In the song “I Am a Town,” Mary Chapin Carpenter sings, “I am peaches in September, and corn from a roadside stall / I’m the language of the natives, I’m a cadence and a drawl / I’m the pines behind the graveyard, and the cool beneath their shade, where the boys have left their beer cans / I am weeds between the graves.”
These words inspired Laura Read in her first project as Spokane’s poet laureate. This year, Read has hosted a series of “I Am a Town” poetry workshops in which participants talk about the poetry of place – specifically Spokane – and write poems about places in the community.
Read, an English and writing teacher at Spokane Falls Community College, also is working on a public art portion of the “I Am a Town” project. Next year, poetry about Spokane places will appear on sidewalks and in public rights-of-way. To have a place-specific poem considered for this project, submit works by Dec. 16 through the Spokane Arts online submission manager, https://spokanearts.submittable.com/submit.
In the meantime, here are 13 poems already written through the I Am a Town project. The authors are published and unpublished, novelists, teachers, librarians, and radio hosts.
I Am SpokaneI am Jingle Boy, the cat with tag and bell
I am the Ridpath with jazz singers on the rooftop
I am the bridges falling down
I am the mills on the river, the farmers in the field
I am the heron at Manito pond, the moose along the Latah
I am the Lilac princesses of 1998
I am the hill to the hospital overseeing town
I am the swinging bridge to the island where they dumped the chamber pots
I am breakfast at the Satellite
I am Dicky playing piano, Mark playing a glass with a dirty yellow spoon
I am the old Monkey Wards where the City Council meets
I am the booze joint and the drag club, Miss Mylar on the mic
I am the Klemmer, the State, the Met, the Bing
I am the Fox, I am burlesque queens and boxers
I am the skaters under the freeway
I am the salmon caught in baskets
I am the street where suffragettes marched, where we protested Vietnam
I am the naked beach at the People’s Park
I am lilacs and roses in the garden
I am Willy Wiley petting a raccoon
I am the marmot eating Cheetos off the chest of the naked man
I am the ponderosa pine dropping needles on the ground
I am the wind blowing farm dust, west to gust
I am drunks standing by the freeway, pilots at the airbase
I am the women with grenade launchers in fussy lilac dresses
I am a margarita at the Baby Bar, a poem in the mouth
I am the giant stacks at the Steam Plant by the railroad and its track
I am the children feeding the garbage eating goat
I am Dixie on her bicycle and George burying drawings in the park
I am chickens at East Sprague Northwest Seed and Pet
I am ravioli at Cassano, Pho at Vien Dong
I am beer and Irish Whiskey
I am Spokane
Karen Mobley is free range but not a chicken. She earned the Dabbler badge in Girl Scouts has been working at it ever since. She is a visual artist, poet and arts consultant. She was artist in residence at the Jentel Foundation in January 2016.
FallingThe roar of water against basalt reaches me first.
Sound echoes as I move under the dark arch of the bridge,
the roiling falls framed by thick cement,
not ornate, but a massive, elegant curve,
backlit by the nearly risen sun.
Can it be three decades since we lived on Broadway?
The concrete and river our only backyard.
We drank too many bottles of Concha Y Toro,
led visitors under the bridge, through a gap
in the chain link fence to see the spring runoff,
the falls a rage of churn and brawl.
I loved you already then.
I don’t remember if you felt
the same about me yet.
When you climbed the vault, inching over the span
until your whole body perched above the surging water,
my heart flailed in my chest, leaped and threw itself
like the Chinook who toiled up the river before the dams.
I remember you: a reckless boy, but also a king.
In my mind, the imposing arch narrowed,
shrank, until it was a tightrope,
a piece of twine, a stretch of thinnest cord.
When I closed my eyes, I could see you tumbling
over and over, disappearing into the riot,
into the beautiful agitation of the gorge.
