John Okrent’s first book, This Costly Season: A Crown of Sonnets, was published by Arrowsmith Press in 2021. Okrent is a family doctor who works at the Sea Mar Community Health Center in Tacoma, Wash., where he lives with his wife and two young children in a fisherman’s cabin on Puget Sound. His poetry has appeared in Ploughshares, Plume, Poetry Northwest, Field, and the Seattle Times, and he was the winner of the 2021 Jeff Marks Memorial Prize. The 49 poems in the book, written between March and September 2020, express his experience on the front lines of the Covid-19 epidemic. Okrent will be speaking at the Wellfleet Public Library in its author talk series on Thursday, Sept. 8 at 7 p.m.
March 22, 2020
You don’t know what I mean but if beauty
is truth, truth beauty, then life is layered
in redundancy. It was fog on fog on fern-moss
this morning when I took my daughter
for a walk in the woods. From the palm
of my hand she picked bits of granola. Corona-
virus has killed its thousands now, and now
its tens of thousands. Two teenage boys
jogged by us on the path; the smell of their deodorant
reminded me of a time when the world was exuberant,
or buoyant, at least. It’s sinking in,
this sinking thing. We didn’t see another soul all day.
The air felt prehistoric on my naked face.
I shaved my beard so that the mask might fit.
May 5, 2020
It is beautiful to be glad to see a person
every time you see them, as I was to see Juan,
the maintenance man, with whom it was always the same
brotherly greeting—each of us thumping a fist
over his heart and grinning, as though we shared a joke,
or bread. I barely knew him. Evenings in clinic,
me finishing my work, him beginning his—
fluorescence softening in the early dark. He wasn’t even fifty,
had four grandchildren, fixed what was broken, cleaned
for us, caught the virus, and died on his couch
last weekend. And what right have I to write this poem,
who will not see him in his uniform of ashes,
only remember him, in his Seahawks cap, and far from sick,
locking up after me, turning up his music.
Both poems copyright 2021 by John Okrent; all rights reserved. Reprinted from This Costly Season: A Crown of Sonnets (Arrowsmith Press) by permission of the author.