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Craig Chen


Rona, you zinger, you peplomer-slinger,

you are radiant. Under electron

microscope, your searing crown of lipid

a stellar mane. How you descended

upon us, the solar eclipse we did not predict.

In your wreath of light, we, transfixed.

Scorn and pity the virologists

with their nanometer calipers.

You measure in the billions. You

have ambitions.

We are but lonely points

at this event horizon, nearly forgetting

the before times and unable to divine

what comes next, venerating only you,

this beautiful black hole we croon to.

The Forty-Five

for Anna

I had forgotten about that trip last year

when we got turned around

on our way to Culloden. They closed the two lane highway

and we guessed it was whiskey

or a monster sighting

or Americans on the wrong side of the road, but

later we learned a tourist with a selfie-stick leaning off the side of Urquhart

tumbled down that castle’s cracked shell.

We marveled how even on vacation we couldn’t escape disaster.

Now my three masks hang on hooks in the garage,

in neat rotation. My scrubs have lost their starched stiffness,

become parchment soft. I strip

and sit in the tub, the cold shower staccato,

and think on the man who died from The Coronavirus.

That’s how he inhabited it, the way my father owns

The Gout, my mother The Diabetes.

For two weeks, I donned space suit and powered fan

and entered the man’s room in intensive care,

clasping his hand and feeling it grow frail.

He used to teach European history, and his students’ cards leafed

his room in autumn colors. He liked to talk, and

I counted the number of words he could speak before he stopped to gasp for air.

Each day he joked about tipping his doctor for bringing the breakfast tray.

Each day I broached the idea of a breathing tube, and he waved me away,

instead speaking to me of history and the way we preserve our dead,

of the Forty-Five who followed Bonnie Prince Charlie,

and died with targe and broadsword aloft.

Of how we honor those who must have known certainty.

Of historians who collect morsels of metal from that field in Culloden,

mark ditches where soldiers slept the night the line stretched long.

I remember our own trip when you insisted on the long detour

to this battleground where your ancestors escaped ruin.

At first I saw just a field, and then I walked its length in that climeless dusk:

Windless over highland moor, bouquet on a cairn of stones, no midges today. A teenager in a kilt plays the bagpipes.

When the rain begins, black umbrellas unfurl.


Craig Chen is a critical care physician who began writing poetry in earnest following his experiences caring for patients and families in the COVID-19 pandemic. He is based in Mountain View, California.


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