Kris Dinnison spent nearly two decades as a teacher and librarian, while dreaming of becoming a writer. Her first novel, “You and Me and Him,” was released in July 2015 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. She lives and writes in Spokane. She does not claim to be a poet.
at the old bear cagewith the ghost of an elk
I placed the pit like an egg
from the peach we shared
in a nest of owl pellets
that softened the hollows
of my perch, its twisted
nubs of iron bars like claws
in basalt unsheathed –
elsewhere and sheathed
a bile factory squeezes
a pancreas for bitter gold
and the beast
that houses this organ
is squeezed as well
and cannot turn around –
this is innovation
capitalism for which some mother
this time me rises
indignantly saying this
we cannot condone
and here is my beast again
far from where your parents
were mauled, their organs
twinkling and gold
in the sunset
knowing no confine this time
springing as if from cake
and ambling off without paying
me notice –
its mother is near
out of sight but near and
why, bugles my ghost
should I feel this bitter bile —
there is no spring
continent that lacks
room for us both
save the one
squeezing into the sea
Ellen Welcker is a poet and co-facilitator of Scablands Lit, an organization that supports writers in the Inland Northwest. Recent poems are in Dusie, Willow Springs, and Small Portions. Her book, “The Botanical Garden,” is in its third printing from Astrophil Press.
The Golden Rule Brake Shopis closed on Sundays. I sit across the street
drinking coffee, watching no one enter,
contemplating God. Monroe Street wakes slowly,
cars singly crossing the river, and the man arrives
to change the readerboard that rises above
the brake shop’s yellow sign stretching out
like a ruler. Letter by letter, he removes the notion
that “Life gets better by change not chance.”
Once he’s changed the sign, will his life get better?
He’ll go inside and mop the floor. Rearrange “brake”
to “break,” and everything shatters: rules, morning.
A bicycle weaves in and out of traffic,
a leashed dog steering the cyclist like a thread
mending what’s torn. In the newspaper,
deer are dying inexplicable deaths.
A woman dances to coffee shop jazz,
shimmies toward her teenage children who try
not to cringe. A new message emerges:
“History teaches us that we learn nothing
from history.” If anything, we learn
that the one who changes the sign
is not the one who creates the rhetoric.
It’s just his job. The signs are everywhere.
In the photograph, the deer’s legs fold
at improbable angles, the collapse
of everything unnameable. The mopped floor
will shine all of Sunday while there’s no one there
to see it. What chance do we have? The world
is a machine we must balance upon, a two-
wheeled thing we try so resolutely to steer,
but our leashed animals keep pulling us
somewhere else, and the river
keeps tumbling beneath the bridge.
Kathryn Smith received her MFA in creative writing from Eastern Washington University. She writes poetry, makes collage art, and spends a lot of time thinking about the intersection between the human and the animal. She likes to watch the river.
The House on First AvenueLook across to the shell of yellow sunlit stucco
sandstone and brick
and you’ll see the heavy, darkened timbers
of a Tudor hunting lodge pushed back from the street.
Soon you’ve walked right into a storybook clearing
and the tale of the Campbells, a family of three.
Breathe in 1898 and tell me what it really means
to be a small piece in the great sweeping arc of time.
Walk its halls and listen for acoustics of authenticity:
echoes of shoes on wooden floors,
secrets whispered over illegal whiskey
in its basement billiard room.
The scent of tended fireplaces
baked into the flowered wallpaper.
The shuffle of hurried servants answering its bells,
one meeting the milkman for a backdoor kiss.
A kitchen full of gingerbread
fresh from the old iron stove.
This collective memory is almost like
a Christmas by Currier and Ives.
The reminder of passing time unsettles some visitors,
who itch with an unease they can’t define.
They think of spirits lingering,
of scandals, and crimes.
But there are no ghosts in this house
just shadows in the dusk.
Some things slowly crumble
while others stay about the same.
It’s only that it makes you wonder
who will remember you after you’ve gone?
Originally from Minnesota, LeAnn Bjerken moved to Spokane four years ago to pursue her master’s in creative writing at EWU. She now works as a reporter at the Spokane Journal of Business. When not chasing inspiration, she can be found at home with her husband, Steve, and their munchkin cat Tikki.
Stray DogsWe come together every weekend,
congregating outside the bar
like homeless dogs lured
by promises of temporary belonging.
I am always here,
sitting on a stool and trying my hardest
to learn whatever lessons
this place has to teach.
Around me, people engage
in exultant celebration of who they are.
My grandmother never taught me much about pride,
but here I can learn the virtues
of that cardinal sin.
I watch as men play tricks for one another –
eyebrows wagging, mouths uplifting to obvious smiles –
in the hope of a single night’s cohabitation.
