Remember that year we sat in the stench of death,
peering at lighted squares, searching for the numbers of fallen.
I was conscious of my breath, conscious of too-close bodies
passing in the aisles, conscious of the skin of the oranges,
already touched, in the pile. I tried to grieve,
I tried not to cough. I couldn’t sleep or I slept too much.
I tried to believe that words were enough, but I wore
them through. There was nothing to do, or everything to do
and no one to touch. It was a communal crisis of the flesh
yet I lost mine in the wash, lost sense of the seasons
and the earth and the feeling of the turn as the world shrank down
to assorted squares of sound and sight.
We joked that none of us would age that year. A desperate lie
while op-eds sneered that it wasn’t worth a dollar
to save people from dying if they were already old.
All life was cheap, some was cheaper.
All bodies are material, only some matter.
The killings were watered down, the victims rewritten
as if they were already dead or dying.
Even back then, we knew our bodies
were sacred, our inheritance lush,
our ancestors attentive. I carried
the strength of my lineage,
I learnt to shed its burden.
The gift was wheat but not bread,
fruit but not wine.
In those days, the bosses and their machines
stole all our time. They crept into our houses,
they owned our faces and stories
and footsteps and grammar and sold them on.
All that our ancestors gave us,
the market clambered to purchase, trade,
perfect and erase. We fought back,
marching in streets, singing in towers,
bleeding on film and paper. It wasn’t enough.
The water climbed up, the fires burned hotter, the prisons
swelled and swallowed more of our number.
The second summer of that year indoors,
the old world came knocking and flirting again.
Wheat but not bread. Fruit but not wine.
We had to take our time back, hold close
to the skin of the earth, feel the turn inside and out.
There was no script, only the noise at the door
and an ache in my neck and a dim memory
that once we were worth more.
There was no blank page. No empty land.
Never a moment that felt like the stage was set
for the world to come. There was only the unmarked seed,
the garden already overgrown, and between the weeds and flowers
there was work – there was living to be done.
This work was created for Assembly for the Future: The Last Disabled Oracle, part of a series of participatory digital gatherings forBLEED 2020, and was cross-pollinated with provocations from Alice Wong, AM Kanngieser and Kera Sherwood-O’Regan.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Sep 12, 2020 as "Still life".
A free press is one you pay for. In the short term, the economic fallout from coronavirus has taken about a third of our revenue. We will survive this crisis, but we need the support of readers. Now is the time to subscribe.
Letters & Editorial