My weekly Italian tutor asks if I feel safe
about his coming to teach me.
He calls himself a potential viral vector.

Certo, I assure him, knowing he needs
the work. There are two men parked
in my bathroom, carefully installing tile.

Mornings, we bump elbows in greeting,
because we don’t share a language
and none of us are the type that prays.

In the late 1800s, it was mysophobia,
thought pathological, the constant
washing of one’s hands. Now we all

scrub prudently, and hesitate to pet dogs.
There’s no such thing as truly safe,
a word which originally meant uninjured;

all of us are injured as, in shops
around the world, people push one another
out of the way over toilet paper and sanitizer,

hoard Chef Boyardee and rice.
In the early 1900s, when TB spread,
men shaved off their long beards, women

wore shortened skirts. When that didn’t stop
disease, they blamed immigrants,
like the ones in my apartment, slowly

building a ceramic wall for a shower stall,
not the kind of wall for keeping out,
a soft grey one, for stepping in.


SUSANA H. CASE is the author of seven books of poetry, most recently Dead Shark on the N Train in 2020 from Broadstone Books. Drugstore Blue (Five Oaks Press) won an IPPY Award in 2019. She is also the author of five chapbooks, two of which won poetry prizes. Her first collection, The Scottish Café, from Slapering Hol Press, was re-released in a dual-language English-Polish version, Kawiarnia Szkocka by Opole University Press. Poems by Case have appeared in Calyx, Catamaran, The Cortland Review, Portland Review, Potomac Review, Rattle, RHINO and many other journals. Case is a Professor and Program Coordinator at the New York Institute of Technology in New York City. She can be reached at

New York, New York

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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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