I don’t know these tricks.
Being here will teach them to me and extend my education
in how to move,
how to see,
how to understand.
Beads of every color
shine from his wrist.
I don’t think he knows these tricks either.
Too fast he sits next to me,
too fast fingers graze knees,
too fast do we speak the truth
and shove triviality aside.
The bar grants its blessing,
the way he and I share with words
not unlike the way we have with each other’s bodies.
In our late drunkenness,
we sniff out questions to ask,
learning each other with hands and sideways stumbling.
The full breadth of our knowledge
of the bar
and who we were that night,
won’t become apparent
until the hungover haze of the next afternoon.
It is only then we learn
of something that happened
far away from Spokane,
yet as close as the sticky sidewalk
outside the bar.
It is only then we learn for the first time
what violence and hatred mean.
Such atrocity is only committed
by an animal much more vicious
than we could ever be capable of.
Returning to the bar of our origin,
he and I rejoin the others.
As one, we face cruelty with everything we are
and learn the names of those we lost,
so we will never forget them.
Together, we listen close,
asking the bar to teach us about ourselves,
to give us a reason for senselessness
that will never be mended.
This place cannot always answer.
But it can provide some comfort
in the knowledge that we are home
and that stray dogs can become a pack.
Alaric Goodman is an amateur anthropologist and writer who has lived in Spokane for almost a decade. For him, stories and humanity are often one and the same.
SkywalkerI’m sitting outside La Chapina
with my brand new copy of The Empire Strikes Back.
I won’t see the movie for at least another month.
The Force temporarily denied
by Mount St. Helens ash
and because I’m 13 and can’t drive
To my left is the skywalk
roofed in yellow scallops,
wafting Orange Julius
citrus, vanilla, hot dog grease.
I hold the book in my hands
just like Han Solo holds Leia’s face:
I can’t stop looking at it.
This is love.
I sit on the floor with the Rebel Alliance
while Katie’s sister Meg is trying on prom dresses,
each one a little more Gunne Sax than the rest.
Thin lines of lace,
spaghetti straps and tiny pearl buttons.
A silhouette like a Grecian column.
Will I go to prom?
Will anyone ever hold my face
the way Han cradles Leia’s?
The industrial carpet itches.
I riffle through the mass market pages,
intent on finding the kissing part.
My prom date will be gay.
Closeted, of course.
But 30 years later he will toast me
at my wedding
with his husband and daughter
and my heart will spill over
like the Parkade courtyard fountain
But before all that:
because of this movie,
because of this book cover,
I end up with a type
(Thanks, Harrison Ford)
Once I was a Luke girl.
But I start falling
for the tall, dark-haired, dark-eyed,
vaguely assholish ones
to a letter.
Several inform me I am not their type.
So I marry R2-D2
It’s OK! It’s a compliment!
He is compact
He beep beep boop boops
around our house,
makes me watch all the sci-fi
I thought I’d outgrown
You’ve changed my type, too, he tells me.
He blushes now around chunky girls
and crushes on comediennes chubby
I carry a tiny computer in the palm of my hand.
I don’t have to DOS a damn thing.
I tease my dog with lasers
and I can listen to any song I want
whenever I want.
I’m living in the future.
And it’s so much better
than I’d ever
Sheri Boggs is the youth collection development librarian for the Spokane County Library District. She’s worked as a bookseller, librarian, editor and writer. She lives in Spokane with her librarian husband and two rescue dogs.
The CrescentThirty years after the great fire, my Dry Goods moved
from Riverside to Wall & Main, concrete details reinforced.
I am the only one with windows on every floor –
Seven stories all told.
At six, the boy sits on a red stool by his mother
Under the Clock on 1
Mesmerized by the soda jerk, he slurps his chocolate malt
his polished patent shoes swinging like
little black pendulums – wave bye-bye
to Daddy who’s headed up to
golf on 5.
His breath fogs my windows years later in December.
I long to lead him out of the cold of a 1929 Christmas and crash
into my bay windows lined with soft, snowy cotton
red and green ribbons spiraling around him playing
amidst all the toys. He disappears into the crowd
his mother pulling him away wearing a
warm hat she bought on 3.
