• Anthony Chase

How Artists Quarantine Themselves

Poem by JUSTIN KARCHER


Mozart singing his Requiem, painting by Thomas Shields, 1882

The Theatre District sleeps alone tonight

a hot zone spreading under the influence

under the radar, staying away

from others can help stop it

flatten it

an emptiness, mostly

what happens when all your friends

fade from your peopled canvas

so you’re left with just landscape

what happens when the roots are gone

but the trees remain

what happens when the heat is gone

but the sweat remains


everybody’s out of work for the time being

but we’re still working

just in different ways


dedicated stage managers on Main St

sweeping up germs

that look like disconnected Christmas lightbulbs

but this isn’t a holiday

it isn’t a snow day


they’re wearing Hazmat suits

plucked from storage warehouses

fossils from every production

in our lifetimes, all those plays

about the end of the world

it almost seems foolish now

doesn’t it? but don’t dwell on it


suddenly the stage managers are yelling

“Places, everybody!”


a herd of golden girls lost in the news

will eventually find their sun

but today’s not that day

half-naked doctors playing thumb war

inside a quarantined Holiday Inn

lonesome treadmills praying for feet

the music of their stagnancy

might be too much to take

but there are still baritones belting out songs

through open windows

let’s not forget the serenades

or scenarios that’ll save us

still

we must do what we can


saintly costume designers

dressing all of us

so we can survive the storm

and when they’re out of clothes

they’ll slice off pieces of their flesh

to clothe us if we need it

nothing but bones

when the clocks strike thirteen


then there are those of us trying to find

the right words for what’s going on

angry playwrights airing ten-minute grievances

on the backbones of green St. Patrick’s Day napkins

they stole from Party City

when the cashiers were too busy coughing


the coughs collected

by sound designers

who are also busy

flying over the city

while waving huge butterfly nets

trying to capture the sounds

of our distress, group video chats

car alarms

a feral cat chasing after the last roll

of toilet paper

which has escaped from 7-Eleven

wanting a new life


frustrated directors trying to stage all of this

on the hoods of ambulances that ran out of gas

and left abandoned by the government

a government that doesn’t believe in

paid sick leave or in a sun that’s icing over

or in anything really except for money


so we do what we must


actors preparing for roles yet to come

hanging out in giant communal urinals

floating like super-advanced spacecraft

in the paranoid wind

receiving the waste the world

wants to keep hidden away


they’re using it as inspiration

in this time of crisis

and when they emerge out of the flush

they’ll be stronger and realer than ever


the determination in their eyes

can flip the switch in a dark room

so can the eyes of the bartender

restaurant worker or teacher


lighting designers hard at work

armed with non-harmful vacuum cleaners

trying to suck out that glimmer of hope

when all seems lost so they can light the path

that we all must walk


what a time to be alive


oh melancholic set builders

going around collecting

all the emptiness from bar countertops

and shadowy tables

then running outside


they start building castles

out of the locally-brewed aluminum

and crowdfunded glass

where we all can be kings and queens

with healthcare and the promise

of tomorrow


where there aren’t dust mites in the box office

where dry mops in locked closets

aren’t forcing themselves to cry

so they can feel a sense of purpose


that sense of purpose, we talk about it

so much, don’t we? how we tear into dictionaries

ripping out the pages where “tragedy”

or “selfishness” appear then pop ‘em back

like Skittle-depressants, it’s okay

we’ll keep on keeping on


let us swap eclipses

we’ll put it in our pockets

a reminder that sometimes

brightness and darkness

can coexist, that sometimes

flowers don’t get thrown

onto the stage, but that doesn’t

mean they’re not growing

somewhere waiting to be plucked

and appreciated


imagine all of us suddenly transforming

into bumblebees and before flying off

we agree to love every wildflower

we come across

©2019 by Theater Talk ... and I'm Anthony Chase

Buffalo, NY, USA