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black vertical stripe on the left with white text; drawn picture of a coronavirus in blue, green, yellow, and white

Edited by Amy M. Alvarez, Pamela Gemme, Shana Hill, and Alexis Ivy

Available now!
July 2023
PB 978-1-952271-88-5
eBook 978-1-952271-89-2

Borderless Series

Essential Voices

A COVID-19 Anthology


Bringing together artwork, creative nonfiction, fiction, and poetry, Essential Voices shares the perspectives of people from vulnerable populations as they were affected by COVID-19 in 2020, before the release of the vaccine. The pieces in this volume represent a range of writers and artists, some from international locations, whose work may be less likely to be seen because of race, ethnicity, or current legal status. Contributors include individuals who identify as BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, or seniors; those who are immunocompromised or undocumented; those working in medicine, food service, factories, and sanitation; and parents who were unable to work from home, along with individuals who were being held in correctional facilities or facing mental health concerns. This multigenre collection preserves the history of the pandemic by documenting and publishing these essential voices.

Essential Voices will be of interest to readers who want to consider the diverse lived experiences of people during the pandemic when outcomes were most uncertain. It will also be useful for teachers, students, activists, and policy makers in a variety of settings, including government, hospitals, prisons, homeless shelters, colleges, art schools, and secondary schools.


List of Illustrations

Foreword | Maria del Guadalupe Davidson



Fear: It lives in droplets

Monster under Me
Fiction | Nathan Blalock

Table of Contents for a Manual of Pandemic Response Protocols
Poetry | Rasha Abdulhadi

The Worst of Times
Essay | Frances Ogamba

Poetry | Maria James-Thiaw

Recipe for Troubled Times
Poetry | Linda Parsons

Night Guard
Poetry | Linda Parsons

Pandemic Pandemonium
Poetry | Kenneth Moore

Even the Robins Know
Poetry | Robert Okaji

Distance: As we moan into the phone

How Corona Evolves or Makes Us Evolve, or We Have to Evolve Together
Poetry | Xiaoly Li

Sequestered Alone
Poetry | Joan Hofmann

To whom it may concern,
Letter and Poetry | Alyce Copeland

Love in the Time of Corona
Poetry | John Cuetara

What We Know about the Fatalities
Fiction | Lisa Michelle Moore

Do Lockdowns Ever End?
Poetry | Diego Islas

Wish You Were Here
Poetry | Joan Goodreau

Poetry | Celeste Blair

Didn’t We Once Call It Love?
Poetry | E. Ethelbert Miller

The Cheat
Poetry | Rayna Momen

How I’ve Survived This Long, Part 3
Poetry | Kasha Martin Gauthier

What it’s like to get married in prison during a pandemic
Essay | Christopher Blackwell

Mask: A parachute that catches my breath

Invisi dis ability in COVID Times
Essay | Catherine Young

Corona Spring
Poetry | Deborah DeNicola

Poetry | Faiza Anum

The Fabric of Society
Fiction | Alice Benson

Poetry | Christine Rhein

Melt Down
Poetry | Mary K O’Melveny

May 6, 2020
Poetry | Kevin McLellan

Essay | Robbie Gamble

from The Quarantinas
Poetry | Stephanie Lenox

Labor: Warnings on the floor

Bezos Knows
Poetry | Ranney Campbell

We Are Family: A Lesson Learned as an On-line English Teacher during COVID-19
Essay | Maya Lear Brewer

Line Speed
Poetry | Ben Gunsberg

Staying Socially and Politically Active while Socially Distancing: Making the Issues around COVID-19 Part of One’s Activism
Essay | C. Liegh McInnis

