What Is on the Other Side of the Door?

howard richard debs


I do not know what is out there,
since the door is closed—
for now, for life’s sake,
I only open the door
If I must do so, to get
the daily mail, left by a
courageous unknown
postal carrier,
to take the trash to the curb
to be taken away
by a brave unseen
sanitation worker;
what else is on the
other side of the door
which I have opened
a thousand times before
for more than forty years
since raising a family
and together with my spouse,
growing old in this house?
Somewhere out there exhausted
doctors and nurses care for the intubated,
laid-off husbands and wives sit at kitchen tables
pondering fearfully what is due to pay,
empty schools, shut shops, worshipless pews
but too, mothers and fathers wheeling strollers
on the street, keeping distance from those they meet,
masked grocery workers stocking shelves
so we can eat, first responders, police officers serving us all—
the dawn of other ways to live beyond those now
proven unprepared for these our present days.


First published by Silver Birch Press

Flowers for the Dead (a found poem)


Where have all the flowers gone…Oh, when will they ever learn?
            —from the song written by Pete Seeger, 1955


A hospital parking garage converted to a morgue.
Three refrigerator trailers; stacked on shelves three high,
coronavirus victims awaiting pickup.
She oversees these temporary quarters.
“It’s always full, full, full,” she said. “They were
dying at alarming rates, alone by themselves
without their families.” She goes to the flower shop.
She picks up her standing order: yellow daffodils.
If there aren’t any daffodils, she’ll take carnations—
yellow, please. That’s the most important part—
bright yellow. She enters each trailer and
walks the aisle between the rows, pausing at
each new body bag. There, she carefully places
a flower on top. “One or two, it depends on how
many flowers I have,” she said. “Sometimes I run out.
I’ll go after work to go pick up more flowers.
I know in the morning I’ll need more.”


(Source: New York Times article May 5, 2020 “The Morgue Worker, the Body Bags and the Daffodils”)


First published by Brown Bag

When Will the Sun Explode?


Everything you love will probably be lost…
 —attributed to Kafka


I write this on the shortest day of the year,
the longest night having just received word
someone I knew in younger years died this year
in March “of” or “from” brain cancer, I’m not quite
sure which word applies, the dying notwithstanding.
Warnings abound about the advent of seasonal affective 
disorder as the year wanes, aptly called SAD, coupled
anew with Covid anxiety as another pandemic variant
advances and now we know when the sun is expected
to burn out. The article I read is clear: “the sun’s ‘life’ in its 
current phase, known as its ‘main sequence’—in which 
the nuclear fusion of hydrogen allows it to radiate energy 
and provide enough pressure to keep the star from collapsing 
under its own mass—will end about 5 billion years from now.”
As if we don’t have enough to worry about.


First published by Topical Poetry



A NOTE ABOUT THE POEMS: The poet Alicia Ostriker once wrote, “Writing is what poets do about trauma. We try to come to grips with what threatens to make us crazy, by surrounding it with language.” While we are amidst an unprecedented time of trial and tribulation, I want through these and other poems I have written to consider both the sad and the heroic without question, but to try as well to look ahead with hope.

Howard Richard Debs is a recipient of the 2015 Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Awards. His essays, fiction, and poetry appear internationally in numerous publications. His book Gallery: A Collection of Pictures and Words (Scarlet Leaf Publishing), is the recipient of a 2017 Best Book Award and 2018 Book Excellence Award. His book Political (Cyberwit) is the 2021 American Writing Awards winner in poetry. He is co-editor of New Voices: Contemporary Writers Confronting the Holocaust, forthcoming from Vallentine Mitchell of London, publisher of the first English language edition of Anne Frank’s diary. He is listed in the Poets & Writers Directory.

You can follow Howard on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook! Read more about him here. 

Life in Quarantine: Witnessing Global Pandemic is an initiative sponsored by the Poetic Media Lab and the Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis at Stanford University.

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