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Seven Months Into Sequestering, I Think About Market Carts and Other Losses

By Michelle Bitting

Didn’t you love riding in them as a kid, before you got too big to climb into the collapsible seat, your body folded up like a fortune cookie, shimmying your soft bottom inside the metal purse, knees to chest, a contortionist popping feet through steel lattice to dangle and kick mother’s shins as she pushed the load along stacked aisles, backward wheels squeaking, little insane planets spun askew; how sometimes she’d scan shelves and lean in to kiss your hair, sometimes deliver a stern knock it off if you squirmed too much or whined for root beer or that blessed box of Cap’n Crunch’s Crunch Berries, and how in frozen foods, your young chubby fingers would make a prayer pyramid, hoping she’d be merciful or just too tired to refuse you (prayer’s solemn knuckle-to-lip gesture no one performs in public these germy pandemic days) but when you finally got too big for the cart-seat, how fun was it to plunk your whole self plum center of the goody basket, mom piling in loaves of Wonder, chuck roasts and Granny Smiths, Dad’s after shave and booze, the Entenmann’s turnovers you and your brothers would fight over, especially the tart lemon ones everyone loved better than seedy raspberry; only now it’s 2020 and both those boys are dead, both suicides—a quarter century apart as of last Christmas—and now there’s a plague going round makes going to the market like crawling out of a foxhole to forage canned nuts and beans, fill canteens with the only well water for miles while dodging fragments and debris, horses and soldiers (aka the people of your town) now zombies wandering the wreckage, masks and ventilator buttons fixed to muzzles, dust and smoke filtered through flared nostrils—everyone skirting the mask-less red-faced crazies, the science defiers and “masters of the universe” who refuse to let a virus tell them what to do—blowhards who steered us here in the first place and into every pustule of civilization, every historical abyss when you think about it so that again I think of Rothko who said You’ve got sadness in you, I’ve got sadness in me until I want to peel the decades back and sit with them, my brothers, beautiful in your bell-bottoms and black turtlenecks, your bared and open mouths stuffed with corn syrup and lemon curd—you who failed to say you were leaving—as if all that time we were strangers fighting to feed ourselves and a threat of death we could never see coming.

Michelle Bitting was short-listed for the 2020 Montreal International Poetry Prize and her fourth collection Broken Kingdom won the 2018 Catamaran Book Prize but it's her kids and students who keep putting the pieces together, the horses running...

Painting by Bill Bitting.


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