“The Big Cats” is an ongoing poetry cycle written and read by Val Vinokur, and published weekly at Public Seminar. For more, read Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part VI, Part VII, Part VIII, Part IX, and Part X.



The virus has to get a life, lying around
dormant in sweat pants and a Mötley Crüe tour jersey,
curly red birthday crown on his undead head — sad,
lonely, the party is elsewhere. Life is so close,
just on the other side of the membrane, a pulsing
breath distant, laughter and toasts and
the muffled sound of something passed around,
and he can almost see himself there: Is that dancing?
May I have this dance, miladyTik tok, load it up,
this shit is going viral, am I right? Guys?

The virus is born and already dead, a script
for another life’s dis-ease. No one
will pity the virus — even if they had
the insatiable compassion of Sonia Marmeladova,
her moist eyes devouring Raskolnikov.
The virus didn’t murder his landlady and her sister
because he was Napoleon.
The virus never heard of Napoleon,
cannot murder, only slip quietly
onto the party bus to get a life, at last. 

Val Vinokur teaches literature and translation at The New School and is the founding editor of Poets & Traitors Press.