about us The Muse is a medical humanities initiative based at McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada. Founded in 2015, our purpose is to raise awareness of the medical humanities, by providing an interdisciplinary platform for sharing stories of sickness and healing, and to further promote empathy in healthcare. We publish a magazine on a biannual basis, organize events and run workshops for members of our community. Cover photo by Amin Moshrefi on Unsplash.
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hello& thank you This supplemental issue of The Muse is dedicated to everyone affected by the current COVID19 pandemic. Thank you to all those who sit on the frontline, preventing the unimaginable. Thank you to those who work tirelessly day after day, ensuring everyone's needs are met. Thank you to you for taking the opportunity to read about the experiences people are facing around the world.
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one unbroken word Luann Lewis
covid-19 L. Shapley Bassen
perilous (pandemic) John Corey
scifd-19 (darth vader's slurpie) Nina Nenadović
rescuing animals before the lockdown Meredith Stephens
masquerade Charles Beckford
photo by Esther Twieg
ouroboros Deonte Osayande
quarantine Deonte Osayande
shopping David Watts
the lists of the dead Frank Dullaghan
self-isolation covid-19 Madeleina Kay
dr. fauci Ace Boggess
waiting to be delivered TAK Erzinger
feminine transcriptions Olga Alexander
a phoenix in isolation Smeet Solanki
the virus king cried Jake Aller
i promise it's real Samantha Savello
social distance Analia Adorni
don't get up. Sean Cho Ayres
vivienne's pearls Diane Forman
the wisdom of liliuokalani Luisa Kay Reyes
an onslaught Melanie Han
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one unbroken word AUTHOR Luann Lewis
It's sort of like a monster in the distance. Like when we went to visit Universal Studios, back when Jurrassic Park was really popular... they played the sound of dinosaurs tromping, echoing throughout the whole place and getting louder as if a tyrannosaurus rex was appro aching. The visitors were supposed to shiver in delighted “fear.” And we did. But now there’s no delighted fear. There’s just anxiety. I think the phrase, “It’s not if it gets here, it’s when it gets here,” has everybody on edge. It shocks me that folks have bought out face masks and hand sanitizer and toilet paper. But, then again, my first instinct was fear as well. My fear went to a much darker place, though. Someplace that face masks and sanitizer couldn’t reach. I’m sixtysix years old and my lungs are not in the greatest condition. I ponder whether a fight with this corona virus would leave me dead. It tests my faith. The closer I get to when the “pedal hits the metal,” (in other words death)
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the more I struggle with my belief. At the same time, I can’t seem to notbelieve. There’s something inside me that walks through each day, conducting myself the way a
it's not if it gets here, it's when it gets here.
believer conducts themselves, organizing my thoughts, my plans, my communications the way a believer does those things. But there is a shaky part that wonders what happens after you die. Even believing, we can’t possibly know the magnitude of what is to come. But, perhaps we’re all wrong, I argue with myself, and there’s
nothing at all, just a desiccating body or cremated ashy remains. It was so much easier to believe in a robed Jesus trodding the wide green meadows of heaven when I was young and strong. And I think about my husband. What would he do if I was gone? What would I do if he was gone? I know it will happen one day but I think both of us believe I will go before him. I am older than him and not as fit. But what if he caught coronavirus and died first? Our names: “LuannandBrian,” spoken like one word at church or with friends, or “BrianandLuann,” one word at his work or with his buddies, “Brian’swife,” “Luann’shusband,” what will happen when that word gets chopped in half? It happens to people who have been married much longer than we have and it will happen to us. I always imagine him remarrying. He’s the remarrying type. He would be too lonely without someone to come home to and that thought gives me a
mixture of comfort and jealousy. I’m also embarrassed to admit that the jealousy gives me a reason to keep living and I chuckle at my own silliness for that particular motivation. Unlike my husband, I could never remarry. This was it for me. Brian is a kind, patient and optimistic man. He treats me better than I could have ever imagined but it’s hard for me to be married. I like doing what I want to do, when I want to do it. I doubt any other man could put up with me and I don’t think I could put up with any other man. Brian is special. He is a being of light, sunshine and warmth. He is a glow, filled with smiles and patience and good will. Perhaps I am biased and of course I am a little, but I am not the only one who sees him that way. People are drawn to him. Children love him. It’s not just my observation, Brian is special. So, of course, when I hear that there is a virus out there... a virus that is hard on men, especially older men, it feels like a
monster in the distance. I nag him to wash his hands. I watch over him and cringe when he gallantly opens doors for me, reminding him to wash again when he gets to the office. I read everything about this dumb virus and share instructions with him. He thinks I’m overreacting but I don’t want the “LuannandBrian, BrianandLuann,” word to be broken in two. I want those frightening footsteps that are echoing not so far away to pass then fade quietly into the distance. Let that tyrannosaurus rex travel elsewhere. Don’t step on us! But I’m a believer and I do believe that God has got all those monsters, both the ones nearby and the ones in the distance, under His control. He may allow them to strike even me from time to time but I will just have to remind myself there is only one true word for myself and my husband. Mine is, “JesusandLuann,” and his is, “JesusandBrian.” We’re just blessed right now to be, “JesusandUs.”
