The New World

Mark Olmsted
2 min readMar 3, 2021

The New World

It is said

that the native peoples

of what was to become Virginia

could not see for many days

the anchored ships

when they first appeared off shore,

until their brains learned

how to perceive

what they had never before conceived.

We, on the other hand,

did imagine this plague,

made movies predicting it,

and yet the notion

of a half-a-million dead, and counting,

was and is even now

as ungraspable

as the those off-shore mirages were

to the Algonquins in 1607.

My people have been here before, though.

In Manhattan, in 1982,

I went to the first candlelight march

when AIDS-deaths topped 10,000,

and when we got back to the apartment

to see if it made the news,

my friend Paul turned to me and said:

“We’re all going to die.”

He did. I didn’t.

What beset me in the next decades

was more of a dizzied unbalancing,

the disorientation of unexpected survival.

So now in this pandemic place,

I know to expect strange and random thoughts

to show up in my head

like grave markers in a pop-up cemetery.

I look at all the masks

and wonder if when

we finally take them off,

our mouths

will be have become invisible,

like those ships unseen

centuries ago.

And when our lips

slowly reappear,

I fear we will

have forgotten

how to kiss.

MCO 2021

Mark Olmsted

Author, "Ink from the Pen: A Prison Memoir" about my time behind bars. See GQ dot com “Curious Cons of the Man Who Wouldn’t Die” for story of how I got there.