Things to Do in Quarantine: Poems by Marion Winik

Welter has commissioned two poems from UB Professor Marion Winik. We hope they’ll help you through the last months of COVID. Reread as necessary.

image from Education for All series by Guilherme Bergamini


Things to Do in Quarantine


Thanks to a doe-eyed TV assassin named Villanelle, I found

myself thinking of ghazals and sonnets. With its repetitions and rules

sestina is the art of quarantine. My daughter, who never exercised outside

of gym class, is now running for miles, doing yoga and pilates, applying masks

and serums, preparing for a beautiful future with clothes and boys. What’s new,

pussycat? More YouTube, more Zoom, more books and home


cooking, handmade wontons stand strong against tedium and despair. Stay Home,

Stay Safe, Wash Your Hands, Take Off Your Pants. Turn on the TV and pledge newfound

allegiance to State Farm and McDonald’s. Be together apart, stir-fry the new

normal, celebrate heroes with Free Taco Tuesday. First responders rule.

My daughter and I walked to the public gardens, full of tulips and couples in masks.

As any dog can tell you, it’s just so good to be outside.


Get this: I was scheduled for knee surgery this summer, now there’s an outside

chance I’ll be replacing my own patellas and femurs right here at home.

I’m in med school at the University of Google, have my surgical mask.

Until then, it is Saturday, unless it’s Sunday or Thursday. Like Apple, I’ve found

two-factor verification is best. The pill-sorter and the garbage truck. The rule

ran away with the exception. Nowadays people are burying old hatchets, says The New


York Times. Sadly, others are digging up those hatchets or making hatchets anew.

Sleeping dogs + crowded quarters = quarantine apocalypse. In skies outside,

with Mercury in Aries, a Scorpio moon gets stuck in transit. Ruled

by Venus, sensual Taurus consolidates her sorrows and celebrates at home.

Sixty-two! Yowza! I’ve ordered felt-tip pens and a one-egg fry pan. Lost and found:

The cat, a reason to live, the original cast album of “Hair.” Underneath this mask


I am smiling at you, old friend, I wish you could see it. Still no masks

in my dreams, but last night I did receive a Zoom invitation. Sailing to the new

world in my 1950s boat, I hit the gulf stream of consciousness, and I foundered.

Mayday, Mayday, Mayday. My cousins had to stand outside

the window of assisted living to get a last glimpse of their father. They went home

without telling Aunt Joan, who is in memory care. Despite the new rules,


four instead of three were permitted at the burial, and the bending of this rule

appeared unto them as a blessing. They stood in their yarmulkes and N95 masks

around the grave of their father, and each told a story. Their elegant childhood home,

his box seat at the Meadowlands. At 97, imagine finding a new

way to die. I know my mother would be interested in discussing this. Outside

on a sunny golf course in another dimension, perhaps she can be found.


Here at home, we have just a few rules:

Whatever you’ve found is yours to keep. Don’t jump. Do unmask.

My daughter will take your new headshot. Meet us outside.



For Your Twentieth Birthday, in Quarantine

with lines from Michael Ondaatje’s “For a Sad Daughter”


Want everything. If you break
break going out not in.
How you live your life I don’t care
But I’ll sell my arms for you.


Yesterday I learned I have been washing myself wrong

all my life. You don’t put soap in there, Mom. Don’t you know

what that does to the pH of your vagina? My ancient puss

blushed at the attention. All the things you know about

eyebrows, oat milk, ­­white privilege, and I can barely

brush my teeth or read an expiration date. I take

the blame for those pillowcases that made your hair frizz.

Mine was a butch mom; my trousseau, martini olives

and a pile of golf hats. I can still teach you all my best mistakes.

Want everything. If you break

the butter dish or the dachshund statue, get out the crazy

glue, start writing. Potential embarrassment is no reason

to leave a door unopened. Don’t be shy, don’t be afraid

to raise your hand. Give the answer, place your order,

tell the waitress, tell the teacher, tell that icky man

to go away. Do you need me to say this? You always win

at cards, beat me at Scrabble. You know, and you know

you know, and what you don’t know, who knows. They say

it can’t hurt you. But the line between brave and stupid is thin.

Break going out not in.


No college kid in America wanted to come home

when quarantine started, and some didn’t.

You did, miserably, weeping for your sophomore year,

but since then you’ve showed everyone how it’s done.

Nine-minute miles, Wheel and Dancer, granola and yogurt,

protests, TikToks, All Cops Are Bastards. Your hair

stops strangers in the street, exclaiming as if they spied

an adorable pet. I was sad, at first, about the hand-

inked tattoo, but here is something we share:

How you live your life I don’t care

What I mean is, I trust you.

I have been making portraits of your self-portraits;

when someone asked if you don’t mind, you had to

laugh. Since the late nineteen-eighties I’ve only

made pictures of children. You popped in twenty

years ago to give your brothers a break. It’s true,

for me, parenting has been one big scam.

Before we open your presents, I’d like to ask Michael

Ondaatje if this is really such a great thing to do.

But I’ll sell my arms for you.



photo by Greg Dohler

University of Baltimore professor MARION WINIK is the author of The Big Book of the Dead and winner of the 2019 Towson Prize for Literature. Among her nine other books are First Comes Love and Highs in the Low Fifties. Her award-winning Bohemian Rhapsody column appears monthly at Baltimore Fishbowl, and her essays have been published in The New York Times Magazine, The Sun, and elsewhere. A board member of the National Book Critics Circle, she writes book reviews for People, Newsday, The Washington Post, and Kirkus Reviews; she hosts The Weekly Reader podcast at WYPR. She was a commentator on NPR for fifteen years; her honors include an NEA Fellowship in Creative Nonfiction. More info at