Writing contest Budding Authors 2nd place: At sea


By Atara Vogelstein


as a virus

/ DigitalVision Vectors / Getty Images


Earth overturned

its deadly roots

reaching out

in air thin

enough to break

turning lovers

into strangers

and strangers

into ghosts


scientists dig in sand

to reach China

arms thrusting through

the grainy weight

clawing fingertips

dry eyes

hands absent of triumph

as fists clench

fighting to break through

the blind comfort of whiteness

the sand gives shelter

housing ships of

enslaved people floating

forcing feet to touch ground

leaping from ships

that originated in England

and battered Africa

and the Caribbean

and the Native Americas

Everywhere sun touches this virus,


born of human insecurity

and the power hunger of men

taught and served by women

in kitchens and plantations

this virus

has been here

this virus is here


And now

picking up a rock

to toss into Atlantic

fleeing deadly virus

of corona

my privilege

to flee

to turn toward

or turn away

to protect

my white body

and white skin

my family’s

white bodies

and white skin

this community

is not protected

from any virus


it has been here

in uglier forms

the government

has masked before

ugly ugly virus

we pretend not to know

what it does

how it invades

how it blocks

barriers masks walls

we pretend

underneath the guise of whiteness

masks covering grimace, smile

this community knows hatred


the virus is in Hitler

the virus is in Trump

the virus is in Swastika graffiti

the virus is in low income communities

the virus is in Rwanda

the virus is in prisons

the virus is in Berlin

the virus is in Johannesburg

the virus is in Vietnam

the virus is in police

the virus is in Alabama

the virus is in Baltimore

the virus is in neglect

the virus is in trauma

the virus is trauma

north south east west

carried by wind

breathed between humans

from bats butchered

from truth buried

from earth decaying

from human folly

2020 is awakening

a Renaissance

a necessary ugliness

baseless hatred

for which God punished

and punishes

earth rebels

humans protest

governments retaliate

families suffer

humans die



many from this virus

have died alone

in hospitals

in houses

in shelters

in fields

on streets

the virus carries fear

and sadness


a virus breaks through cells

disrupts organisms upsets ecosystems

a virus unhinges unleashes

unmanageable anxiety fear

chained to a way of life

takes lives imprisons old cells


a virus






all edges of the earth

feel this virus


and here

we feel it

we fear it

we fight it


we cling to loved ones

and run from them

we hide in cells

that do not change

human nature

does not change


it is in nature

where I feel safe

where particles floating

in the atmosphere belong

where streams and mountains

and rivers and dirt

are cleansing




where love


within me

in shade


my senses

my footing

this world

tries to take

from me


I fight for it


my heart open

my body climbs in solitude

fighting to be free of fear

and free of masks

and free of virus

sick of indifference

and injustice

and human pollution

I refuse to tolerate

Climb with me, America! Climb!


restore the earth beneath us

the earth that holds us

the earth that saves us

the earth that buries us


I float through these ages

searching for an anchor

I am anchor

heavy weight defeat

mourning dead and dying

imprisoned by unjust virus


This is the world now

This is no novelty

This is how it’s always been


I call on you, see it

even though it’s scary

face it with your mask off

6 feet apart or 6 feet under


What are you protecting?


We all die from something

We kill black and brown bodies daily

We suppress and repress and depress

with our hands, our economy, our bodies


how do we recover from mass incarceration?


how do we teach children to love?


how do we learn from our own nature?


to live in community with oneself

is to love one’s entire being


to live in community with others

is to embrace difference


threat forces apart

who can remain alive

who rejects the value of others’ lives

no blood is redder to any virus


let us redeem ourselves from mass incarceration

let us once again show that Hitler did not win

let us eradicate this virus that lives within us


I run to the mountains for refuge

fleeing to fight, fleeing to feel


because I can

because I will float away

because I refuse


to as others storm streets

because they have to


What is community?


Is it checking in on that neighbor you do not love as yourself?


I become curious,


I drink the salty water


I gather the love outside of me


Atara Vogelstein is a 27-year-old writer.


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