A Death by Covid

  Everday life is like a movie …

Have a pure, white screen.  — Sunryu Suzuki

The mind is white and silent.

Then we fill it with our baby lungs, our searching eyes. 

We scream or coo to bring us what we need.

From the start we add, I want, I need. 

Joy. Despair.

The e mail informed me of his death.

I read it to my friends as we sat with lowered tea cups. 

When I opened my computer, there it had sat: 

unexpected, final. No more chances.

They knew him too, had worried 

what might happen at his release, coming soon.

We couldn’t believe it. Dead. 

Two days before his sentence ended.

The statement to the news gave no name. 

It could have been any prisoner, any cause.

Any of us, any day, any cause. 

One site linked to a photo: 

long, graying beard, erratic and sparse

on a face that had always been smooth,

eyes dim and blinking.

I wondered how far he had sunk into himself.

He did not seem to see out of those eyes.

And was it him?

The boy who wandered alone past midnight on dirty streets, 

whose breath choked as he scratched and flailed

against classmates piled heavy on top of him, 

the man who raged against the fate that trapped him,

who feared his failure, who drew a woman close

and loved—or tried to love—

was that man there, that boy?

The reds and blacks of his mind could fade to white.

I saw it in his photographs: a flame of ice

melting on basalt, a girl—his sister in a tweed coat—

spinning between track lanes that led to different futures.

He had it in him to be still, to let the screen pale to white,

to see that clearly.

Years ago and in a different country. I cannot know

the mind inside the man.

Nor do I know if it whitened at his death.

Did he go into silence then?

And can he take a breath now?

Some time, some place, can he begin again?

—Sarah Webb

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