Luann Lewis is a Chicago native who has spent the last nineteen years writing legal documents and correspondence, but is now pursuing their Master of Fine Arts. Lewis has over a dozen pieces published in print and online, as well as having one professionally performed by Manawaker Studios. Photo by Robert F on Unsplash.
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covid-19 AUTHOR L. Shapley Bassen A crown doesn't make a monarch. Tyrants rule in various ways. How like a virus indifference is. Stay together by staying apart. Confinement leads to epigram. The equinox has passed. Now light at end of tunnels grow brighter in our imaginations. Still dark within. I have watched how honeysuckle grows, casting green like a fly fisherman. Its flower contains rain in a fragrant cup. Deaths rise. Monarchs fall. Indifference won't kill US.
L. Shapley Bassen is a native New Yorker. Bassen is a fiction editor for Craft Literary and has won two prizes, published stories, novels, poetry, and book reviews. Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash.
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The mask of fear rests in me A coward's mark of Cain But mark me once and no more
perilous (pandemic) AUTHOR John Corey
I'll mark myself in time
If fear is not what you see I beg you, look again I'm the thing that you abhor I am my only crime
Cotton masks with grins beneath The fear has held them too Crunching down within their jaws The worlds they hold from us On their doors a cotton wreath And blood painted anew Mistletoes and rabbits' paws The night is perilous John Corey is a structural engineer from Phoenix—about the farthest thing from a healthcare professional one could be. Growing up with scienceheavy curricula and attending school at ASU for engineering, Corey has spent much of their life far from publishers and literary magazines. Regardless of the seemingly disparate vocations of writing and engineering, poetry has appealed to Corey because of the piecemeal and puzzlelike nature of it.
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Photo by Khawaja Saud Masud on Unsplash.
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(darth vader's slurpie)
ARTIST Nina Nenadović I was thinking of what viruses look like under the microscope. Do they melt or eat ice cream? If they entered my body, would they enter it through the painted microscopic holes piercing the yellow juicy tissue? Although I can't travel through the cities I can do intergalactic travel within my mind. I traveled and I met big Darth Vader. He isn't bothered by the coronavirus. He is licking his yellowredblue greenish slurpie in his ship while I paint inside my room.
Nina Nenadović was born in Ljubljana, Slovenia, where she graduated in painting from the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in 2018. Besides honing her painting and sculpting skills under the mentorship of various Slovenian painters and sculptures, she acquired knowledge of ceramics at the SEM Atelier. Since 2019, she is a member of the Union of Slovene Fine Artistis Association (ZDSLU), and has had one solo exhibition. She is currently completing her master's in painting.
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Orangebellied parrot on the balcony
rescuing animals before the lockdown AUTHOR Meredith Stephens “Did you hear the ad on the TV asking for people to adopt animals from the RSPCA animal shelter? Apparently they need to find homes for these animals before lockdown,” my daughter Hannah tells me pleadingly. Just the incentive I need. I look on the RSPCA website and click on photos of doggies with winning smiles posing for the camera. I decided to follow the RSPCA on social media and then secure the one booking that is left for Saturday. My husband Rick
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would probably prefer a cat to a dog, so I booked a cat viewing. I hesitate though because the cats might pounce on the family of orangebellied parrots who perch on our balcony every morning. They might even maul my Laura Ashley sofas. We arrive at the RSPCA shelter and cannot find a park. Many others have responded to the appeal to adopt. I eventually spot a space and squeeze into the slot. As I exit my car I see a pair of Jack Russells being escorted by a couple of volunteers. Each of the doggies comes up to greet me as if we are old friends, dragging the
leads out of the volunteers’ hands. I tell the volunteers I want them, but they tell me that they have just been adopted, as they usher them into a smart car with their new owner. We arrive at the cat reception and are directed to hand sanitizer. Families and couples are waiting at the entrance, each group imposing a couple of metres distance between them and the next group. We gain entry and are directed to the cat cages. By now there are only four cats left. Prospective adopters surround two of the cages, so we are ushered to the aviary at the rear, where the
sick cats are kept. One is called Harvey. I enter the aviary to stroke him, but he only lets me touch him on his forehead. The volunteers are keen to find a home for Harvey. Apparently he has just had some teeth removed, so he is a bit irritable.
