a distance, he felt the losses from Katrina.
4/27/2021 10:19:22 AM

Karen Schubert
Thank you for your kind words! I'm thrilled to be part of this amazing series. New website-in-progress:
4/27/2021 10:08:57 AM

Wow! Just Wow.
4/27/2021 10:02:03 AM

Robin Mullet
Wow, Karen Schubert, just wow.
4/27/2021 9:53:17 AM

READ + WRITE: 30 Days of Poetry is a collaboration between Cuyahoga County Public Library and poet Diane Kendig. Our thanks go to Diane and the poets of Northeast Ohio who allowed us to share their poetry.