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  • NYS Writers Institute

Poetry Friday: "A Trip to the Post Office"

Trip to the Post Office, March 17, 2020

By Phyllis Hillinger

Loose money ready in pocket, flat rate box pre-addressed,

I wait for cars to leave the parking lot then suit up:

hat hitched down to eyebrows, glasses on,

surgical mask over nose and mouth, jacket zipped to chin,

blue nitrile gloves tight. Protection complete.

Selfie snapped for history. And kids.

Backwards, push door open, other rule-breakers inside.

Six feet between us, I stand silent, stare at The Indian Ladder

WPA mural— folks climb Helderberg Escarpment in simpler times.

“I’m not sick. Just old,” I tell clerk who checks my box to California.

Gloved finger hits nothing hazardous, not first class, OK on the touch machine.

I pay, pinch the printed receipt like poison.

Glasses fog, face sweats, I can’t leave fast enough.

On outside steps, I rip off mask, breathe. Glove grazes cheek.

Panic pulls confidence and gloves inside out.

Home, I stash sneakers in garage, coat and hat in washer,

eyeglasses in the sink. Wash my hands and face for twenty seconds.

Contemplate the future. Looking for comfort in chai tea,

I listen to news— deaths rising, DOW falling, borders closing,

anxiety weaving like the spiderweb of COVID-19 cells circling the planet.

Until there’s a vaccine, no more boxes will be sent.

© Phyllis Hillinger, previously published in the NYS Writers Institute's Trolley journal.

Phyllis Hillinger worked as an educational writer and editor for not-for-profit organizations in Albany and also volunteered for 25 years in the Bethlehem schools, helping to revive the high school newspaper. She also served as president of of Bethlehem Opportunities Unlimited which supported programs that helped foster K-12 initiatives.

Her poems and memoir pieces have been published in anthologies and heard on NPR. She writes with the Evergreen Poets Workshop, and is an avid reader, traveler, sailor, and sand castle builder.

We caught up with Phyllis earlier this week:

Phyllis during a trip to her post office earlier this year
Phyllis during a trip to her post office earlier this year

Where is your local post office?

It's the one on Delaware Avenue in Delmar. Technically when I moved here it was called the Elsmere Post Office. It is a lovely old brick building, not too quaint. Inside is a large mural that I reference with ladders going up the Helderberg Escarpment with people looking like they are trying to get away from it all and see the amazing view towards Albany, a view we still relish today. Not sure what year it’s depicting, but at least 100 years ago.

What are you doing to stay creative during quarantine?

To stay creative during the quantize, I am spending as much time as possible outside, being in nature and observing the ever-changing color of the landscapes here and in the Adirondacks.

What was the spark that generated your “Post Office” poem?

The spark that inspired my poem was the sheer panic and steps I had to go through to mail books to my grandson, age 2, who is living in California. The information we were getting from Fauci was new and it made me very nervous to leave my house for anywhere in the public. So, panic was the motivator!

What are you reading in the dog days of quarantine?

I read The Overstory by Richard Powers during the start of the pandemic. I’ll never look at trees the same way again.

How has the quarantine affected your writing style/regimen?

I think I am appreciating nature as a meditative experience more now, and writing more about the natural world.

You can read another Phyllis Hillingerg poem on her author page at

Thank you, Phyllis, for sharing your words. Stay safe out there.


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