Lynn Levin

The Silver Bullet
March 24, 2021 Levin Lynn

The Silver Bullet


When I wasn’t washing my hands, I remembered
when my normal germophobia used to be called neurotic,
and, in the early days of the pandemic
when you had to rely on homemade masks,
I worried that my bandanna-and-rubber-band face covering
might fall off as trembling I pushed my cart
through the grocery store. And what if I could not keep
from scratching the itch on my forehead
or if I accidentally touched virused surfaces
after I’d pulled off my gloves? When I wasn’t washing
my hands, I struggled to live with my adult children
and they with me hoping that we would come out of this
loving each other more, not less. When I wasn’t
washing my hands, I reminisced about happy hour
with the girls: cocktails and half-priced appetizers,
wearing cologne and a nice blouse, going to work
for crying out loud. I watched a lot of TV news
when I wasn’t washing my hands. In the midst
of the catastrophe, I cheered the clearing air
over Delhi, Seoul, Los Angeles, and New York.
I went for a hike. I was so happy to be outside
that I waved to strangers then saw by my footfalls
half-pint booze bottles, wads of fast-food wrappers,
a dozen orange pill bottles, and three syringes.
I thought of laboratories, bats, ventilators,
and corpses shelved in refrigerated trailers,
the morgues and funeral parlors full,
and some of the poor laid to rest in mass graves.
When I wasn’t washing my hands, I thought of
exhausted doctors and nurses toiling in the hospitals,
recalled Dr. Rieux and his helpers in The Plague,
Camus’s great novel of resistance. I debated
which was better: to stay at home during the shutdown
or volunteer like those citizens handing out
bags of food to the suddenly unemployed?
When I was washing my hands, I drove
myself mad with the “Happy Birthday” song.
But that started to sound sarcastic, so I switched
to the “William Tell Overture,” the theme of The Lone Ranger.
I saw the Masked Man and the wise Tonto
galloping in to stop the bad guys.
The Lone Ranger had a silver bullet and so did
Jenner, Pasteur, Ehrlich, Sabin, and Salk.
I wondered which masked researchers would ride
in to save us. I watched for them on the horizon
as they raced against the clock.

Lynn Levin is a poet, writer, teacher, and translator. Her most recent book is the poetry collection The Minor Virtues (Ragged Sky, 2020), named one of Spring 2020’s best books by The Philadelphia Inquirer. Her poems, short fiction, and essays have appeared in Boulevard, The Hopkins Review, Artful Dodge, The Broadkill Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Southwest Review, and other places. Her website is