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  • NYS Writers Institute

Coronavirus and quarantine, strength and song

Before being named director of the NYS Writers Institute in 2017, Paul Grondahl worked as a reporter at the Albany Times Union where he wrote thousands of stories, some big, some routine. He still writes a column for the TU and yesterday, he shared his thoughts on the coronavirus pandemic.

During three decades as a reporter I covered everyday disasters nearby and large-scale catastrophes afield – from Ground Zero on 9/11, New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, Haiti after its massive earthquake and the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. 

Time and again, I observed quick and decisive action, heroic leadership, individual sacrifice for the common good, extraordinary resilience and the best of human nature during the darkest hours...

He continued.

(AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
(AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

In this time of coronavirus, we need to locate small miracles, interludes of joy like when people in quarantine step out onto their balconies in Rome and Naples to sing together in an act of solidarity. “Andra tutto bene,” they sing. Everything will be fine.

"What covering catastrophes taught me about this age of coronavirus"
Times Union, March 18, 2020

Here's the video Paul watched. It's been viewed more than 2 million times across the globe.

Julene Waffle watched the same video from her home in Otsego County, NY. She is a teacher, a business owner, a wife, a mother of three boys, and writer. Her work has appeared in The Daily Star, The English Record, River, Blood, and Corn Literary Journal; A Community of Voices.

"While trying to find meaning in the madness on the news, flipping channels, looking for truth, I saw a short report on Italians singing from their balconies," she said. "The singing of their national anthem and other songs moved me. I needed to capture the hope in the crisis and sadness for myself and anyone else who needed to hear it."

Here is a poem by Julene Waffle:

Italians Singing from Balconies

by Julene Waffle

Before illness begged entrance at every door like a hungry stray dog

or stole itself like a thief crawling through open windows,

Italians hung laundry lines from

apartment to apartment

across tight alleyways and bright streets.

Hung with care and time and handshakes,

like a child's game of telephone of cup and string,

the laundry lines became a place to shout greetings and plans

to neighbors across the way over busy morning sidewalks.

But then sickness closed like curtains

across windows, locking out light.

Loneliness hung, like laundry,

over empty greetless streets that echoed

sadness with every locking door.

But the people were not quiet long.

The quarantined heard a voice singing to the afternoon sky,

singing of Italy wearing Scipio's battle helmet,

declaring she will never lose her battle.

That single voice drew others until many were one.

"Fight" the anthemed voices rang.

From Turin to Sicily they embattled their harmonized loneliness

and let defeat melt like Icarus' wings.

Yesterday, they sang and danced their battle cries from windows;

Today, they crooned "Abbracciame," "Hug Me," from balconies.

Hope and courage draped themselves,

like bold-colored sheets over balcony rails for the world to admire.

Today, Italians sang because there must be joy and hope if we intend to live.

March 15, 2020, 6:58 a.m. (c) Julene Waffle

Julene Waffle
Julene Waffle

Side note: Last October, Julene drove 90 miles to Albany with a group of her students to attend a NYS Writers Institute event with Sharon Olds.

"Seeing Sharon Olds was not only inspirational for me as a writer, but it was a tremendous experience for my students who have never seen such a well-known poet before," she said. "They felt inspired and thankful for the opportunity."


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