The Sign by Elizabeth Robinson

During the pandemic, there are no solutions,
but God is a meaningful increment.
We remember October, when it was fires that
we anticipated. The wind.
Experience is a strangely conjugated verb when
no one knows who is sick, was sick, will
be sick. We had a headache, a tightness in
our chests, maybe. Maybe pain in the gut, a glimpse
of a grounded cruise ship in the harbor. They say,
at the church, members may no longer touch each other, no
longer the bread and the wine. We
remember October when PG & E turned off
power, but no one knew when would/ if/ will
the power be gone. Now, in an empty church
a homily, a song. Do not touch
the doors. The caretaker cannot tolerate
teenage boys playing basketball on the hillside,
disassembles the hoops, disinfects the bolts. We
remember when the key to the earthquake supply
shed wouldn’t work. A pitcher of water in the refrigerator
in case we need it when the big one hits. We want to
know if it is okay to pray for the health of a ninety-
something woman. Want to know why prayer is
a tight knot that requires dextrous fingers
untying it. Hands washed and washed, slick
on the tangle. Lather and heat.
We remember when people coughed without
consequence. When, on the way to work,
a sign just before the Caldecott Tunnel at
10:45 a.m. warned “Tunnel may close a
noon. Plan ahead.” God was provisional,
a votive candle propped in sand with
several others, burning down, exactly
this inability to plan ahead. We wonder
if we already had the illness, if it
is already all over. We accepted
many mysteries passively, even
gladly, but not that one sign,
ten yards before the
opening of a very long tunnel.
Elizabeth Robinson’s work has appeared in 2020 in Denver Quarterly, Vestiges, Elderly, Caliban, and other publications. She is the author of 16 books of poetry, most recently Rumor (Free Verse Editions) and the critical anthology Quo Anima: innovation and spirituality in contemporary women’s poetry, co-edited with Jennifer Phelps and published by University of Akron Press. Robinson’s creative nonfiction has recently appeared in Conjunctions, Scoundrel Time, and is forthcoming in The Encounter, an anthology to be published by Free Verse Editions.