Joe Babcock

Before the Next Day

In a room left flowerless,
the nurse records Larry for the last time.
Live on Zoom, George looks on, helpless, from home.
There’s a grim sense of déjà vu. This isn’t his first plague.
In 1984, they wouldn’t let you visit either.
At least, now, he was considered family.
George plugs in to say, I see you, my dear.
He sends his heart via glorified fax.
When it’s over, alone, he switches on the TV.
It’s back, echoing again, apathy spreading like wildfire haze.
When he was twenty, he’d learned to use protection,
to assume that everyone had it,
to love everyone ravaged by the virus, because
no one else would. The meek are still expendable.
What more could old men do?

Joe Babcock is the author of two novels, The Tragedy of Miss Geneva Flowers, and The Boys and the Bees. He lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with his husband, Dan Freeman, and their dog, Lucky, a.k.a. Little Missy.

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Winter 2021