Covid’s Metamorphoses

I know—I know, sorry! Sorry. It’s this basement
desk, this heavy rain, that has me thinking of
that wet poem, book one’s great flood, the threat made good.

The first bodies to change in Ovid are cosmic,
the sky in love with earth so the horizon is just
a fuck-line, and then men and women and then,

as a crab says to a mermaid in the song my toddler
lately wants on repeat, “Ariel—the human world?
It’s a mess.” Ergo, a dry decision to start again.

I know the boys are upstairs destroying a train track
they haven’t finished building, I know my husband’s t-shirt
shows an Imperial AT-AT Walker falling

to its knees at the Battle of Hoth, with FAIL in all caps:
the walking tank’s last robotic thought, perhaps,
in one of many moments we thought the resistance could win.

And the rain has slowed. When the world is drowning in Ovid,
the waters rise so high dolphins swim through trees,
sleek tips of dorsal fins grazed by the highest limbs.

In their eyes, so much mortality and so much brain,
so well aware of its limits, of what’s bearable.


Click here to read Katie Hartsock on the origin of the poem.

Image: “Quick turn” by Yosuke Shimizu, licensed under CC 2.0.

Katie Hartsock:
Ovid’s sense of humor can often induce eyerolls or even cringes. Thinking of the title “Covid’s Metamorphoses” inspired me to write the poem, starting by apologizing for the title. In his epic, Metamorphoses, Ovid attempted to tell the entire history of the universe, from creation right up to his own historical moment, through the guiding principle of changing bodies. This immense scope helped me write about the virus’ arrival at this hour of human time. Also immense was the spectrum of myth and references in his poem; I use Disney and Star Wars. In a nod to the meter of the Met, I wrote it in a loose iambic hexameter. I love the lines in Book 1 (292ff) where he describes above-ground and underwater worlds clashing when a great flood, designed to wipe out and restart humanity, deluges earth. Sea nymphs see the ocean floor extend to forests; seals now play where goats used to; and dolphins swim through the tops of oak trees, an image to which the end of my poem clings. This conflation of usually distinct realms made a strange sense to me when I wrote this poem early in the pandemic, when so much of normal life seemed gone, as if washed away.

Katie Hartsock
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