Photo: Isometric Studio

Esther Schor, a poet and professor of English at Princeton, was to read a new poem she wrote for Princeton students at the Phi Beta Kappa induction ceremony on Class Day. The poem emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic — and when that pandemic led to the ceremony’s cancellation, Schor shared her poem with PAW. In addition to writing poetry, Schor is the author of Bridge of Words: Esperanto and the Dream of a Universal Language and Emma Lazarus, a biography that won the 2006 National Jewish Book Award.

In the rush before lockdown,
spring came early: tulips
by leap day, dogwoods’
coy pink flash. Days
grow longer, lives 

not so much. Hand me
my phone? Intubated
my colleague today,
a young, healthy
ER doc like me (swipe)

a lonely Pope
raises a crucifix
saved from the Plague,
bare highways in Wuhan,
gondolas lashed to the pier.

I’m half in love
with the Chief of Surgery
at Seattle Presbyterian:
Load the sled, feed
Balto and mush on. 

What else can we do?
A glass or two of wine
on the deck, our worry
blurs. Today, a letter
from my mother in 1979,

home from Oncology.
(Clean out your attic,
the dead begin to type.)
Still brimful of tenderness
and appreciation for your visit, 

my thoughts are constantly
in England, I just feel home

is a larger place.
Even elephants
close ranks around

the weak and defenseless.
Thirty years July
she’s gone, forty since
she licked this aerogram:
How vast can you make

your home? Under
the interstate, camped
at the border, locked
in the max, who
will you call your own? 

Give up your mask,
take off the gloves,
breathe for those
who are short of breath.
Feed dogs and elephants

first, pray for nurses or
ask a praying friend.
Lay in supplies —
cradles and shovels,
a bag of clean clothes. 

PS, she writes: Don’t sell
your writing short

though it does need
editing, advice
I’m passing on. 

Life as we know it:
The world’s a marble
half awake, half asleep.
Clouds trundle past
the moon, geese

doze in the reeds.
A plash of oars —
not us, not now —
those cries in the night
from across the lake 

make shudder
the same sad stars.
I’d like to think Whoever’s
this season knows

love makes or breaks
a show. Put out your hand
and hold the remote
close as you can,
we may be here some time.