red sticker for dogs who cannot be kept with other dogs, and green stickers for dogs with special needs. All of the posters but two have stickers on them saying ‘adopted’. These remaining two dogs have both a red and a green sticker. We can’t adopt either of them because of our ageing “Normally we would not ask doggie, who also originally came people to adopt sick cats, but we from the shelter. are worried about Stage 3 of the lockdown. Animal shelters are not regarded as an essential service, so we want to find homes for them while we can. Harvey is still sick, but we will give you a course of antibiotics to treat him with,” the volunteer informs me. I tell him that we adopted dogs from the shelter a few years ago, and explain that one has passed away and the other is ageing gracefully. “I didn’t train the elderly one using conventional methods,” I explain. “I use ESP. She always wants to know what you want her to do.” He looks bemused at this unorthodox method of dog training. Meanwhile, Rick doesn’t look so enthusiastic about adopting the flailing Harvey, so we make our excuses and wander over to the dog section. Even though we haven’t made a booking, one of the volunteers happily accepts our enquiry. She directs us to a board with information about the dogs which are available for adoption. There is a poster for each dog featuring a photo and a description. They have stuck on a
Tia is Stephens's gracefully ageing labrador
Other couples and families sit outside the dog reception, at distances of even more than the regulation 1.5 metres. They want to do the right thing by the dogs and by each other. “It’s bad that there are no dogs left for us, but it’s good for
the dogs that they have found homes,” I tell the volunteer. She smiles and agrees. We have come all this way to rescue a cat or a dog, but have come away with nothing. We arrive home, and an hour later Hannah arrives home from her seven hour shift at the supermarket. “Did you get a cat?” Hannah asks hopefully. I hate to disappoint her. “There is a sorry soul called Harvey who is still undergoing medical treatment, but Dad doesn’t want to adopt a sick cat.” “I wish I had come with you. I want to adopt the last ones left that noone wants,” she informs me. This surprises me, but I am secretly proud of her for saying this. We should have taken Hannah with us to the RSPCA, and then we could have saved Harvey. Meanwhile, if she can manage to twist Rick’s arm, there might still be time.
Meredith Stephens is an English teacher in Japan, currently living in Australia. Her work has appeared in Transnational Literature, The Font A Literary Journal for Language Teachers, The Journal of Literature in Language Teaching, and in autoethnographic edited volumes of expatriate motherhood in What's Cooking Mom? Narratives about Food and Family, The Migrant Maternal: "Birthing" New Lives Abroad, and TwentyFirst Century Friendship, all published by Demeter Press, Canada.
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masquerade AUTHOR Charles Beckford
Why do you look at me with such contempt Are you searching for a devil Your eyes pass judgement—scanning the crowd for a partner O’ we’re the minority—yet we compose the majority of your problems Masks adorned on your face suddenly reveal the scorn in your eyes Hide your fake pleasantries so that your hatred may breathe Behind masks—all these masks Is just another on top of an existing one What a grand ball, we waltz the dance macabre while feets away There’ll be no toes to step on—just bodies to avoid I wore a black dress—dare to follow me throughout the night Be sure to avoid me in the scarlet light within the darkest room I will hide myself so that you’re forgiven This is no choice but an obligation and consideration of your fears Even while you cower behind ivory gauze—you still stand above me I’m sick and not for the reasons you think I am no harbinger of death with my tangled black veil This flesh is not diseased but that hatred of yours might fester Don’t spread it with lies—not while young chaos bleeds disorder You say that I am a blight on humanity’s unmarred skin— And you? Shall I lay out your defilements on empty beds? Dripping poison produced from your medicine cabinet into the mouth of humanity— Reduced to your sins so that you may feel compelled to pull glass from your own eye Drink to your own drug because you can’t handle feeling my pain Exceptions, extra precautions, o’ you never know! Do not look at me with such contempt I am not your folk devil to terrorize Do not demonize me
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Charles Beckford, amidst the COVID19 situation, has faced a lot of racism, unwanted behaviour, and comments due to their background and how they look. Beckford has sent letters to public places where they felt a lot of people were affected due to discrimination and uninformed folks. Most notably, these letters were spurred from witnessing a McMaster University student being verbally harassed in public for wearing a surgical mask. Photo by Cheng Feng on Unsplash.
