map We the People

by Ann Stoney

Published in Issue No. 284 ~ January, 2021


We the people of Covid-19 are balloons floating amidst a wave of sorrow. We weep on benches and stare at the moon. We hollow out dreams. We walk on water and see things we wouldn’t want your children seeing. Children with animal heads. Nurses sawing off arms and legs. Full-blooded vampires with sharpened teeth.

We fly in droves across burning deserts to Canada, Greece, state fairs and shopping malls. We’re on an urgent mission to save ourselves from the AK-47s, cigarettes and wood burning. From scattered insects crawling in our beds, where breathless we gather them up and smash them against our skulls.

In the night we vanish into broken glass, our days useless as shuttered windows that cancel the light. Our world is a miniature version of ourselves trapped in a snow globe—shake it and you’ll see how fragile we are. The skyscrapers inside them will crumble. If you see us talking on our cell phones, take heed—you may think we’re all right, but we can’t remember our passcode and our oxygen is low and the stretcher will arrive not a moment too soon. Bring on the ventilators, the benzodiazepines, the opiates! Just leave our eyeglasses alone. No no, please don’t take them. We need them to orient ourselves to the world outside the ICU—the nasal oxygen tubes, the face-obscuring protective gear worn by the homicidal doctors and nurses. And we don’t need so much sleep either. Please. We have to be awake to protect ourselves from the dangers that lurk.

Something like fate got us here. A trek for a carton of milk. A poker game, a blowing of birthday candles. A prayer and a song. These are the things of humans. Here’s one of us sliding down a rabbit hole:

I am an American citizen and I have a right to eat a cheeseburger and drink a Coca-Cola, even though I don’t like cheeseburgers. I need to eat so I can get back to my studies in biochemistry. There’s a rotating head with nails in it. A human’s inside that head. They’re testing me with chemicals in Japan; they’re going to harvest my organs and carve me into an ice sculpture on a fancy cruise ship.

There’s a conspiracy going on. It involves this whole fucking hospital. How do we know? Because someone stole the Private Attorney’s wristwatch, turned it into a catheter and clipped off his penis. He suspects it’s Ben Bernanke, he recognized his name. The Private Attorney says,

He’s telling me I know too much, that I’m never leaving the hospital. I’m looking at an AK-47. Is the door bullet-proof? Why is it in my room? I figure if someone’s trying to kill me, maybe I’m better off dead; or maybe a family member could do it instead. Here’s where they should aim. Please—look at the paper attached to the clipboard. There are instructions.

We are fed into ovens, paralyzed in our beds. The butterflies are disappearing. The Radical Radio Show Host says he saw the devil. He says,

I begged him to give me another chance and he said, you know the price.

Later his father died of Covid-19—that was the price. Always a price when you make a deal with the devil.

The hospital’s on fire. Everything’s on fire. We are paralyzed with fire and flashes of light, people praying and roofs burning. Do something please. We will call you fifteen times, twenty times until you pick us up from this jail where we’re handcuffed and strapped to rails with guards pointing guns. And what’s with the counting backwards? We can count from 100 to 93, that’s as far as it goes. Who’s the fucking president? What year is it? We’ll give you two hours to come and get us. We’ll be waiting outside on a bench.

The Grocery Store Manager is watching his own funeral. Cats are attacking his coffin, he says.

The nurse hung a noose in the corner, she’s getting ready to hang me. I see her killing a patient and raping another one, so I know she’s pretty serious about it.

We are spilling ice cream all over ourselves, still waiting on the bench for someone—anyone—to hold us, stroke us, take us into their arms, pour us into their hearts and out of this mess. But no one is coming and so we must do it ourselves. We must take flight, flutter our arms, sail ships of steel. We will swim across oceans, lakes and rivers of blood. Scuttle up mountains, slink into chasms—down, down into valleys, ravines and the dark abyss. We will donate our sweat to the few butterflies left. Crawl across the rainforest floor, through hanging vines and evergreen.

We are the storm that will fix this fractured earth, the typhoon that will stir up our scattered voices. With the downpour of rain and the strike of lightning, we will save ourselves, until alive we are no more.

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Ann Stoney worked in NYC and regionally, as an actress, songwriter, and playwright, before embarking upon a career as a literacy teacher in the NYC public schools. Her work has appeared in Ladies Home Journal, Duende and In Good Company. Recent honors include outstanding finalist (Tampa Review) and finalist (Cutthroat Journal). Others include semi-finalist (American Literary Review) and quarterfinalist (Nimrod). She was honorably mentioned in Glimmer Train and long-listed for the 2019 Sean O’Faolain Competition (Munster Literature Center, Cork, Ireland). Ann is proud to serve as a reader for the Bellevue Literary Review.