Contact Tracing

Honolulu, HI (March 22, 2020)

It seems not even a pandemic can cancel paradise.
I fill my car at the gas station, then pick up
my daughter’s Montelukast pills and asthma
inhaler at the pharmacy. I sanitize my hands after
every errand. When I return home, my wife and daughter
are playing dress-up. CNN echoing on the television
(“250,000 cases worldwide”). I put away the groceries
in the pantry and fridge (“10,000 deaths”). Freeze
enough meat to last a month (“bats and pangolins
butchered”). Disinfect handles and doorknobs

(“habitats destroyed”). My mom calls. Sore throat—
“Just allergies,” she reassures. “It’s cold in Sunnyvale.”
I ask about grandma, who’s 92 years old, dementia.
“Her care home is quarantined,” she answers. “If she
dies, we aren’t allowed to have a funeral service.” Why
is grieving not deemed our most essential business?
My daughter falls asleep on the couch: her body curls
like a flattened curve. My wife takes her temperature:
99.5 degrees. Then searches online for kindergarten
lesson plans. “Tomorrow,” my mom says. “I’ll deliver

milk to grandma. Wave to her through the window.” I
feel an ocean length apart (“rising like an invisible tide”).
How long can we shelter-in-place? How long can we
shelter each other in a world where our children can’t play
with friends at school, where our elders can’t breathe
without ventilators, where we can’t touch without fear?
How long can we shelter a planet?

Craig Santos Perez is an indigenous Chamoru (Chamorro) from the Pacific Island of Guåhan (Guam). He is a poet, scholar, editor, publisher, essayist, critic, book reviewer, artist, environmentalist, and political activist.


  1. As long as we must as this, too, will change.

  2. What a deeply moving poem Perez’s haunting poesy and philosophy enriches and expands my mind in these times of despondency. The last lines are haunting…Yes how long can we shelter ourselves in place? How long can we shelter a living thriving Planet, our Mother?

  3. I have friends who won’t come out of shelter, for whom, after nearly four months, shelter is no longer shelter but a self-imposed prison of grief. To slow down enough to shelter our Mother yet not destroy ourselves, a masked interiority must coexist with conscientious bravado. I have no idea how this works.

Submit Your Comments

Please Note: Before submitting, copy your comment to your clipboard, be sure every required field is filled out, and only then submit.