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PHOTO BY Esther Twieg I took this photograph while I was on a run in the town I'm currently situated in. It's by the sea. Since the lockdown the only thing I've been able to do is go outside for runs. Yesterday i went for a run on the beach. It was a beautiful day and on a normal day the beach would be full of people, walking, running, having fun in the sun but because of the current situation when I arrived at the beach all I could see was miles and miles of inhabited land. I took the image of the dry roughage laying on the beach lonely, drying up in the suns heat. The expanse and the sheer awe of it all was breathtaking. In that moment I felt I could be the only person left in the world. The notion was terrifying and yet the world seemed so at peace.
Esther Twieg is an artist and teacher who lives and works in London, UK. Twieg studied fine arts at the University of Ulster Belfast and was a student for one year in the Academy of Fine Arts, University of Zagreb, receiving an international art diploma. After receiving a BA in Fine Arts in 2016, Twieg went on to study their postgraduate in fine arts teaching in Liverpool John Moores University in 2017. Twieg has then since exhibited paintings and drawings, and worked in art education in various locations.
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ouroboros AUTHOR Deonte Osayande My friend, Alex's mom works in healthcare & he tweeted out into the world precautions for the public pandemic which I shared with my wife & mother & when my mom called to report the findings towards my sister, she received so much venom on the phone from her response, not only could I not believe she turned serpentine, but that she disregarded her own future, ouroboros like consuming herself before my eyes
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quarantine AUTHOR Deonte Osayande There are less people around when we, my wife & I, take walks almost like it's our own private dates to spend alone, together & silent, just enjoying each other's equal company
Deonte Osayande is a writer from Detroit, US. His nonfiction and poetry have been nominated for the Best of the Net Anthology, the Pushcart Prize, and a Digital Book Award. He has represented Detroit at four National Poetry Slam compeititons. He is a professor of English at Wayne County Community College. His books include Class Urban Farmhouse Press, 2017), Circus (Brick Mantle Books, 2018) and Civilian (Urban Farmhouse Press, 2019). He also managed the Rustbelt Midwest Regional Poetry Slam and Festival for 2014 and 2018. Photo by Kate Trifo on Unsplash.
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shopping AUTHOR David Watts At Trader Joe's everyone was milling and buying. There was a calm urgency no one talked about. No one showed impatience. Though it was there, mitigated by a resoluteness I'd not seen before. It shaded our darting eyes. I've been looking a lot lately. There was a feeling like a small bird was in my hand. Tender and determined with its message. That's just the half of it. When we came back home there was a bird smashed into the pavement. One feather tilting in the wind. As if reaching. As if reaching is the pleasure itself. The hand moving to the shelf. The eyes secure in their intentions. Something is passing before us in the stillness between things. Have we lost something? Did something leave without notice? The woman's eyes at the checkout were flashing code. She didn't care if I understood. It might be time for honesty.
David Watts is a gastroenterologist at the University of California, San Francisco, a classically trained musician, inventor, and former television personality and commentator for All Things Considered. He has received awards for his work in media, in medicine, and as a poet and author. His literary credits include seven books of poetry, three collections of short stories, two mystery novels, seven western novels, a Christmas memoir, and several essays. Photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash.
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the lists of the dead AUTHOR Frank Dullaghan We contain ourselves, live off our small hoard, make do with the window’s vista; our granddaughters’ voices like birds flitting behind the laptop’s shimmer around our empty apartment. I watch the numbers daily climb until I think too many will topple. I already know, there’ll be names I won’t want to accept in the lists of the dead. Nor can I say I won’t be one. We name the ailments and vulnerabilities of our siblings and offspring, our distant friends, as if this naming is a sacrament that some god will heed. But god is just the love that lives in the heart. And so many hearts will stop, so many hearts will lose their god.
Frank Dullaghan is an Irish writer currently living in Malaysia. Cinnamon Press (UK) has published four of Dullaghan's poetry collections, most recently including Lifting the Hatch (2018). Dullaghan has have work published in various international journals, including Queens Quarterly and Into the Void in Canada. Photo by Martin Sanchez on Unsplash.
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self-isolation covid-19 ARTIST Madeleina Kay I have been drawing people across the UK and Europe currently in selfisolation because of the COVID19 pandemic, to document their experiences. The portraits are a disrupted, chaotic cubist style, the vibrantly coloured oil pastels express their vitality, personality and the emotions, hopes and fears they are currently living through. I asked each of my participants two questions and published their answers alongside their portraits on social media: What are you doing to keep your spirits up? What are you looking forward to doing after the selfquarantine is over?
