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.