Sestina for the Time of COVID by Tiel Aisha Ansari

Sestina for the Time of COVID

Let’s interrogate this plague:
let’s take a look under the mask.
Who would be marked for death,
who for a grave uncovered?
Who worked to save lives
and who gave up their own?

It’s been a hard year, I own.
We’ve all struggled with the plague,
doing our best to go on with life.
We try to be diligent about masks,
only go out with faces covered
to save others from the risk of death.

Every day there’s a new count of deaths—
every day a sprouting forest of headstones.
Some who are sick have recovered
but find no peace: they’re plagued
by those who speak through cruel masks,
soundbites posing as real life.

You see, it’s so fragile, life.
You see, it’s so close to us, death.
Both are illusions, Maya’s masks
but we call them ours, our own
realities. In this time of plague,
we still hide our heads under the covers.

And you’ve become an undercover
agent leading an assumed life.
You accept that a mismanaged plague
can lead to five hundred thousand deaths
(as long as none of them is your own)
and declare your freedom from masks

until your mirror shows you a death mask.
This isn’t a pop song you can cover.
This isn’t a video game you can own.
You could be saving a life.
You could save someone from death
here in this time of plague.

This is not the Masque of the Red Death.
The name of this plague is COVID.
God owns all of our lives.

by Tiel Aisha Ansari

Editor’s note: The repetition in this sestina moves through the lines with purpose until the close where the reader is left holding enough emotion to fill the entire world.