Madeleina Kay is an artist and political activist from the United Kingdom, awarded Young European of the Year in 2018. In 2019, Kay completed a tour of the EU27 with a "Democracy Needs Imagination" grant awarded by the European Cultural Foundation. In light of the COVID19 pandemic, Kay has been creating artwork to document the experiences of people living through selfisolation.
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dr. fauci AUTHOR Ace Boggess Has the perfect bedside manner for informing a hundred thousand people they will die in weeks. Brain tumors, cancer clusters, rats eating their inner organs— nothing anyone can do, unless everyone does it. Brutal honesty, yet sincere & soft in his pronouncements like a mother telling her child there will be no Christmas gifts this year. When he says many might pull through with faith ful social distancing, it’s easy to believe him, his voice reassuring he isn’t caught up in magical thinking. He acts as though he waits with his patients in ICU, holding their hands, saying goodbye, wishing a happy journey. No father of death, he adopted— watch him teach that rotten boy respect.
Ace Boggess is an author of five books of poetry including Misadventure, I Have Lost the Art of Dreaming It So, Ultra Deep Field, The Prisoners, and The Beautiful Girl Whose Wish Was Not Fulfilled. His writing has appeared in Harvard Review, Notre Dame Review, Mid American Review, Rattle, River Styx, and many other journals. He received a fellowship from the West Virginia Commission on the Arts and spent five years in a West Virginia prison. He lives in Charleston, West Virginia. His sixth collection, Escape Envy, is forthcoming from Brick Road Poetry Press in 2021 Photo by Matheus Ferrero on Unsplash.
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waiting to be delivered AUTHOR TAK Erzinger Boxed up like parcels folded in on ourselves cordoned off in rooms we wait to be delivered remainders of unused things tucked away from hungry hands but spring cannot be boxed in a bragging sky robin’s egg blue meadows coughing up flowers as we rattle in these confinements our bones lie dormant like tulip bulbs packed up last season waiting for the sun to pull us from this buried place dispatching us into a changed world.
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TAK Erzinger is an AmericanSwiss poet and artist with a Columbian background. Her poetry and personal essays have been featured in Mojave He[art] Review, Cirrus Poetry Review, The Beautiful Space Journal, The Curlew, and more. Most recently, she was selected as one of four finalists under the category of poetry for The Eyelands Book Awards. She lives in a Swiss valley with her husband and cats. Photo by Jorge Salvador on Unsplash.
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feminine transcriptions AUTHOR Olga Alexander Isolated at home, I am working on a series titled Feminine Transcriptions, which deals with identity, anger, and dislocation.
Olga Alexander is a mixed painter, illustration artist, and jewelry designer from New York.
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Smeet Solanki is a McMaster University undergraduate student pursuing a degree in Psychology, Neuroscience, and Behaviour. This year, Solanki had the opportunity to shadow a neurosurgeon, not only having the chance to learn about the brain, but also exposed them to the Canadian medical system. Since high school, Solanki has worked very closely in the hospital environment and have familiarized themselves with the norm of the hospital atmoshpere. Photo by Piron Guillaume on Unsplash.
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a phoenix in isolation AUTHOR Smeet Solanki Fell asleep to a good night kiss, thinking about a morning of bliss. Thought of waking to the sun, oblivious, of what was to come. T’was a bright sunlit day, yet people had nothing to say. Resources depleting, and the elderly are suffering. Doctors are caged inside hospitals feeling punished. Their hearts desire to reunite, and no longer be banished. Hospitals all around – low on ventilators, T’is only time before we lose our defibrillators. Social distancing: a luxury not everyone can afford, yet those having this are so frantic to abort. Disney bared of magic, New York with no more traffic, never imagined, a pandemic this tragic. Petrified to catch the unwanted, can’t imagine a thing so haunted. Always heard environmentalists complaining, never considered future generations suffering. Air Pollution and CO2 are falling, maybe it’s time we quit this brawling? They say its god’s plan, yet they’re still conspiring, but it’s nature that retaliates and whispers “I’m reawakening”. COVID19: nature’s craft for the beginning, the phoenix wonders what humanity will be like...towards the world ending.
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the virus king cried AUTHOR Jake Aller the virus king smiled as the politicians lied saying that the end was near the virus king infected thousands more and killed hundreds of people the virus king sneered as people panicked and partied on the beach the virus king infected thousands more and killed hundreds of people the virus king laughed as the markets crashed millions became unemployed the virus king infected thousands more and killed hundreds of people the virus king roared as the world slid into chaos people turning on one another
the virus king infected thousands more and killed hundreds of people the virus king smirked knowing that there was nothing that they could do to stop his army from infecting millions and killing thousands the virus King begin to realize that soon there would be no one left no one for his army to infect as everyone was dying the virus King yelled remaining defiant as civilization collapsed billions were infected millions died
Jake Aller is a retired US Foreign Service officer living in Seoul, South Korea, born in Berkeley, California. Aller served 27 years in the State Department working across over 10 countries. New York. Aller served in the Peace Corps in Korea, and his work has appeared in over 40 literary journals. Photo by Taisiia Stupak on Unsplash.