Essential Medical Workers Are to Report to Duty
Poetry | Michele Bombardier

These Hands
Fiction | Z. S. Roe

Postcard from Pandemic
Poetry | Robert Okaji

A Classroom Hums in Wait.
Poetry | Vanessa Chica Ferreira

Sickness: My stomach charlie-horsed

My COVID Story
Essay | Brett L. Massey

Essentially Unseen
Poetry | Lavinia Kumar

Poetry | Phrieda Bogere

Poetry | Bianca Alyssa Pérez

I Cut Up My Hillary T-shirt to Make a COVID Mask
Poetry | Joan E. Bauer

A Story of Constantine, COVID-19, and Pandora
Fiction | Waliyah Oladipo

New Age
Poetry | Robert J. Levy

Alcohol Woman
Poetry | Deidra Suwanee Dees

Grief: Interjected like a comma

Elegy, Interrupted
Poetry | Emily Ransdell

My Mother Whispers, Doesn’t He Look So Peaceful
Poetry | Bianca Alyssa Pérez

A Sonnet for the Living
Poetry | Bianca Alyssa Pérez

Essay | Marcelle Mentor

Poetry | Deidra Suwanee Dees

Love, Coronavirus
Poetry | Lisa Suhair Majaj

A Poet Attempts to Homeschool, Week 6: Fractions
Poetry | Kasha Martin Gauthier

Evaporating Villanelle during a Time of Pandemic
Poetry | Jen Karetnick

A Day in the Life
Essay | Eric Ebers

What You Want to Say
Poetry | Maria Rouphail

Zoom Funeral
Poetry | Laura Glenn

For Jon, Who Died Because of Time
Poetry | Rayna Momen

Survival: Remember every surface you touch

Essential Nonessentials in Lockdown
Poetry | Katy Giebenhain

The Eaters
Fiction | Danielle Lauren

Poetry | Monserrat Escobar Arteaga

Fiction | Mark Brazaitis

15 Mar 2020—A (a roll in the hand is worth two on the shelf) Haiku
Poetry | Peter Joel

We Will Sing of Gone Bodies Some Days from Now
Poetry | Blessing Omeiza Ojo

In Times of Quarantine
Poetry | Rosalie Hendon

Halmoni’s Kimchi Pancakes
Recipe | Elia Min

COVID Curriculum
Essay | Dominique Traverse Locke

Poetry | Fabiyas M V

Justice and Reckoning: Colonial co-morbidities

How to Make White Supremacy Generative/How to Survive a Pandemic
Essay | Ahimsa Timoteo Bodhrán

Poetry | Thomas Beckwith

The Marrow-Sucking Grip of Immigration Injustice
Poetry | Kim Denning

Poetry | Roan Davis

we’ve been here before
Poetry | Liseli A. Fitzpatrick

Poetry | Ahimsa Timoteo Bodhrán

My Uncertain Story
Essay | Noe Hernandez

Em Ontvlecetv / Invaded
Poetry | Deidra Suwanee Dees

Poetry | Jameka Hartley

The Home of the Brave
Poetry | David Antonio Reyes

Things I Never Told You
Poetry | Steve Ramirez

Environment and Place: Let the river turn the stone

Lines before Lockdown
Poetry | Lisa Suhair Majaj

Poetry | Caroline Furr

May Shivers
Poetry | Lukpata Lomba Joseph

For the emptiers have emptied them out
Poetry | Alan Smith Soto

While the World Fell Apart around Us
Poetry | Aimee Nicole

COVID Spring Comes to Southeast Pennsylvania
Poetry | Kenneth Pobo

Poetry | Yuan Changming

Folded Up
Poetry | donnarkevic

Social Distance
Poetry | Fred Shaw

Poetry | Jeffrey Taylor

Hope: Beyond sorrow there’s a gardenia tree

During quarantine, I embrace myself as a long-hauler,
Poetry | Jen Karetnick

Poetry | Deborah “Deby” Rodriguez

Too Loud to Sleep
Essay | Natalie Mislang Mann

When the Games Return
Poetry | E. Ethelbert Miller

Essay | Celeste Blair

This Is Not the End of the World
Poetry | Darius Atefat-Peckham

Touch Screen
Fiction | Mohini Malhotra

About the Editors


Amy M. Alvarez is an Affrilachian poet and professor living in Morgantown, West Virginia.

Pamela Gemme is a poet, artist, and creative writing tutor from Massachusetts.

Shana Hill is a poet and founder of Poetica Pastor. She lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Alexis Ivy is a poet and outreach advocate for homeless people in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


“The work is emotionally moving. The attention to the quotidian, lived experiences of those affected offers unique insights into a global catastrophe that has turned precious lives and deaths into statistics. . . . An important cultural response.”
Darius Bost, author of Evidence of Being: The Black Gay Cultural Renaissance and the Politics of Violence

“This is a text of powerful firsthand accounts that capture the current context in critical and intersectional ways that are attentive to how individual lives are shaped by structural realities. It is important that these voices are engaged.”
Nana Osei-Kofi, Oregon State University