First World Behavior in the Apocalypse

Writing the Apocalypse is a weekly series featuring the poems, essays, and recollections of

Puma Perl, with subject matter influenced by her experiences

as a NYC resident during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Café Bohemia, our final show, 2/26/2020. | Photo by Sherry Rubell

March 25, 2021 marked the one-year anniversary of this column, “Writing the Apocalypse.” Since the meaning of time has become less specific to me over this period, I let it pass by unrecognized. I thank Editor Scott Stiffler for his encouragement and his support and also for his idea to add a photo essay element to it, as well as the time he took to make the project work. I doubt if all of these poems would have been written if not for this framework. It’s helped me get through the worst of times and I can only hope it’s helped a few others as well. In honor the one-year mark, I decided to publish a poem written on April 4, 2020, that I did not include at the time. Thanks again, Scott, ChelseaCommunityNews.com, and all of the readers of this column.

First World Behavior in the Apocalypse | BY PUMA PERL

Tompkins Square Park, 3/15/2020. | Photo by Puma Perl

Sunday, March 15, 2020

The last weekend

before the city shut down,

the last day I left the house

just because the sun was shining

and I wanted to take the dog

on a field trip

to Tompkins Square Park

The last non-essential outing

 

I’d canceled the show

we’d scheduled that night,

hanging on to the original plan

until the previous morning,

hoping Puma Perl and Friends

could play together one last time

before Apocalyptic Darkness set in,

realizing later that it literally

could have been the last show

some of us would ever do

 

I stand in front of Top Nail Salon

Wendy, the owner, smiles

and waves at me and Diva

I wish I’d gotten that pedicure

and that waxing and that haircut

and that manicure and that Keratin

 

I’d stocked up on hair products,

red lipstick, body lotion

and eye makeup remover

I wish I’d replaced

the broken kitchen shades

and the washer in the sink

 

Throughout the day

people message me

Meet at Odessa’s

Stop by Tom’s Happy Hour

Have a drink, share a meal

Rebecca says let’s get Cheryl

to come out to dinner

I decline and caution her

about the devil corn

in Cobb Salads

Lauren offers to come downtown

Rosie and Julie consider 2A

I appreciate their friendship

We’ll all need it to get through

the coming year

but we don’t know that yet

and, again, I decline

Diva and I go home

 

I feel sad and relieved

about canceling the show

Emptiness. | Photo by Puma Perl

and already miss everyone

and wonder if I could cut

my bangs without fucking them up

 

The clubs will close on Tuesday,

restaurants and bars to follow

Liquor stores remain essential

 

Time trickles by

I obsessively check

my meager investment portfolio

as it barrels downhill

and one day the bell doesn’t ring

and I worry

about interest rates

and if I’ll remember

to start up the car

and when to renew AAA

and whether

I should have stayed married

forty years ago

 

Every day the world changes

Health care systems crumble

Hospitals swamped

NYC needs mask, gowns,

ventilators

People die

Central Park Field Hospitals

Daily press conferences

Daily babbling

The “president” brags

about how well he creates panic,

the first true compliment

he’s every given himself

Cuomo tries straight talk,

hard for a politician

but he’s giving it a shot

An apex is approaching

The city locks down

for another month

Some people don’t listen

More people die

 

I stop looking

at my bank account

It doesn’t matter anymore

Money will not save us

Purple curtains. | Photo by Puma Perl

 

My hearing aid breaks

I attempt, but fail, to fix it

and keep trying in vain

until later that day

when my son wakes up sick

and a broken hearing aid

no longer matters

Words will not save us

 

I compensate

with headphones and earbuds

and the only one

I talk to in person is a dog

The broken shade

doesn’t matter either

I fashion curtains

out of purple checked pillow cases

with ruffles on the bottom,

a Ghetto O’Hara design

The list of what doesn’t matter

grows longer and longer

although I still experiment

with hair colors

 

My son gets better

Before the fear. | Photo by Puma Perl

His girlfriend gets sick

She struggles,

then starts to recover

I breathe a little easier

because they breathe easier,

and lose my breath again

 

We mourn friends and strangers

and the fear increases

When a four-year-old boy

runs up to pet the dog

his mother and I exchange

panicked looks

She shouts out his name

and they walk quickly away

 

When I walk the dog

I match my mask

to my scarf

and wear red lipstick

nobody will see

 

First world behavior

in the apocalypse

Setting the lighting

for Zoom meetings,

making the bed,

getting dressed

Low on clean clothes,

I refuse to pair a leopard bra

with emergency pink and black

flowered panties so I wash

and blow dry a black pair,

then I gather up my nerve

and cut my bangs

They don’t look too bad

 

Also,

writing poems,

forgiving others

and myself

for past fallouts,

taking pictures,

Gloves, disinfectants,

2020 fashion. | Photo by Puma Perl

phone calls and texts,

remembering to breathe

and check in and be gentle

with others and ourselves

until the day we emerge,

tentatively, like leaving

a Saturday afternoon movie

eyes slowly adjusting to the light,

moving from fear to love

 

We’ve carried each other with love

and we’ve carried ourselves with intention,

with guitars and words and cameras

and red lipstick beneath the masks

 

First world behavior in the apocalypse.

 

© puma perl, 04/04/2020

 

Puma Perl is a poet and writer, with five solo collections in print. The most recent is Birthdays Before and After (Beyond Baroque Books, 2019.) She is the producer/creator of Puma’s Pandemonium, which brings spoken word together with rock and roll, and she performs regularly with her band Puma Perl and Friends. She’s received three New York Press Association awards in recognition of her journalism, and is the recipient of the 2016 Acker Award in the category of writing. Her most recent books can be found by clicking here.

March 2020 sunrise. | Photo by Puma Perl

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