perm_identity A Poet Asking for Mercy

by Alexandra Panic

Published in Issue No. 275 ~ April, 2020

Hello, my dear writers and readers!

Here we are, entering April, our beloved National Poetry Month under the unfortunate COVID-19 pandemic, and I am trying to write an encouraging letter as if I am coming from our bright near future, bringing the good news. That would be the poet in me talking, always hopeful, even when she writes from the places beyond pain. The essayist, on the other hand, shakes her head in disbelief and reaches for her editorial pen. She, always factful: The numbers are horrific. The near future is obscure. Numerous lives are lost, and we will be counting more and more. Half of our planet is under different stages and shapes of quarantine, the borders are tighter than ever, and narrowing more and more, more and more, more and more, pulling us all in.

But how do I keep an optimistic tone? The poet wonders.

In early March, I attended AWP 2020 in San Antonio, Texas. Although the Coronavirus was already spreading through Europe and the United States, the conference, smaller than anyone had expected, did happen. And I, already afraid and hesitant, decided to go. My two grad school friends and I had made plans (as some people do, a year in advance), and we were already en route from different parts of the world, when, on Twitter, the organizers announced that they had been considering canceling. By the time I completed my 26 hours trip, during which I had washed my hands at least 260 times, they had decided to hold a “no handshakes, hugs, and kisses,” conference. My friends and I armed ourselves with sanitizers and essential oil protective blends, determined to enjoy our time and mojitos, take in all the knowledge we possibly can before the imminent disaster. 

Today, my memories from this year’s conference seem louder, more colorful, more palpable than those from previous years. And not because little time has passed, but because of the fear that underlined all I experienced. The fear that is sewed into the fabric of my recollections. 

The same fear stitched the memories of my childhood during the times of war and scarcity. The same fear had stirred me to break all the borders I later encountered. And made me want to belong to another nation, to write in another language. That old fear. My nemesis. The one responsible for my becoming. 

After the conference, I flew from San Antonio to Seattle, which, at the time of my trip, was the US coronavirus epicenter. 

There is a wordplay I often think about. Birth town. The ordinary meaning is a place where one is born. But mothers may have another or more birth towns – places where they gave birth to their children, places where they transformed. My place of transformation is Seattle, WA, and no threat could ever change my plan of flying home. 

A day in Seattle was enough for me. I saw the skyline from Kerry Park, said hello to the Needle and imagined saluting the peak of Mount Rainer. I inhaled the only air that fills every cell of my lungs, I felt the wind from the Sound. I met my friends over King Salmon and a beet salad. I walked under the drizzle. I wrote. 

Because my family had stayed in Serbia, I knew I had to cut my visit short and board the first plane available before the borders inside Europe were closed. My old fear, spreading as quickly as COVID-19 tore the sutures, and transgressed from past to present, threatening to infect the future. 

I found a seat on a plane flying from Oakland, New Zealand, via Los Angeles, to London. No one on the plane talked to another person. Everyone disinfected their screens and hands and were quickly lost inside their concerns.


I watched the long strip of the beach down in Los Angeles, and as we ascended, I watched the beach give away to the ocean. Then I watched the ocean. The beautiful, dark blue waters of the Pacific. The peaceful. The strong. I knew that it might be a while until I see it again. I knew I was flying to the very place I had left because I couldn’t breathe inside its borders. 

The shortness of breath. The inability to breathe. The loss of breath. 

Respirators. Lack of respirators.


In the Garden of Grace and Chaos by JJ D’Onofrio

During the flight, I read Jenny Offil’s new novel, Weather. The novelist posed a question:

Q: Where is the difference between a disaster and an emergency?

A: A disaster is a sudden event that causes great damage or loss. An emergency is a situation in which normal operations cannot continue and immediate action is required so as to prevent disaster.

In which stage is the world today?

My family and I are spending our days in a two-bedroom first-floor apartment in the old town of Belgrade. I am afraid to open the window and let a passerby cough or sneeze into our rooms. This is a temporary housing we moved in upon our relocation in late December 2019. Our future home is still in the project phase. The interior designer has no idea what the writer’s library should look like. I pin examples for her, hopeful she will eventually understand. I look around me, my temporary home inside which nothing makes sense. But is this nonsense temporary? And how long is temporary? The near future is uncertain.

The poet does not hear the good news. The essayist is laughing from the kitchen-library (the room designated for preparing meals but filled with her mother-in-law’s old dictionaries). 

I feel that shortening of the breath. 

The borders are narrowing. The government is threatening with a complete lockdown. The fridge is empty and very small. I need a two-weeks amount of food. I don’t know what that is.

I will feed words to my children.  

But first, I will feed you, wherever you are this month and however tight are your confines. I will offer you poetry. 

Starting with the thoughtful interview that Pif’s poetry editor Tristan Beach led with the Seattle based poet Ginna Luck, you will meet the author whose fresh-from-the-print poetry collection Everything Has Been Asking for Mercy, represents a “collective plea for peace.”

In which stage is our world today? Emergency or disaster?

And what can we do better than disinfecting our hands?

Can we also disinfect our thoughts?

“Some ideas or feelings seem completely beyond articulation,” writes Paul Costa, “we use words to work out,” the poet says. In the days of my quarantine, when “hours circle big as bombs” (Ginna Luck), I can’t find a healthier activity.

So, as an urgent act toward preventing emotional disaster, I am giving you words that break the confines. 

“Who have I been outside of holding my breath?” writes Luck. Her question echoes in the dead silence of my birth town. 

The shortness of breath. The inability to breathe. The loss of breath. 

Respirators. Lack of respirators.


Borders are narrowing narrowing narrowing again.

Who am I outside of holding my breath? Asks the poet.

Who am I outside of my confines? Wonders the essayist.

Just another writer asking for mercy. For the cure. For the vaccine. For the bright near future.

In the meantime, from my quarantine to yours, as our collective plea for peace, I offer you this truth that Ginna Luck said in the interview, “For me, writing poetry was never about turning inward. It was about opening up.” 

So, let me extend an invitation to all of you for the collective opening up during the National Poetry Month. Let’s talk, collaborate, write together. Let’s grow inside our confines, let’s break them in our minds and on our pages. Let’s edit the world, write into that bright near future.

Use our team’s email editor@pifmagazine or write to me directly at alexandra@pifmagazine. All the letters you send will be considered for our upcoming issues.

Borders will be opening opening opening again.

Stay safe.

With love and light,

Alexandra Panic

(The featured image titled I Will See You Again is courtesy of the Wisconsin based artist JJ D’Onofrio.)

account_box More About

Alexandra Panic is a writer, a writing teacher, and a yoga teacher. She lives in-between languages and continents. You can find her in Belgrade, Serbia, or Seattle, Washington, or somewhere in-between. And most of the time, you can find her on-line serving as a managing editor for Pif Magazine. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College, a BA degree in Italian language and literature from Belgrade University, Serbia, and she is an RYT-200 registered yoga teacher for hatha, vinyasa, and yin yoga. She had three collections of poetry published in the Serbian language. Dandelion in the Wind, A Love Story is available as an eBook and paperback. For more information visit