At thirty he waited for hours among thousands to ride
my escalators, the only ones in town, his own family in tow
all dressed up to explore each floor, until I seated them
to dine at a white linen table, decorated with china cups (from 4),
silver tiered trays of sugar cakes and
plates with crustless tea sandwich triangles.
Models, in fashions from 2, slowly walk and twirl down the center aisle
like soft, chiffon desserts
in the Tea Room on 6.
His cane clicks up the sidewalk.
In his seventies now, he still comes –
fogs up my bay windows marveling at the mechanics
of Christmas, and longs for chocolate malts – but
the soda jerks have left as has the
playroom on 7 and the
fur vaults in the basement.
I saw him one last time,
his jacket worn at the cuffs, fingering the
frayed threads, remembering the
tailor on 2 who is no longer there. Confused
he looks for my name
but only sees the waning moon reflected in empty windows.
Carol Dahmen (Harrington) teaches English at Spokane Falls Community College in the Gateway to College Program. Born and raised in Spokane, she has many fond memories of the Crescent and its magical, Christmas window scenes.
Cultural CapitalMe and Matt on a bench
at the Downriver Disc Golf Course.
Afternoon sun like a hot brick
warms our shins and forearms.
We talk about Haruki Murakami’s sex scenes.
Matt says their matter-of-factness turns him on.
Before I can agree, a guy with a tallboy approaches
and says we look like we have college on us,
like we were eating some college and,
unbeknownst to us, a little slipped out the other side
of the bun and got on our slacks.
We say we did go to college, in fact,
we earned advanced degrees.
Would he like an autograph?
Matt slips him a signed headshot.
The man shoves it into his oversized jeans.
You’re not safe here, he blurts out.
There’s a different kind of law now.
Things have changed.
You will never understand the new way,
not without losing yourself entirely.
You must run, he says.
The shadow of a ponderosa pine
then reaches out and pulls him into darkness.
We return to the car, but it’s missing.
I look at my phone, but it’s dead.
I ask Matt if he wants to get a Slurpee.
He says he does and takes off his shirt.
Though originally from the Midwest, Tim Greenup now calls Spokane home. He teaches at Spokane Falls Community College.
Find Yourself in SpokaneThe journey starts on Third Street, the last street before you start climbing the concrete to train tracks, in the bad part of the cool neighborhood where I moved to during that big breakup and then that bad breakup, but still the best rent and just one block from the park where I’d wind myself through the trees to see if I could untangle my thoughts. One time I got lost despite it only being two square blocks, just like my mother, getting lost in the city I’ve lived in for 20 years, she can’t even seem to find her way to Main Street these days, mislead compass spinning post-stroke and I still can’t explain to her my way,
skipping all the cracks in the broken sidewalk on First, where I walk if I want to be in the city and not see anybody on a warm night, it’s a straight shot down to Irvs or nYne or Brooklyn or Suki or maybe some place classy, there’s a lot of bars in that four block stretch, we have a lot to drink about I guess,
at least I used to, just like my mother, or was that father, or lover, there’s a whole section of Sprague I wouldn’t walk down for months for fear that the drink would follow me home, go the long way, through riverfront, the street lights glowing orbs, crystal balls outlook cloudy. One day my friend Susan took me to the bridge down there, the one suspended, over the waterfall, look to the east, the river is rage and I learn that progress doesn’t just flow straight one way, it folds back in on itself in waves in waves,
look to the west, you’d think the river had never seen a splash, no troubled waters, smooth, like glass. She hands me kids bubbles. Pull out the magic wand. See how they travel all the way to the surface, little orbs, crystal balls, outlook floating,
You don’t end here.
Fitz is a performance poet, born and raised in Spokane. They have been using metaphors in everyday conversation since the second grade and competing in poetry slams since 2010. Currently Spokane’s reigning Grand Slam Champion, they are representing Spokane in the 2016 Individual World Poetry Slam and were a part of the team that represented Spokane in the 2015 and 2016 National Poetry Slams.
You Will Not Believe Me When I Say Spokaneis possessed by itself, so let me explain:
next to my house on Railroad Alley is an ice factory
that dumps bunny hills of crushed ice into the gutter
at closing so that even in July winter seems to loom
and convert the nonbelievers.
