from holy texts is a hint
to go and tarry not,
but also alludes to a medieval
imbalance of black bile.

I know it as the social cancer
which has plagued my people,
but an archipelago can have many
homonyms steeped in legend:

once there was a girl who turned
into a shrub, wild and spined, fern-
like, whose leaves quiver and fold
when touched. This is the simplest

form of learning, a counter-
measure, instinctive and passive.
Indeed, touch is the first sense
we acquire, and here in the West

where I now live, we follow
a two-thousand-year-old custom:
we offer a handshake to show we carry
no weapon and come in peace.

But a pandemic disrupts offerings,
finds a nation as it is, not as its citizens wish
it to be. 
To disrupt its path,
and flatten the curve, we follow

recommendations for social
distancing, a community-
wide isolation. How fortunate,
then, that we’ve been primed to

communicate in real-time.
“Hope you are well” and
“thank you kindly.”
But if we should meet unexpectedly,

in all honesty,
hand over heart,
I will unfold slowly, pretend all
danger has passed.

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash


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