Vol V, Issue 2 Date of Publication: April 25, 2020
DOI: https://10.20529/IJME.2020.044

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Pandemic haiku

James Dwyer


As a small spiritual practice, I write one haiku every day. I don’t try to imitate classical Japanese haiku, with 17 syllables, a word that divides the poem, and a word that indicates the season. But I do use this practice to cultivate a Zen spirit: mindfulness of the moment, responsiveness to the concrete situation, and a sense of the impermanence of life. Because the Covid-19 pandemic requires those qualities – and a lot more – I kept up my practice during the pandemic.

My situation is both privileged and disadvantaged. I’m privileged to be a faculty member at a medical university in a high-income country, and to do ethics consults at a university hospital that is equipped and staffed relatively well. But I am disadvantaged to live in a country that is not well-governed, with a health care system that is unjust, and some politicians who lie without shame and dismiss expert advice. Both the privileges and the disadvantages work to condition the perspective from which I write.

But I discovered that I don’t write from one perspective. Like many people, I have several perspectives because I have several roles. I am a human being in various relationships with other human beings. I am a citizen in a flawed democracy. I am an ethics teacher and consultant. And I am a biological organism, vulnerable to pathogens, with thoughts about how this might end. Here are a few haiku, grouped under these roles:

Human being

warm wood stove

a conversation

we need to have

almost spring

we walk together

two metres apart

dead quiet

accrues new meaning –

I check on neighbours


packages in the lobby

bodies in the hospital


snow falling

up and sideways –

tweets too

still open

hospitals, groceries,

liquor stores

pandemic shopper

cart overfull

heart empty

1. Wash your hands.

2. Stay two metres apart.

3. Ignore Trump.

welcome sight:

hospital tents

in Central Park

Ethics teacher and consultant

the system reminds me

that grades are late –

I remind it …

still-dark morning –

walk to the hospital with


ear-loop mask –

a piece of blue litter

on the wet street

hospital parking

a refrigerated truck

for bodies

treat people equally:

give them an equal chance

to grow old

How this might end

need to allocate


not kindness

Say it now:

If we don’t

make it …

tell me

I got it from a patient

not a doorknob

Competing interests and funding support: None

About the Authors
Bioethics and Humanities, Upstate Medical University,
618 Irving Avenue, Syracuse, NY 13210 USA.
Manuscript Editor: Rakhi Ghoshal
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