Poems by Dick Westheimer, Mary Nemeth, Helen Schwerling and Beth Smith for Postcards from the Pandemic: A Cincinnati Poetry Month Project

Four poems about the ways we are learning to keep each other close.

From quarantine I think about growing things

Dear children, wish you were here. Really I do. Last week
I set seeds in little pots: greens and beets, nestled
under a sweet coverlet of soil. These, I knew would grow
into a feast we’d share soon. Yet, this morning
at the sight of them sprouting, nodding out of the ground
as a child would from sleep, I cried in great heaves
because you are far and airplanes are incubators.
I will send you a packet of seeds and
care for the collards instead of you and yours.
Love, Pops.

Richard Westheimer lives outside Batavia, Ohio, “in a lovely place where we raised up five children who currently live in five different cities. Four grow gardens of their own, which will be one way we commune for the next year or so.”

Letter, March 24, 2020

Friend. I so agree that
it is essential that we serve as
touchstones for loved ones
in this depressing, daunting era,            f.
regardless of the distance                   f
and time that separate us,           u
least they float away.               l
like the dandelion’s           f

Just heard the latest on this vicious virus:
It took 67 days for
the first reported cases
to reach 100,000,
11 days to reach 200,000,
and only 4 days to reach 300,000!

Yet, those immune college kids
are still dancing on the beaches,
sure they are invincible,
as all youth seem to believe.

Yes, our lives have evolved,
Yes, we now treasure what before
was taken for granted, but now lost.
Yes, we perceive the world
through eyes, newly opened.

For me, being secluded
is not as devastating,
as I have lived alone
for five decades
and have perfected
the art of living with myself!

Each day, I resolve to
venture forth into nature,
soak up all its healing
powers. Tomorrow I will!

Stay safe
till the world is well again!

Mary Nemeth writes, I live in the Eastgate area with my two mischievous cats, Allie and Hobo.

Postcard from the Pandemic
March 31, 2020

The smell of wood smoke from a neighbor’s fire
The cries of a baby in the apartment below
We’re not supposed to touch, but you are in my nose
and in my ears.

In exchange for a pint of blood,
the comforting pressure of a gloved hand.

Small, strange intimacies.

So much now turns on our collective refrainings
As we dance our awkward dance in the streets
in the aisles
even in the woods:
s i x

f e e t

o f

s e p a r a t i o n

I long
To bathe again in the white noise of a crowd’s heartbeat*
To know proximity as something more than danger
or violence.

(How many hours to master the art of losing?)

Until then
We hold each other with poetry
and sidewalk chalk.

Yours in solitude.


Helen Schwerling is a native Kentuckian living in College Hill


The Rooftops of Cincinnati

Unreconstructed late 1880’s
row house rooftops have become
my closest friends. From my down-sized
urban loft, the stove pipes send daily signals.
I have a deeper appreciation now of the angle
of certain slope-lines, so gentle, like no one could ever
fall off. And the sturdiness of brick! All of those raised fists
to social distance! I can see this gorgeous set of vintage
clay flue pots, just across the holler, atop a chimney
barely two feet square! A united front against
the virus. They’re standing so close together
though…it’s making me nervous

This poem was composed in the spirit of Allison Pitinii Davis’s “The Function of Humor in the Neighborhood,” Poem-a-Day April 1, 2020.

Beth Smith moved to Mt Adams two years ago, after having lived in the Village of Glendale for several decades.


Author: Pauletta Hansel

Pauletta Hansel is a poet, memoirist, teacher and editor. Pauletta is the 2022 Writer-in-Residence for the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. She was Cincinnati's first Poet Laureate from April 2016-March 2018. Pauletta Hansel’s nine poetry collections include Heartbreak Tree, Friend, Coal Town Photograph and Palindrome, winner of the 2017 Weatherford Award for Appalachian Poetry. Her writing has been featured in Oxford American, Rattle, Still: The Journal, The New Verse News, The Writer’s Almanac, American Life in Poetry, Verse Daily and Poetry Daily, among others. Pauletta leads community poetry workshops and retreats in the Greater Cincinnati area and beyond, and has served as Writer-in Residence at Thomas More College in her native Kentucky. She is past managing editor of Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, the literary publication of Southern Appalachian Writers Cooperative. Pauletta received her MFA from Queens University of Charlotte.

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