Poems of the Week

Words to the Wise

by Paul Willis

After a month of sheltering in place,
you’d think we’d finally have the guts to face
the possibility of illness, death—
dry coughing, burning lungs, the loss of breath.
But no, the most important thing for us
is who beat whom in Scrabble—all the fuss
of triple-word scores, arcane spellings, where
the Qs and Zs and Xs might prepare
their owners for decisive victory.
So we distract ourselves, so nightly we
persist by thinking numbers of the dead
could not call up our number, leave unsaid
the randomness of letters we may draw—
all vowels, all consonants stuck in our craw—
forgetting the grim reaper soon may spell
our way to heaven or our way to hell.
But what, I pray, is the alternative?
To watch the news incessantly? To live
as if the plague were all we have of life—
press briefings, experts, presidential strife?
I say, Play on. I say, What is the score?
The game is over. Let’s play one game more.