Alamgir Hashmi ~ Virus Regulation

a son­net sequence

You are lucky you have your masks,
near­ly all your per­son­al protective
equip­ment. And you have your
instruc­tions. The virus protocol
is a com­plete code of life.
Use the Coronavirus App
on your [exple­tive] smart phone
before it puckers.
Value these precious
min­utes of the life­time SIM
now ulu­lat­ing for the occasion.
Of course, you will wash your hands
ever, but you will not wash
your hands off the world entirely.

Every one of you
is a unique touch-me-not.
Reports agree the virus, a novel
ter­ror­ist, is omnipresent;
nothing’s out of its reach,
min­er­al or veg­etable, ani­mal or human.
Caught half way cast­ing off
its uni­form, it seemed to escape
from one spot, then from another,
leav­ing num­bers and ghost towns
gasp­ing for breath; yet it has stayed.
For this, we have no prophylactics,
only sticky pre­fabs, porous bor­der walls.
Watch over your shoul­der. Watch now.

Summer nights, at the rooftop, 
the long hours are hard­ly long.
Eighteen this year, buxom,
she lies over me full weight 
and pull of the earth beneath us, 
sweat­ing into the silence 
and tiny drops of body scent we make.
Skin to skin, we exchange all.

I inch forward. 
A swift cur­rent through the satin folds, 
or ruf­fled as grass, she sighs.
O I am not sup­posed to do much – 
less and less count­ing of stars.
None too soon, none too far.

Touching folks is lethal.
Sanitize 24/7
and keep your sanity.
See no one, shake no hands.
Ask no one to coffee.
Dating is out,
though chat­ting via video link is O. K.,
and for G‑7 par­ties, kosher.
Love with­out touching
is chem­i­cal­ly pure, neat. (Ah, Plato!)
Weddings are banned.
Funerals are such a lazy dispatch.
Why stand on ceremony
for bod­ies on the redun­dan­cy list?

You will live while you will live
as a fleet­ing shadow
falling off a sliv­er of light
in your per­son­al cave.
It’s where the pulse slows down;
time drops into a black hole;
tomor­row differs
from death, from birth.

Now would the babies arrive immaculate,
pink? Not just you, he, she, they –
all in the repub­lic may expect to have them
through good vibes.
Or the stork will do deliveries,
for the endgame is yet to be.

A sil­ly lit­tle place to lounge 
out of time’s domain you could enter 
not knock­ing at the door, 
stow knick-knacks and pot­ted gardenias,
and maybe return to for refills, 
an extra cup of coffee;
it’s the one you fan­cied own­ing some day
as home to you, 

but is far­ther than any­thing in sight.
Never the same, really,
needs dust­ing.
Even the shoe-rack yells every weekend
‘where’ve you been so long?’
And that same door to leave again.

To all ends and pur­pos­es, online,
you will be homeschooled.
Stem lessons, our worka­day gospel,
will be flashed straight into the brain.
Your school­marm, Ms. Touchbutton,
will take care of the procedure.
Ha! Math is so musi­cal, you can strum off
a con­cer­to of infi­nite frac­tions. This time
the trans­la­tors will be starved to undo
Latin, Arabic, Aramaic or Hebrew.
In your pueb­los and cramped tenements,
you have you and your rotor fix, the algorithm
to work and play in splen­did isolation,
your new society.

Stay with­in your nation­al bubble;
let no one punc­ture it.
Nearly every­thing else
is some­thing else.
Such oth­er kinds flock here!
If you want to know the weather,
check the stock mar­ket chart.
If you have oth­er ideas,
it’s past prayer time.
Beware all doors,
(save makeshift hos­pi­tals and morgues),
all pos­si­ble doors, out­lets, exits,
places of wor­ship, parks, colleges,
have wired Yale locks.

Warm bread from the oven,
your hands smell of dough,
bak­ing, the sci­ence of hunger
or sat­is­fac­tion. You only say 
we are out of cinnamon,
just as yesterday.
Another mile to go for spring water,
more herbs, and nuts for the buns.

it’s been
plow­ing or gathering, 
prayers for good weather. 
Is it this we live for?
One wait­ing, the oth­er away.

Feel socked in?
Turn on your ser­vice lap­top, full screen,
and take a good look at how the world was.
See how the pur­ple and yel­low crocuses
spread wild in the city’s main squares?
Given the chance! No wallpaper,
it’s the name of the fragrance
in real time.

And hear the birds
in the park over there, right off
the busy lane emp­ty today?
So excit­ed, the blue­green long­tails swing
into a cor­ner of your view
before it goes dark. Hear now.

So be it, so be it, I am sure.
I am sure, I am sure, so be it.
So be it, I am sure, so be it.
So be it, so be it, I am sure.
I am sure, I am sure, so be it.
So be it, I am sure, I am sure.
So be it, so be it, I am sure.
I am sure, so be it, so be it.
So be, so be, so be, so be, it.
I am, I am, I am, I am, sure.
So be it, so be, it, sure, I am.
I am sure, I am sure, so be it.
So be it, I am, I am, I am,
sure, sure, sure, sure, sure, sure, sure, sure, sure.

In here, true angels in space­suits will feed you manna-
o‑salwa. The state’s done up.
You will be watered round the clock
with the choic­est drinks.
The houries will nurse
and please you,
even if all the fine perfumes
of Arabia will not sweeten
their smelly big feet.
You will acti­vate or rest
in their car­ing celes­tial arms;
and in good time
with their beguil­ing charms
they will lov­ing­ly put you to sleep.

This poem fol­lowed the out­break of COVID-19 pan­dem­ic, which has killed a large num­ber of peo­ple and altered the con­di­tions of life every­where. © Alamgir Hashmi


Parts of Virus Regulation: a son­net sequence have var­i­ous­ly appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, Delmarva Review, and Obsessed with Pipework.


Alamgir Hashmi is the author of numer­ous books of poet­ry, includ­ing My Second in Kentucky (Vision) and A Choice of Hashmi’s Verse (Oxford), as well as sev­er­al vol­umes of lit­er­ary crit­i­cism. His more recent work appears in var­i­ous antholo­gies, and in such jour­nals as Poetry Review, Prairie Schooner, Poet Lore, New Letters, Berkeley Poetry Review, The Capilano Review, The New Quarterly, New Statesman, Chicago Review, Contemporary Review, Poetry London, Postmodern Culture, Edinburgh Review, Paris Voices, and Connecticut Review. A Pushcart Prize nom­i­nee and a Rockefeller Fellow, he has won high hon­ors and awards for his work, some of which has been trans­lat­ed into sev­er­al European and Asian lan­guages. For more than four decades he has taught as a uni­ver­si­ty pro­fes­sor of English and Comparative Literature in North America, Europe, and Asia. He has also served as a judge of many nation­al and inter­na­tion­al lit­er­ary prizes, includ­ing the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Neustadt International Prize for Literature. He is Founding President of The Literature Podium: An Independent Society for Literature and the Arts.