On East Sprague I witness a wedding in a boxing ring
after Luis received permission from his dead beloved
to ask his new beloved to marry him
while surrounded by ultimate fighters
who drip sweat on Spokane Boxing’s splintered floor.
Maybe the test of true love is whether she will meet you
in the ring and respect the ghosts of your mind.
Each night after boxing I take the #90 downtown
while Luis, glowing and listening
to advice from all his beloveds calls after me
Watch out for the weirdos!
Looking out for the man on the bus with two dogs
leashed to his arm by a ratty rope
who waits until the last stop to announce
Come on boys, we’re off to see the mayor!
A thrilling possibility: imagine the dogs leading their master into city hall
to lodge complaints. Who will pay the school levy?
When will the minimum wage go up?
How long can I keep living in a city that doesn’t love me?
The boxers meet me later that night to drink the purple from their bruises.
I bring enough quarters to ruin The Swamp.
After several rounds of “Walkin’ After Midnight,”
we’ve all gone walking, well past midnight,
by the overlook of Coeur d’Alene Park
listening to prophets punch-drunk on messianic thoughts.
Prophets, we know, are out of their minds,
but seem to speak for this city anyway:
I hear God I am you I am nothing much to see.
—Aileen Keown Vaux
Aileen Keown Vaux earned her master of fine arts in creative writing from the Inland Northwest Center for Writers at Eastern Washington University. She lives in Spokane, where she writes and teaches English composition and literature at Spokane Falls Community College.
In the Moon of WinterSituated between our downtown metro-center
And the feminine contours of the Palouse farmland
Lies the old, well used shoulder of Spokane’s South Hill –
The caring bridge for Mother’s failing health.
Transplanted here, the Hill is for her now, with her,
Helping her to navigate her world of dementia –
Her wiring has failed her, fizzled out
To the plaques and tangles of this dreaded disease.
The two of us have simple routines together;
Every Friday we have lunch at the Chalet,
Then we head for the gem of South Hill: Manito Park.
Drives are good, sitting for food, sitting at the park.
As we pass Walgreens I think of her mobility loss;
I hope to get my car close to the duck pond for easy walking.
Manito Park waits for us along a canopy of Norwegian Maples.
We turn in at a sign, “Established in 1904.”
1904 – Mother was born in the terrible year of 1918,
The year of one of the world’s greatest influenza epidemics.
People stayed away from crowds and public places;
City parks became symbols for life and restoration.
The park draws us for the same reason; it’s like balm,
Settling our restlessness and reviving our spirits;
We are inspired to open up, relax and be uplifted
By sacred places and natural settings.
Mother adjusts herself on a bench overlooking an area
Where other mothers over the years have spread blankets
Near toddlers bouncing bare biscuit-feet in thick grass,
And fathers have played catch-ball with eager kids.
It’s hard to realize on this sunny day how the
Winter wind must whip off basalt ridges voicing
A howl or a growl, hiss or whinny in its gusts
Like rising ghosts from Manito’s long ago zoo.
As in the old days, people still come for sledding;
And if we do not remember the skaters, Manito does -
The sheer joy of skating on Mirror Pond is retained
In the sun-dappled ripples of its laughing water.
Suddenly, Mother looks vacant and asks where we are;
I explain we are at Manito, one of Spokane’s oldest parks.
She lights up: Manitou! Manitou is a name for God;
I know an Indian poem about Manitou, a song –
’Twas in the moon of wintertime when all the birds have fled
That mighty Gitchi Manitou sent angel choirs instead;
Before their light the stars grew dim
And wand’ring hunters heard the hymn.
In the lodge of broken bark the tender babe was found;
A ragged robe of rabbit skin enwrapped his beauty ‘round.
Her reciting “The Moon of Wintertime,” strangely beautiful;
She tries to remember more, but she can’t.
How does she remember all those words? Miracles,
These extraordinary windows of clarity that open for her.
Perhaps at some odd moment she will light up again -
Remember being at Manito’s fountain with little Jacob;
Maybe the serenity of the Japanese Garden will flood in?
Manito will be our memory keeper: I take one more picture.
Becky Carlson grew up in a small town on the shores of the wolf’s jaw of Lake Superior near the Apostle Islands National Park. She spent 30 years in Alaska. She is a former teacher and Alaskan commercial fisherman. Everything she knows about poetry she has learned from Poetry Scribes of Spokane.
