Rigorous
Volume Five, Issue 4



Valentine Pierce


Bated Breath


We have held our breath so long
We had almost forgotten how to breathe
A deep, cleansing breath of hope
Today our country’s exhale
Was heard around the world

We begin anew, as we always do
We chase back the chaos, confusion
Gather in our arms every lost hope, every last prayer
For peace, unity, justice, truth
We bind them in our collective heart
The one that has not been poisoned
By the demons’ handyman

We fling them out into the universe
Refuse to speak the name of that one
Whose humanity we found lacking —
And that is not the least of it

He who has been the curse upon this land
Has finally fallen by his own hand
Clipped the puppeteer’s strings
With the shards of his vile rhetoric
Fallen on his own sword
And still does not know it
But we, we rejoice in the knowing

Though some desperately
“Tried to somehow keep the flame of the Crazy Candle Alive”
We are even more determined
To extinguish even the bare remnants of its wick

The American Dream has never been for some
But it also has never been so shamed, so pitied, so reviled
As it has been these last four years
Without leadership, empathy, compassion

Yes, we know,
The next four years won’t be easy
But at least we expect to survive
Even, perhaps, thrive.


* “Tried to somehow keep the flame of the Crazy Candle Alive”—Forbes, ‘We All Got Played’: QAnon Followers Implode After Big Moment Never Comes




A Crowning Fear

I stretched out my hand as if it was the most natural thing;
It was an out-of-body experience
Seeing myself putting my hand out and asking myself,
“What are you doing?” But doing it anyway because
It was expected and I was there
And it was the right of passage.

The fuzzy substance squirted automatically.
I rubbed my hands together as I answered
The questions they were asking everyone
Our passwords for getting in, getting care
As I thought about how I am rubbing this substance into my skin.

Do you have a cough? No.
Have you been out of the country? No.
Have you been in contact with any contagious person? No.

So, I lied on question one. The cough.
Automatically, unintentionally,
Without malice aforethought.
I walked through, realized my error;
But I couldn’t call it back without being rejected entry
However, I worry that I can’t breathe well in a face mask.
I have asthma, allergies;
So accustomed to my body’s response to my environment
I don’t think about a cough.
What I think is, a mask is so claustrophobic
I carry a scarf everywhere in case I cough.
No scarf? Into my shirt, my jacket, my elbow.
Never my hand.
But then I touched the counter, the water fountain
In a hospital where they treated the first case.
I found the bathroom, washed my hands
Sang my 30-second song

In the doctor’s office I rubbed my nose, an itch.
An itch!
Grabbed a tissue, apologized.
My throat tickled, a cough threatened to expose me.
Dammit, psychosomatic?

Is this what we have come to?
Afraid to touch anything?
To breathe, to be our human selves?
All because a troll sat in the oval office
Who let a deadly virus get the best of us
Because he is “naturally gifted” with intellect
With “knowledge” of everything in the universe
Except his total lack of intelligence, leadership,
Verity, common sense, competence, empathy, stability,
Sanity, morality, compassion, conscious, character ...
The list of his lackings is long, tedious, and repetitive
And far short of anything remotely presidential or human.

The doctor was a bit surprised I showed.
Told her I was half-surprised, almost a no-show,
All the way up to the moment I signed in at the desk,
My phone peeking from my bag,
Their phone number conveniently on a card in the pocket slot
In case I changed my mind;
A tote with a crochet hook, yarn, to keep me from pacing
Or racing back out the door.

Panic is not usually my first response
But when almost hundreds of thousands of people are ill,
When the entire globe is filled with a rapidly progressing death
That has taken more lives than wars,
When the contagion triples overnight,
When you shutter a city that never sleeps
Nerves get raw; panic sets in.

I’m good with isolation therapy.
I don’t need to compound my stress or my trauma.
I don’t need anything else keeping me up at night,
Tormenting my sleep, invading my dreams.
Next time, I’m doing that remote care thing.
Facetime, Skype, computer, smartphone —
Anything but inside a hospital where fear runs rampart
And inexplicable illnesses are the norm.

On the way out I washed my hands, again.
At the garage elevator a woman poured sanitizer from a tiny bottle;
Her companion commented she had just done that
But she said she’d touched the door.
I pushed the button with my key
And didn’t touch another thing until I got back in my car.
Didn’t go anywhere but home
To soap, water, and self-isolation.
I am good here.
I’ll spend my time making masks
in case I need to go out again.




Ink-soaked

Ink-soaked is a visual poem that requires image support.



Valentine Pierce: “I am a spoken word artist, writer, editor, graphic designer. I also dabble in photograph and crafts. I am a former journalist and photojournalist but these days my focus is editing and book design and layout. I have two published books: Geometry of the Heart (Portal Press 2007) and Up Decatur (New Laurel Review Press 2017). I have been published in several anthologies, including I am New Orleans, Nasty Women Poets, Cape Cod Review, Mending for Memory, New Laurel Review, Mapleleaf Rag, and Bayou Magazine.”




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