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For literary responses to COVID-19 from writers around the world, check out our Voices from the Pandemic series.
from the April 2020 issue

Plague Diary, March 23, 2020

Gonçalo M. Tavares tracks the COVID-19 pandemic in this stream-of-consciousness prose poem.


NASA cancels lunar research.
Matteo eats a forkful of pasta beside the window that looks over Vittorio De Sica street.
Sica was the director of The Bicycle Thief.
In Lombardy a woman is shouting for someone called Paolo.
A sick man in a Lombardy hospital sees the faces of his wife and brother on an iPad held well up in the air by the white gloves of the doctor.
The Marriott hotel is transformed into a field hospital.
Luxury rooms are now rooms for ten.
The space all used up, divided between machines, sick people, doctors.
An urgent new agriculture sows sick people and ventilators.
The president of the Retirees Association tells the younger generations not to forget them now.
Not to forget their parents and grandparents.
A girl beside me is crying.
A minister talked about measures—weights and tape measures for what he cannot see.
Andreotti, aged sixty, mask on his face, walks a very small dog on a long leash.
186 dead in France.
My Belgian Shepherd bitch is called Roma.
Roma is intact and alive; and she wags her tail.
She gets up, looking like a black bear.
I give Roma a hug.
Roma doesn’t cry, but she is not happy.
I say to her: Roma don’t cry.
Thermometer, temperature 37.2.
Playing the stock market, the individual version.
Goes up, goes down. The temperature.
They say the graves of the dead in Iran can be seen from space.
The Great Wall of China, the mass graves.
Depends how high.
How high you dare to go to look.
A temperature of 37.3.
A temperature for each country, a biological not external temperature.
Human 2 has a very high fever.
Human 3 plays on the console, the oldest game of all: hitting balls against a wall.
Sporting games suspended.
There is a macabre scoreboard announcing a single number that no longer has an opponent.
One single number per country.
Iran: 127.
Roma is thirsty, I put water in the bowl.
Hand trembling, paw steady.
The end of the world has always been announced as a statistic.
Karl Pearson in 1901 “founded the journal Biometrika.”
The century begins when it is necessary to get the measurement of things.
Measure the verticals, the horizontals, the size of feet, of a nose, of a heart.
The big numbers lean up at the beginning of the centuries.
Martha says her grandmother is OK, but that no sooner has she hung up than she starts to cry.
In 2020 another century begins.
Martha says she can hear her grandmother crying even after hanging up the phone.
That’s not possible, I say.
It is possible, she says.
News from two days ago:
“Italian economy takes big hit in first quarter”
“Africa sees more than 900 cases in 38 countries and territories”
“Four pharmacies closed due to professionals being infected”
Director-General of the WHO warns young people: “You aren’t invincible” and that they might “spend weeks in a hospital or even die.”
Giotto is twenty years old and he stops when he hears this.
I imagine it on the loudspeaker, those words repeated countless times: you aren’t invincible.
“United States cancels the release of entry visas.”
In the Italian cities, loudspeakers from which you can hear: you aren’t invincible.
Celine describes how, in the midst of the bombing in Berlin, a crazy woman used to shout, into the ears of people going past, the sound of the bomb, boooooooom.
The sound of something that kills without making any noise.
“Standard & Poor’s downgrades TAP’s rating.”
“Authorities in Jakarta declare a state of emergency.”
The sound of a virus.
“Public transportation in São Paulo might be banned for those aged over sixty at rush hour.”
462 dead in Spain.
Roma drinks the water from the bowl, she seems thirsty or else she’s transforming into a camel: she’s drinking for the difficult days ahead.
The ends of the century and the big numbers.
Catastrophes are to do with statistics and not to do with the person beside you who is looking at the statistics.
“I miss TV,” says a Foster Wallace character.
“You’ve learned to leave,” says another Foster Wallace character.
601 dead in Italy.
They say that even the smallest particles, like the virus, atoms, etc., make a sound, they give off a sound when they knock into things.
The sound of the virus.
Imagining experts out on the street detecting the sound of the virus.
A way of killing it, first: know its music.
601, 601, 601 are the dead in the last 24 hours in Italy.
I look out the window, all empty: up above, down below, in the distance.
A line from Neruda.
“Walking down a path / I met the air.”
An Italian woman says that Europe has abandoned Italy.
I turn off the TV.


“Diário da Peste, 23 March 2020” published in Expresso. © 2020 Gonçalo M. Tavares. By arrangement wiith Literarische Agentur MertinWitt. Translation © 2020 by Daniel Hahn. All rights reserved. This is the first installment of a series that will appear in translation in a number of publications. To read more, click here.


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