Corona Radiata: A New Poem

March 23, 2020   •   By Fady Joudah

Scroll down for a recording of Fady Joudah reading his new poem, “Corona Radiata”






Corona Radiata

The rats are invisible.

The bats are beautiful.

Here’s the livestock and fish market,

and there’s the institute for the biologic.

We’re ravenous. Our hunger travels

in fueled suitcases packed with desires.

The virus is real,

gave up its passport,

stops for no officer

save immunology’s guards

in epidemiology’s tribe.

For decades, millions die every year:

from TB, poverty and malnutrition, attrition,

pneumonia, diarrhea, millions the count

of Spain’s, England’s, or Italy’s population

annually wiped off the earth,

untouchables outside history,

and though their geography be

diverse, it’s short of total.

The pandemic is real.

If hospitals are overwhelmed,

the virus will add to the otherwise

preventable deaths and lawsuits.

Diabetes, heart disease, kidney failure,

our bread and butter,

colonoscopies, too,

and organ transplants

may be placed on hold:

people, there is no human system

for this sort of pandemonium

and there won’t be

unless echo is one.

But if so many die

in a single season,

what will happen to life insurance

firms? If one percent

of Americans die in one swoop,

what will become of grief?

What if rent and mortgages,

utility bills, phone and car payments,

student and small business loans

are waived for a month,

pardoned? What if CEOs

give up their salaries

for 8 weeks so that the faucet

drips the tub full

with buoyancy for all?

The virus is indebted to no one.

Distances close in on us.

The curve and the herd and this

much death on our soil.

Antibiotics, globulins, gloves, masks,

and numerator to denominator

as yin to yang, if we’re lucky,

when the virus returns

it will be wearing less imperial clothes.

Every 2 minutes a child dies of malaria.

Infomercial, how many minutes in a year?

Malaria lyses more than the blood of children

and their mothers. Extreme measures

against the virus should be taken.

This pandemic, one sorrow,

one love, this pandemic hangs

on a strand of the helical tongue.

This pandemic brings me back to eros.

And to hysteria’s translation

in the mind. Pleasure evolved

out of life inside life

wanting no more than life itself.

Then things got sweet,

complicated. Evolution

has some capitalist features

yet isn’t capitalist, and we know

what else evolution isn’t,

we’ve been unimaginative of late,

since we’ve run out of land

but not out of real estate:

the virus teases us

with the bliss to come

after detention is served.

To hold the estranged.

To touch strangers.

An ecstasy worth waiting for.

And our detention is the earth’s respite

from our jets and flues

and wireless energy.

A little rest, not for long.

So, extreme measures, why not?

Have you been displaced by war,

scattered by wind, tattered by abundance?

In the last fourteen days,

have you experienced the endemic flare up

like a bad knee, immobilizer bad,

a migraine in the dark?

Extreme measures,

healthcare a human right,

and infrastructure, infrastructure, people,

culling of militaries, monopolies,

but who’ll go first?

20 million Iraqis ravaged for generations.

20 million Syrians and 20 million Yemenis.

And the curable after excision

with clear margins. The virus doesn’t speak,

doesn’t want to be written,

doesn’t give voice to the voiceless

or pay low wages

to the lowly. And the looting,

always the looting. This kind of talk

is part of the problem not the solution.

Still as a friend said: amidst all this

uncertainty and concern

the camellia in my garden

is glorious and serene

in the knowledge of Spring.

Far and near

the virus becomes our alibi

to obey more in sickness and in wealth.

Far and near the virus awakens

in us a responsibility

to others who will not die

our deaths, nor we theirs,

though we might, but must direct

our urgency to the elderly, our ancestors

who are and aren’t our ancestors.

And to the compromised.

The virus won’t spare the poor

or the young or anyone

with architecture primed for ruin.

This August the quarantine on small joys

should lift. Fifteen years ago this August,

I came back from Darfur

to Hurricane Katrina: it was mostly

Anderson Cooper on TV.

In Gaza the virus breaches

the siege as document of science

and will not exit. Israel offers

to track the virus on cellphones

of the infected, a treasure trove.

Does economy lament? Is it an individual

or a corporation? Can it repent?

Can capital grow catatonic

or speak Chinese?

What is avarice with God or without?

Let’s not say the virus is blaming the patient.

Lacking objectivity these words

don’t dismiss progress, the sample size,

who’ll analyze the data,

or who’ll get the bailout?

Without people there’s no power over the people.

How much for a mosquito net?

Three a year per person

if the swamp isn’t drained

and heaven’s mouth isn’t shut?

During the carving of the Panama Canal.

During penicillin fungating

in shrapnelled limbs.

During smallpox and sex.

What if a pandemic kills

far fewer than other non-pandemic ailments?

The panic’s in the pan,

and vaccines are real.

An organism lives to reproduce

its servant, master, and host.

We’re all equally small.

And after survival,

which shall not be pyrrhic

if measures are enforced,

surveillance will multiply,

careers will be made,

grants will be granted,

a depression aborted, attenuated,

and a call to papers:

spend a penny, save a dime,

invest a nickel, make a quarter.

The birth rate exceeds the mortal wound.

Our overlords will return us to our dreams of forgetting.

And our lords,

who aren’t in heaven,

give us this day

and lead us not

but deliver us

and the pulverized,

if they’re still warm,

if light enough for the breeze.


Listen to Fady Joudah read the poem: 



Fady Joudah is a practicing physician. His most recent poetry collection is Footnotes in the Order of Disappearance, and his forthcoming one is Tethered to Stars, both from Milkweed Editions.