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.
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
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.