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the Virus King at last cried when he saw that he was defeated as one by one people began to recover and his reign of terror came to an end
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Samantha Savello is a writer from New York. Savello graduated from Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island with a degree in Hispanic Literature, and identifies as Puerto RicanAmerican. Photo by Alvin Leopold on Unsplash.
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i promise it's real AUTHOR Samantha Savello
The dripping hospital, Oozing with Blood, Teeming with the germs of the ill, Echoing the moans of the sufferers, Mashing together a nasty mixture of pain and bile Until it hurts too much to hear And the doctor draws the curtain, sets out his tools, And slices away at the last bit of hopelessness, Puts it in a bag, and wipes down the area with antiseptic. He is no longer sick But now empty: A phantom of his former self He leaves the whitewalled warzone And walks to his car His head full of scrambled eggs, His leg bloody and bruised His chest beating so fast That his body cannot keep up
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social distance AUTHOR Analia Adorni
My artwork intends to reflect on the social control of the daily lives of citizens affected by the COVID19 pandemic and the necessity for vigilence. My intention is to reflect on the strict control of the movements, lives, and relationships between people, and the penalties for failing to adhere to the rules. National governments use words such as "war", "victory", "friends" and "unfriends" to promote the act of social distancing. This situation transforms the lives of the population and generates paranoia in society.
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Analia Adorni is a an Argentinian artist who studied at the National University of the Arts (Buenos Aires). Adorni moved to Italy and continued their studies at the Visual Center of Pietrasanta (Tuscany) and the Fondazione Il Bisonte (Florence). Adorni actively participates in both collective and solo exhibitions across Europe and America, and their work can be found in museums in Italy, Argentina, and Ukraine.
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don't get up. AUTHOR Sean Cho Ayres Outside that door there’s an entire world that wants us dead. Cacti store century old flash floods in the soft of their arms: I believe in drought and the unpuncturable silver tongues of desert lizards. How much sad ness can I blame on history, I’ve been unburying my father’s fathers for years now and the clouds still won't get fat with rain for me. We could scatter out belly fat in the sand for the vultures, cut off their wings and pretend we aren’t dying. Leave your shove. I’ll take off my shirt and dab your gut wound. Lodge our house key in the soft of your foot: when they find our bodies they’ll come back to our room and know we had nothing to leave. Close your eyes and take me by the elbow. This world has left us to become whatever we like. Yes. I’m terrified too. Sean Cho Ayres is an MFA candidate at the University of California Irvine. His work appears or is forthcoming in The Portland Review, 30North Literary Review, The Mangrove, and elsewhere. He is a staff reader for Ploughshares. In the summer of 2019 he was a Mary K. Davis scholarship recipient for the Bear River Writing Conference. Ayres’s manuscript Not Bilingual was a finalist for the Write Bloody Publishing Poetry Prize. Photo by Elias Domsch on Unsplash.
