Hot Metal Bridge

Current Issue : Number Twenty-Five

None Can Die

BY MATTHEW OLZMANN

When the newscaster says “possible influenza outbreak,”
and “quarantine” in the same sentence,
my wife hides her concern in the pages of a book—
tonight it’s John Donne. John Donne says:
If our two loves be one, or, thou and I
Love so alike, that none do slacken, none can die.
 
Quarantine comes from an Italian word
meaning a period of forty days.
It sounds so holy. We get religious
when our enemy can’t be seen—when
a virus can slip like an assassin
into any room in any city.
Any bus stop. Any shuffling crowd.
Here is history, here is a hundred million dead.
None can die, but—any doorknob,
any library book, any stranger’s handshake.
I have no idea what I’ve touched today.
 
In a better world, I would be
one of those blue surgical masks
and would slide between my wife and the virus
the way the hero flings his body
between the bullets and the beloved.
 
And she could be a bifurcated needle
and deliver a vaccine the way the pony express
delivered thousands of love letters.
 
Or I could be an antiviral drug (Amantadine
or Rimantadine) to block a viral ion channel
as if building a wall.
 
And she could be an alcohol-based
hand sanitizer, kiss my palms and kill
99.9658% of anything
in my hands that ever could bring us harm.

 



Matthew Olzmann's  first book of poems, Mezzanines, was selected for the 2011 Kundiman Prize and will be published by Alice James Books in April, 2013.  His poems have appeared in Kenyon Review, New England Review, Poetry Northwest, Gulf Coast, The Southern Review and elsewhere.