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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 5: October 2020
Poem: 455 words
By Elizabeth Kerlikowske

Ten Slices of Pandemic


My old boyfriend misses me and calls to say so. My husband doesn’t 
miss me at all. Too much closeness. Too much television. Too much 
coronavirus. All-consuming togetherness. I clean out accumulated years 
of crap. I’m afraid to mention his crap to him because we can’t start 
a war, hostages together in our former home. 

Lawns green up. Trees leaf out filling in spaces where spruce trees gap. 
The tamarack bears little fists of needles. I strew Nina’s Milorganite 
(tiny pellets of sewage from Milwaukee) on plants I don’t want deer 
to eat after the unfortunate incident with the cup plant. 

Packs of deer roam the neighborhood. The delightful quiet. Lack of cars. 
Lack of leaf blowers. Lack of chainsaws. I hear the squirrel’s claws chew 
into the bark as it flies up a tree. 

In the crosshairs today of two freeways. I hear the semis when they hit 
the rumble strips on the interstate. The sirens on Stadium Drive 
when the accident is on 131. 

I am not unhappy being home. I can shut doors. Live in my room. 
Teach him to shut doors quietly. Cook healthy food. Continue my 
program of cleaning and organizing. Invite him to join me. He says 
I inspire him but then nothing. 

If I don’t plant the peppers, they won’t fail. But I did plant. Six hours 
a day of sunlight. Water. Warmth. I continue to hope. Rake a new pile 
of leaves outside this window where three saplings catch and contain 
them. Myrtle and greenery unearthed. Habitat created. Mysteries for 
deer to poke at with charcoal hooves. 

Lilies of the valley spike up under the Rose of Sharon. 
Milorganite. Milorganite. Sydnee’s giant hosta survived two years 
with no nibbles, but I doused it anyway. The shitting citizens 
of Milwaukee keep my plants whole and I thank them. 

If my husband and I were a dance, we would be the Maypole dance. 
He would be stationary, and I would move around him with different 
colored streamers, weaving around myself in time lapse photography. 

Jigsaw puzzles are coming in the mail. He doesn’t enjoy those. 
We have a pool table in the basement; he doesn’t like to play with me. 
We play the one game of cards he will play, and he’s not very good at it. 
I coach him through. His feet don’t bend when he trudges like a caveman. 

My old boyfriend misses me and calls to say so. Life with him would be 
no different than it is with my husband. I know for a fact. I tried it. 
Look outside. Look inside. Buds on the lilac. CNN. I miss almost everything. 

Elizabeth Kerlikowske’s
Issue 5, October 2020

first full-length book of poetry, Dominant Hand, is available from Mayapple Press, and she is co-author with artist Mary Hatch of Art Speaks: Paintings and Poetry (Kazoo Books, 2018). Other books by Kerlikowske include The Shape of Dad (a memoir in prose poems), Last Hula (winner of the 2013 Standing Rock Chapbook Competition), and Chain of Lakes.

She has been publishing her poetry and fiction for more than 20 years in such journals and magazines as Encore, Cincinnati Review, Passager, and Poemeleon, among others. Her work is anthologized in Nothing to Declare: A Guide to the Flash Sequence (White Pine Press, 2016), The Female Complaint: Tales of Unruly Women (Shade Mountain Press, 2015), and the Michigan writers anthology published by Western Michigan University (WMU). She also creates visual art and has recently completed the Hester Prynne Chair, first of a series of literary women chairs.

Kerlikowske completed her doctorate in English at WMU in 2007. An arts activist, she has served for many years as the president of the Kalamazoo Friends of Poetry, and she is also president of the Poetry Society of Michigan. She’s retired from a teaching career at Kellogg Community College.

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

Featured Artists Mary Hatch and Elizabeth Kerlikowske in KYSO Flash (Issue 9, Spring 2018); includes half a dozen of Kerlikowske’s ekphrastic prose poems and micro-fictions inspired by Hatch’s paintings

Three in Prose by Kerlikowske in DIAGRAM (Issue 5.1): “Forty Winks,” “The Girls’ Room,” and “Midway”

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