A. F. Moritz reads his poem Thoughts in Time of Plague
Toronto's poet laureate took on the grim responsibility of documenting life in the face of COVID-19
Originally published on April 28, 2020
If you feel like you're struggling to find the words for this strange new reality we live in, it may be comforting to know that you can always turn to A. F. Moritz.
Moritz is an award-winning poet who's been a crucial part of the Canadian literary scene for years. Last month he released his twentieth collection of poems, As Far As You Know. He's also served as Toronto's poet laureate since 2019 — and so it fell to him to grapple with this difficult moment and find a way to express it in words.
The result is his new poem, Thoughts in Time of Plague. Moritz joined q's Tom Power from his home in Toronto to read the poem and discuss how he felt about writing about the pandemic.
With his permission, we've reproduced the poem below.
Thoughts in Time of Plague
When we set out, we knew
many would die on the way.
And yet, the journey was joyous.
When we made our home we knew
many would die there. And yet we loved
that house. All the views from its windows
we named "beauty".
When we went down the road,
the light was different every mile.
What could be behind those mute windows
with sometimes a peering eye, what pleasure
in those almost empty gardens, what unknown work
in the factories, birds in the dense wood?
When dawn came in our bedroom
or we woke too late in the old
shattered kitchen amid food scraps, empty bottles,
didn't our memory burn deeper? — the same
old scar, flaming anew, shifting, unmoved.
And when we were trembling by the sick
that we loved and feared — so many — was it different?
Whether on the road with nowhere
to lay them down, or in the room with nowhere
else to take them… When we had to watch
the threatened breathing or leave it
to go to work. When we had to hear they had died
without us — was it different? No. No different.
Except that we saw something we always knew
in the dark. Failure was not
and success had never been
the end. The end was care.
— Produced by Chris Trowbridge