Inside the Lazaretto

You get used to it after awhile
with the days unfurling like the feathers
in a peacock fan. At times
the hours seem protracted until
I need to remind myself what day
it is, while tapping my fingers
and looking for something to contribute.

I begin each day startled
that I’m still alive; after a few weeks
we forget why we’re still here.
Twice a day I pace the property,
sealed away by an icy stream
and a road that rolls on to eternity,
and the mists that creep across

the surface of the lake.
Even water seems to have more
important things to do.
A pine forest would live here
if I didn’t exist, if I gradually melted
into the pine-needle ground, a slow
dissolve like pearls in wine.

Little miracles still arrive in the mailbox
with loving regularity; unexplained kindness
blooms from the fizzy daydreams
that occupy my days. Should I try yoga
or spinning straw into gold?
I need another jigsaw puzzle
to piece together my fractured mind.

Okay, Monsieur le Directeur,
I’m ready for my close up,
I’m ready for my grand reawakening.
I don’t know how much more I can take.

Questions and Answers

How/where do you find inspiration today?


There is no one place to find inspiration for poetry. I feel as though poetry is everywhere, all around us and in the simplest words, actions and emotions. Each one of us sees the world from a different perspective and we all address our emotions in our own way. Poetry serves as a bridge to those emotions and creates empathy between us so that we can better understand the human condition.  Like the way coffee tastes in the morning?  That’s a poem. See the way an insect inches up a stalk of grass? That’s a poem too. Remember how a loved one looked and felt just before death? That is definitely a poem. No subject is off limits. Poetry is all around us; we just have to look up and find it. Sylvia Plath, my favourite poet, is quoted as saying: “And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”  Bravo, Sylvia.  I couldn’t have said it better myself.


What inspired or motivated you to write this poem?


Inside the Lazaretto” was written last spring during the first COVID-19 lockdown.  Normally I’m a private person and I thought I could endure any government-imposed quarantine. But after several weeks I began to experience cabin fever. At the risk of being dramatic, I began comparing my experience to the lepers that were quarantined in the lazarettos of Venice in the 16th century. I became uncharacteristically restless and found my mind wandering and yearning to get out in the world again. The feelings began flowing out of me and I naturally had to write them down. This made the poem rather easy to write as the emotions I was experiencing were quite strong at the time.

This poem “Inside the Lazaretto” originally appeared in Pandemics Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 245 (2021): 126-127.

Please note that works on the Canadian Literature website may not be the final versions as they appear in the journal, as additional editing may take place between the web and print versions. If you are quoting reviews, articles, and/or poems from the Canadian Literature website, please indicate the date of access.