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vivienne's pearls AUTHOR Diane Forman
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David Whyte’s poem reminds me that Everything is Waiting for You. That it’s a great mistake to act the drama as if you are alone, to feel abandoned despite the intimacy of those around you. That it’s a mistake for us to believe that while we each have a solo voice, we aren’t part of a larger chorus. It is said that we are all one, each a solitary cog in this inexplicable quagmire of a machine. Humans. Nature. The Universe. And yet. One can swoon at the swell of the ocean, but it can’t swoon back. A tree can’t really hug. Sometimes the only sound one hears is her own foot on the pavement, maybe an even strong step, but single file. Being alone in a pandemic is claustrophobic. I’ve been thinking of my ex motherinlaw, alone in a nursing home; like everyone in her situation, she’s unable to have visitors. The residents are now sequestered in their rooms, even for meals. What gives the day a shape, when there is no place to go, no one to see, no one with whom to share a word? When you might not know why your son and daughter no longer show up, and wonder if they just stopped caring about you? I was never fond of my ex motherinlaw, and the feeling was mutual. The first time I met her, she gave me a quick once over, me in my jean skirt and embroidered top, her in a crisp, belted, whitecollared dress, that might have poofed like Marilyn Monroe’s had she walked over an
air vent. She was in full make up, including eyeshadow and eyebrow pencil at 3 in the afternoon. Did I sense disapproval then? Perhaps I felt her disdainful eye, or maybe it was hope, when she gave me a perfect set of cultured pearls, nestled in a black leather flapped box with a magnetic clasp, the type that glides shut effortlessly. Those pearls looked so elegant, so expensive, perfect for a new debutante or Disney princess. It was a thoughtful gift, except that I wasn’t a girl who wore pearls, so the box has been in my top dresser drawer, hidden under neath my socks, for several decades. Those pearls were for a different daughterinlaw, not the one she got. My motherinlaw had a way of making order of the world, of trying to assure that things were just the way she wanted them to be. Her wine and aperitif crystal was lined like chess pieces, the tall glasses: kings in the back. If I put a piece in the wrong place, she’d chastise me and then move it: Checkmate. Her schedule was similarly ordered: deep house cleaning on Mondays, grocery shopping on Tuesdays, bridge at the Jewish Community Center on Wednesdays. The same schedule for forty years. In her garage she had a stockpile in preparation for Y2K or the pandemic none of us ever
really saw coming. There was no room for the car, as tables were stacked with dozens of rolls of paper towels and toilet paper and boxes of Diet Coke. We could use all that now. I wasn’t as compliant as the wine glasses, or her grocery store hoard. During this time when we are all sequestered, I think of my exmotherinlaw often, in her room alone at the nursing home. I wonder what she sees or notices, whether there are nesting birds outside her window, whether her window even opens to the upcoming spring breezes. I wonder whether anyone has left her beloved Boston Globe outside her door, or if she even has any interest in reading it. If my motherinlaw were allowed visitors, I’d like to open that black magneticflapped box and put on these translucent pearls, preferably draped over a pressed floral blouse. But, of course, I don’t own a blouse like that. Pearls on, I would drive to Wellesley and surprise her for a visit. I haven’t talked to Vivienne in almost ten years, but I’ve been thinking about her, wanting to let her know that I didn't really abandon her, although I’m sure it seems that way. If I could, I’d visit, to help alleviate the claustrophobia of this pandemic. I can visualize her, lips upturned in approval, at the sight of me wearing her pearls.
Diane Forman holds a Bachelor of Science in English and Education from Northwestern University (Illinois), and a Master of Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Forman is also an Amherst Writers & Artists (AWA) affiliate, trained and certified to lead workshops in the AWA method. After a long career as a writing tutor and educational consultant, Forman is currently working on a series of essays and a memoir. Additionally, Forman is leading writing groups and retreats on the north shore of Boston, US.
being alone in a pandemic is
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the wisdom of liliuokalani AUTHOR Luisa Kay Rayes
While living in Northeast Ohio with my grandfather as a young girl, my piano teacher was Mrs. Schaefer. Having had difficulty finding piano teachers in the area, we were very fortunate when she took me on as a student at my grandfather’s request. After only my first lesson, she expressed her desire to send me to her alma mater—Oberlin. Being young and impressionable, I had no idea that Oberlin was one of the top music conservatories in the world. When we moved back to Alabama, I continued studying the piano, but the closest I would ever come to studying at Oberlin was through taking private lessons at their community music school. Nonetheless, as a young girl, I found myself enchanted by Mrs. Schaefer’s stories about how the adopted daughter of the Hawaiian Queen Liliuokalani went to Oberlin. Being very proud of that fact, Mrs. Shaeffer mentioned it frequently as I learned how to play “Aloha Oe” out of the “Let Us Have Music for Piano” book that she taught me out of. Leaving me entranced as a young girl by the notion of such an accomplished composer Queen.
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Later, as my curiosity about this musical regent led me to learn more about her life, I found to my horror that the descendants of some New England missionaries became prominent businessmen on the Hawaiian islands. And when smallpox that was brought over by Chinese laborers struck the islands affected the native Hawaiian population, Queen Liliuokalani demanded that the ports be closed and those affected be quarantined. Being the dutiful queen that she was, she was looking out for her people. However, the businessmen felt affronted as with the ports closed, their businesses were suffering. Their resentment to such circumstances quickly helped fuel their movement to force her abdication. “How could anyone possibly be so cruel?” was my first thought when I learned the story. Surely those businessmen were unnaturally greedy and such disregard for the lives of others was an isolated event in world history. Today’s quarantine due to the COVID19 virus has taught me otherwise.
