2020…2021…2022 Woes

Joanne Zarrillo Cherefko
3 min readMar 6, 2022

Seventeen days after the first U.S. state went into lockdown, I was suffering from extreme anxiety, and I experienced my first ever five-hour episode of atrial fibrillation and tachycardia. I hadn’t left my house in 20 days, but I was sure I was going to die as a result of having attended a very crowded memorial service for my best friend’s son, Joey. Back then, experts weren’t sure how long after exposure to COVID a person would begin to show symptoms. My heart went into overdrive in anticipation of a death sentence.

I was in a very dark place, and fear and anxiety overwhelmed my every waking hour. The only positive outcome of this experience is that I was once again inspired to write poetry. Souls Tilled Like Soil was born from the ashes of the millions of people who had died and from my own fear of dying from COVID.

The first section, Isolation, portrays the “new normal” of online-only interaction and horrific statistics, ice trucks, overcrowded hospitals, and graves that blanketed all media sources. I stopped watching the news because of its fearmongering.

The title and content of the poem, “These Windows Are a Sad Thirst” are thematically tied to “This Window is a Thirst but Not a Good Drink,” which appears in my first collection, A Consecration of the Wind. Both titles and the poems themselves imply that there is only death on the other side of the glass.

On the other side of this glass
is poised a sip of hemlock
not rooted in this soil
or cultivated from this land.

The second section, Fear, explores the political and racial divide in America. It begins with the poem, “Souls Tilled Like Soil.”

of faded truths
are carved from knowledge
while souls tilled like soil
unearth mysteries
and songs that
push to be voiced.

Section three, Visions, is an homage to dreams and the surrealistic poems that spontaneously flow from them. In “Gluing the Atoms,” I try to describe the sensation of falling away from myself or shedding my old self for a new, unsatisfactory likeness.

More space than matter,
I wonder why I haven’t
drifted apart from myself
(though to be true
I have more than once),

Section four, Solace, is dedicated to the beautiful landscape that surrounds my home and environs. While avoiding social interaction, I walked the nearby country roads and soaked in the beauty of nature, which, other than my husband, was my only companion for 14 months. I felt absorbed by nature, as I tried to express in “Behind the Landscape.”

I am not the orange puff
reflected in clouds that form
in a clear blue sky
or the late-day glow
that lights up the greenery
and the golden fields.

I am the haze that moves
over the ridge line,
the fog that creeps along
the mountain tops,
the tendrils of ivy
that shroud sections of stone.

The final section, Redemption, is dedicated to my husband Bud, who has kept me semi-sane during this dark period in our lives.

He is so much more than my husband —
all of my hopes and dreams,
all of my strengths and flaws
flow into him, and what flows back is
an unflagging love in the midst of
the cyclone that has taken up residence
in my state of self-affliction.

Here’s hoping that the unleashed cyclone of death and suffering will come to an end in my lifetime.



Joanne Zarrillo Cherefko

Award-winning educator and published poet: A Consecration of the Wind, Fragmented Roots, and Souls Tilled Like Soil. Website: www.joannezarrillocherefko.com