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from the July/August 2020 issue


In this ironic poem by Arlinda Guma, statues of great writers and thinkers find themselves subjected to unpleasant COVID-19 prevention measures.

In Athens the statue of Pericles is being disinfected;
and for good reason,
all those ideas of freedom and democracy
clash with an era where humanity communicates in GIFs.

Nor is the statue of Dante across the sea doing so well;
for a good two hours it lay in a coma,
slapped by a former professor of comparative literature laid off by cutbacks,
now a manual laborer and disinfector of statues.

In Tirana the Unknown Soldier was issued an expired mask;
he has a light dry cough and a mild fever, but emergency rooms
require one’s details before admittance,
and he does not know his details,
being an Unknown Soldier.

The statue of Mother Teresa in front of the university fares better;
exposure to lepers has lent some immunity,
and furthermore,
the empty lecture halls are free of the joyful buzz
that might bring infection.

In France, Joan of Arc is to be burned a second time.
“Nothing personal,” the president informs her statue,
“these are just safety measures.
Throughout history long hair has been a carrier of viruses;
so it was in the era we first burned you, and so it is now.”
Voltaire's statue hears the words and shakes his head in resignation,
persuaded that the time has come to relinquish his battle against her;
let Joan of Arc speak freely. (From the crematorium.)

In England Shakespeare’s statue was informed that it must embrace the idea it will “lose loved ones.”
“But is there anyone more beloved than Juliet?” the statue sadly murmurs.

In Germany the statue of Marx is playing chess with the family doctor;
“You are asymptomatic for the time being,” the doctor tells the statue, to distract it, to seize its rook.

And in Spain the statue of Cervantes fares even worse;
for days it was clinically dead and, resuscitated,
set about in a trance to rewrite Don Quixote;
but this time in emojis,
as our era demands.

There is a spectacle of emergency sprouting all over the planet;
dictators have brought out their tanks to the squares
to fight molecular chemistry,
tank versus molecule.

The statue of Pericles looks on, his hands clasping his head,
birds, shrieking, pecking at his gallbladder,
out of which the ideas of freedom and democracy had arisen.

April 5, 2020

© 2020 by Arlinda Guma. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2020 by Peter Constantine. All rights reserved.

Read more work in response to the COVID-19 pandemic from writers around the world.

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