As my mother and I learn to live comfortably while staying at home and remain socially distant via reading books, practicing the piano, taking spoken Latin lessons via video conferencing, and watching movies in the evening; we remain astonished at the number of people who express more concern for the economy’s future anticipated suffering rather than for the actual suffering of those who come down with a frighteningly lethal airborne virus often times through no fault of their own. “The old should be willing to die, so their grandchildren can have a better life”, they state nonchalantly with a willingness to maintain businesses open and the wheels of commerce running as if nothing were awry. Statements as such reveal to me how little times have changed since the days of those greedy businessmen on the Hawaiian islands. For those same people who prize the economy above all else, blissfully ignore the fact that those very same grandparents are often responsible for the upbringing and well being of their grandchildren. With meth and other illicit drugs have wreaked havoc upon the parents
of the young so often nowadays. And to toss those said grandparents to the curb is to create a generation of orphans which will result in a drain on both society and their precious economy. Yet, as the governor and other local political leaders even in my conservative state of Alabama are having to yield to practicality as the numbers of confirmed COVID19 cases keep rising and the confirmed deaths start to manifest themselves, they are ordering beaches to be closed, lockdowns, quarantines and the cancellations of all public activities. Reminding me of the wisdom of Queen Liliuokalani in ordering quarantines while looking out for her people. And how in a nation that proudly boasts of government “of the people, by the people, and for the people”, it is true. The lives of all people are more important than an economy that can later rebound. Especially, with the combined help of both the young and the old.
Luisa Kay Reyes has had pieces featured in "The Raven Chronicles", "The Windmill", "The Foliate Oak", "The Eastern Iowa Review", and other literary magazines. Her essay, "Thank You", is the winner of the April 2017 memoir contest of "The Dead Mule School Of Southern Literature", and her Christmas poem was a first place winner in the 16th Annual Stark County District Library Poetry Contest. Additionally, her essay "My Border Crossing" received a Pushcart Prize nomination from the Port Yonder Press. Two of her essays have been nominated for the "Best of the Net" anthology, with one of her essays recently being featured on "The Dirty Spoon" radio hour Photo by Nathan Dumalo on Unsplash.
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an onslaught AUTHOR Melanie Han
february “HyoIn, your dad and I think you should cancel your Spring Break trip to Morocco.” “No, Mom, we already booked everything. We’ll be fine, we’re all young and healthy.”
Boston Lisbon Madrid Marrakech: Getting lost in the windy streets of medinas. Eating lamb tagines and drinking mint tea. Architecture of the Old City. Warm weather. Sahara Desert Tour: Berber camping, camel trekking, sandboarding, stargazing. Unplugged. Unaware. Unaffected. Fes Chefchaouen Tangier: Whispering “corona, corona,” fake coughing at me while ushering siblings out of my way, spitting in my direction, hitting me with cardboard boxes, yelling at me to “go back to where I came from.” Tangier Madrid Lisbon Boston: Wary travelers wearing masks. Sudden onslaught of information: “Covid19.”
“Stay at home. Wash your hands.” “The College has made the difficult decision to transition all inperson classes to online learning for the remainder of the spring term.” “Babe, I got laid off. Sorry. I’m sure we’ll figure out a way to pay rent.” “HyoIn, your dad and I got kicked out of the grocery store today because the locals didn’t want ‘virus spreaders’ shopping with them.” “CDC.”
“Although we have been thinking creatively about meaningful tasks to keep the office busy, unfortunately, we may not have enough remote work to keep you all over the coming weeks.” “Deaths." 48 | APRIL 2020
april “Corona.” “Stay at home.”
“We don’t know when this will end.”
“Wash your hands.” “Corona.”
Melanie Han is an avid traveller and poet who was born in Korea, and grew up in East Africa. Han is currently pursuing a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing in Boston. She has won awards from Boston in 100 Words and Lyric, and her poetry has appeared in several magazines and online publications, such as Fathom Mag, Ruminate, and Among Worlds. During her free time, she can be found eating different ethnic foods, studying languages, or visiting new countries. Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash.
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50 | APRIL 2020
supplemental issue design&layout Alexandro Chu edits Yousef Abumustafa
editors-in-chief Samuel Lee Shamir Malik advertising&social media Alexandro Chu Maya Kshatriya Angela Lin blog&development Abeer Ahmad Nicole Areias Karen Li editorial board Natalie Palumbo Sarah Fu Yousef Abumustafa Sonya Bhatt Alexandria Gonzales Paige Guyatt Subin Park Bryan Wong
events Gracie Liu Amit Nerhu Chaitali Parkh finance Zahra Abdallah John Chiong graphics&layout Hana Brath Veronica Iksander Lyan Abdul Gracia Chen Cezera Ene Peri Ren Amy Zhu website Heather Zhao Saud Haseeb
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published April 2020 themusemcmaster.ca