Opinion

Writing Through the Pandemic: Poet Kyle Dargan on Coronavirus’s Painful Truths

“There was a decade, maybe two, when the city seemed a good idea . . .”

Writing Through the Pandemic: Poet Kyle Dargan on Coronavirus’s Painful Truths
Coronavirus 2020

About Coronavirus 2020

Washingtonian is keeping you up to date on the coronavirus around DC.

We asked Washington writers to share stories, essays, poems, drafts, musings, and other things they’ve been working on during quarantine. Today, a poem by Kyle Dargan, an associate professor of literature at American University and a resident of Fort Dupont Park in DC’s Ward 7. His most recent book, Anagnorisis, was awarded the Lenore Marshall Prize from the Academy of American Poets and longlisted for the Pulitzer Prize.

OPENING

The home is a quite snug coffin. Inside, I scroll down and volume

up through the trilling of what is currently wearing our insides

thin—the news  that eats us

slowly, not with gnawing as ghastly as the germ’s.

And who can confidently evade the air? Aerosolized is a new

alpha predator of nightmare words. Its predation leaves my mind’s

gray fields untrod for what now feels like seasons—the carcasses

of immediate hopes having been dragged into the underbrush.

There was a decade, maybe two, when the city

seemed a good idea. Now we are dying in deep breaths

because we live so many to a home, so poor per capita. Census data

never saved the lowest of us from being imagined as indifferent to pain,

so we are dissuaded from hospital beds to wither in or tests to prove

the things to which our sweats and knocking lungs testify.

Replacement, an epidemiologist calls it—opening the widows so that

the air outside our walls

displaces

the air inside.

(Replacement: when the city

inhales revenue and sneezes the dusty into the adjacent county.)

And the infirmed speak of air hunger—the sensation of underfed

lungs. It is spring. The air seems so abundant. One of my elders is intubated. I know

she will not be breathing in a week. I tell my toddler

the playground, the daycare, the play store, all closed. Because of the virus

she learns to complete each sentence. There are now thin panes,

windows, between us and our living, between unsure and unsafe.

Some days, clear glass. One-way mirror on other days when the neighborhood-

specific suffering seems unseeable. I have not cried. I want to

when I walk down H Street or East Capitol thinking of all businesses

that just fought replacement only to have their storefaces covered, only to find them

asphyxiated like this. (All commerce not being equal behind the glass.)

I do not know when I will write the phrase open air with any confidence

that we know what it means or how we need it to flow within us.

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