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"Essential Services" by Ankit Raj

My cousin, the know-it-all procrastinator,

Would rather host barbecues in his backyard

Than sit at the shop his father bleeds his pension for.

My uncle, tomorrow-man’s father,

Plays cards with his gang in the alley all day

For there’s no social distancing at the office.

The socially distanced animal’s brother,

l’homme de la littérature,

Has canceled his gym membership

(one must not work out masked!)

And has long unmasked dinner chats

With the pretty lady down the street.

The immunity conscious pretty lady,

Doctor’s wife and too good for our town,

Nibbles on sushi and stuffs her enamoured husband

With last night’s leftover seekh kebabs.

The French littérateur’s woman,

President of Gossipers Anonymous,

Holds the weight-watcher’s witch trials at her place

To avoid the evening rush at the vegetable market.

The diabetic doctor, husband of the alleged witch,

Sermons at-risk gluttons on weekdays

And on weekends attacks the crowded corner bakery

Armed with insulin jabs.

The baker’s wife who’d rather keep

Her twelve children out of school than risk infection,

Crams them in the lorry headed for the market

For she needs no less than

The baker’s dozen to carry her ingredients.

The lorry driver who won’t wear a mask for


Forbids his wife from visiting Gossipers Anonymous hotspots.

The lorry driver’s wife,

Sulking at her overanxious tobacco-chewer,

Vents out by inviting her aunts and sisters from across town

For risk-free lunch at her home.

One of her sisters,

Nurse and my mother’s friend,

Gladly accepts mother’s invitation

To bring her kin over for dinner at our place.

My mother, furious at my precautionist father

Who didn’t take her out shopping

And went to play cards himself,

Insists that I bring my band

For an acoustic set at the ladies’ dinner.

I, fully aware that gatherings

Must be avoided for the good of all,

Am slipping out at dusk

To have my poem peer-reviewed

At my know-it-all cousin’s barbecue.

Ankit Raj is a former software engineer, rock band frontman and assistant professor from Chapra, Bihar, India. He teaches English at Government College Gharaunda, Karnal and is a PhD candidate at IIT Roorkee. He has poems published/forthcoming in Trouvaille Review, Roi Fainéant Press, Seafront Press, Brave Voices Magazine, A Thin Slice of Anxiety, Discretionary Love and Bullshit Lit, and has a short story forthcoming in The Broadkill Review. Ankit's research articles have appeared in Routledge journals and he is guest editor of the upcoming "Myths, Archetypes and the Literary Arts" special issue of Essence & Critique: Journal of Literature and Drama Studies. He tweets @ankit_raj01

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