City Loop44-G or 44-B, 20-R or 20-C,
back around, Wellesley-33.
When you ride the whole loop it
takes more than an hour – but
of course, most people don’t ride
the whole way. Most people
have somewhere to go, don’t they?
The buses in this city are slow,
unreliable, less than convenient,
but some of us take them anyway.
No choice, you know, DUI, too
expensive to drive and it’s cold out.
Start on the 44 in the leafy canopy
of the South Hill’s tree-lined haven.
If you wake up on time, take the Grand
route, watch the seasons change over
your shoulder at Manito Park.
If you’re late, run across the park and
catch the Bernard – the park’s mysterious
side, past the Catholic elementary school
where all the worst boys you know got
educated before they ever met you.
Then down that big hill, whichever one you’re
on, and you see that rather disappointing
always-a-train-chugging-by little downtown
and the driver navigates the one-way
street network where the holes are deep.
You’re at the Plaza now and you just sit here
in the warmth of the bus, of anonymity
Grand turns to 20-Riverside, Bernard to 20-Clarke
Most days late, it’s Clarke and Peaceful Valley-bound
(If not, then carpet-smelling mansion apartments of Browne’s):
Yes, Peaceful Valley, a real place,
a hidden little nest of a neighborhood
with hippies and bikers and rich folks, too.
(you’ll move down here someday and be
less like this, ride the bus less, hold on)
The light changes and the river mists over
the little streets and wild dense gardens
This is a good place to give in. Rest your forehead
on the window, germs and all, feel the
chill of the condensation as you look out.
The two Twenties meet at People’s Park:
the opposite of Manito, there’s nudists here,
men used to come here to meet each other
for encounters they had to hide in bushes and cars.
No one has to hide like that anymore, do they?
Carsick curves – we’re tracing the route
of Bloomsday now and when it’s finally
spring (will it ever be spring again?)
more people than even live here will race
and there won’t be buses at all that day.
The road teeth between the full lips
of cemetery on Government Way –
grit yours since it lasts too long to
hold your breath as you pass it.
Up there in the trees, a thousand haunted steps.
The road is called Fort George Wright Drive
now and when you look up who he was
(you should look up who he was) you’ll
marvel at the fact there’s a school on this
road, and churches, and an annual footrace.
Yes, there’s a school here. You ought to
make a show of going – maybe bum a cigarette,
maybe get your shit together, ask for, ask for,
but you can see the wind between the buildings,
it’s colder than it looks and who cares anyway,
So just keep riding the loop.
It’s the 33 now. There wasn’t any proclamation
it just changed. North on streets you know less well
to Wellesley, North Side. Trashy, bad is what you hear.
Seems to drag forever it’s the lights, its the two
school zones: Shadle stoplight stoplight Rogers.
The mall in the middle at Division would be
a good place to salvage your day – get on
a better route to go downtown, but for what.
Keep riding as the driver glances back as if
to silently ask, “Where you going, anyway?”
You’ll get all the way to the fairgrounds
in the neglected industrial corner of the city,
the train yards that never transformed into a park,
just a bunch of broken rocks and tired streets and
crossing the freeway to a hill named for Thor.
Wonder what would happen if you stepped off
at the palm reading sign at the gypsy
house, wonder if they could read your palm
and if you even want to know whether you,
like your city, are just plain cursed.
The bus lumbers across 29th where you
either go home or keep riding, reading, crying,
writing lines you’ll decipher someday and wonder
why you don’t remember ever feeling like this.
You won’t count how many days passed this way.
But years later, back at Fort George Wright Drive,
the buildings won’t even be the same ones anymore
and much will have shifted within and around you.
But as you pull away from the curb a feeling of dread,
dead weight and drowning will seize you as it did then.
You’ll cry and it won’t be until your vision blurs that
you realize you aren’t on the bus anymore. Your hands
shaking on the wheel, you’re finally off the loop and
you can drive anywhere you want to now, can’t you?
Most people have somewhere to go. So, go.
Taylor Weech is a Spokane-born writer, radio host, and activist. Her show, which often features poetry alongside politics, is called “Praxis” and is best found on her blog at truthscout.net. She co-founded the Love & Outrage Poetry Collective in 2015 and edits the zine of the same name.
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