Jeffrey Harrison

Before Things Got Bad
May 23, 2020 Harrison Jeffrey

—March 2020
After the mayor closed all the parks
but before things got so bad
that no one went outdoors,
everybody took walks on the roads,
changing sides if anybody
was coming the other way.
Some of them said hello
and asked how you were doing
with a graciousness that seemed
to come from another era,
while others just nodded or waved,
as if words could spread the infection
even from across the street,
and still others looked away
as though the virus were transmissible
through eye contact alone—
those were the ones, you thought,
who would shove you aside
to get the last can of beans
on the emptying grocery shelves,
or double-cross you out of a bed
when the elementary school
was converted to a makeshift ward.
But none of that had happened yet
and no one knew if it would.
It was all still taking shape
in our heads, based on
disaster movies seen in childhood
or those awful books they made us read
like Lord of the Flies and On the Beach.
We didn’t know yet what kind
of people we would turn out to be.

Jeffrey Harrison is the author of six books of poetry, including, most recently, Between Lakes (Four Way Books, 2020), selected as a 2021 Must-Read Book by the Massachusetts Center for the Book, and Into Daylight (Tupelo Press, 2014), winner of the Dorset Prize. A former NEA, Guggenheim, and Bogliasco Fellow, his poems have appeared widely in magazines and anthologies, including Best American Poetry and the Pushcart Prize volumes. Recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Paris Review, The Threepenny Review, The Yale Review, The Hudson Review, The Gettysburg Review, The Southern Review, Poem-a-Day, and elsewhere. His essay “The Story of a Box,” about Marcel Duchamp and his family, was recently published in The Common.