I strip in the doorway when I get home,
stand in the shower too tired to think or cry.
I sing Happy Birthday twice over every
part of my body. At work I can’t eat,
at night I can’t sleep. The dreams I have now
have only three themes: gasping for breath,
wiping things down, somehow, by accident,
being touched by somebody. Did you ever wake
in those last moments, or in your sedation
did you ever dream? I still wake some days
with a small beat like a held breath before
the truth of this new world hits me. Be safe
say the families I call on the phone.
Your name is a poem I’m required to keep
This is the day you start to turn.
What we suck up from your lungs turns frothy pink
and then the frank red of blood. There are tests
but no one willing to run them — you are too sick
and you have never cleared the virus. No one
would ever want to be what you are now:
a hazard, a threat, a frightening object
on the edge of death. We try not to touch you.
Stronger together say the screen savers
on every screen in the hospital, the banners
on the sides of the shuttle bus. What I’ll see
is just how much this isn’t true, how so many
of our sickest patients are Black or Brown like you.
I will see a forty-six-year-old Black man,
infected with SARS-CoV-2, die instead
from having a police officer kneel on his neck.
I will see those who protest police brutality,
though masked and mostly peaceful, tear-gassed
and shot with rubber bullets. I will see
your death multiplied by ten thousand,
by a hundred thousand, all those bodies,
mothers and fathers, daughters and sons.
With my arms at my sides, I watch through the glass.
I have never mattered less in my entire life.
And this is how you die, near no one who
ever loved you, a spectacle of futility
and fear. Time is called, and someone calls your
husband, and it isn’t me. I am not the one
who hears him cry out in grief.
(From The New Stability)