Fingernails

Stopped biting my nails when we started sheltering  
and the next week they scratched my daughter  
when I held her. Seldom had I ever seen nails intact  
on my troubled fingers, but now I persevered to grow  
abundant enough to touch any other person.  
We ate and uttered grace, my own thanks diminished  
by sincerity. Thank you for not being dead! 
Seven o’clock. The sunset breathes pink as a gill. 
We plead applause out open windows desperate  
to once more belong to we. Pandemic, pan demos, means all people,  
but our clapping sounds dumb cause it’s not.  
I wonder if the virus is only envoi, a final sickness following  
the first: that burst of capital scouring the earth for returns. 
How gluttonous money flies as half alive as any virus!  
Superstructural germ, does the wage like you borrow the body’s life 
until investment finally sunders people extra, mere clippings? 
The corona seems only the sun’s thin halo,  
a white keratin rim, and now they say crisis comes  
when people consume too little, so when my nails grow back 
I chew them hope hungry, cannibal of my hands,  
fearing each hangnail a door for the contaminant.  
Does such solipsism tell you I’ve suffered  
only paper cuts? It seems that being New Yorkers means  
we share only one thing. We each hear the red wound wailing  
in the air, soaking the siren red. The siren burns,  
the siren spins, but now a different return from that of ambulances  
and profits. Now spring strikes. Now the workers walk out  
of warehouses. A judge orders ten migrants unthawed  
from ice. Is something turning for the people  
called surplus? Dread of anticipation before no future.  
Stop biting your nails, says my mother  
on Skype. She tells me to save the bearded roots  
of leeks. If you plant them, new shoots  
regenerate from the trimmings.  

More by Ken Chen

Brief Lives [excerpt]

Descartes in Love

Love, accepting that we are not pure and lucent hearts, ricocheting towards each other like unlatched stars—no, we are tainted with self. We sometimes believe the self is an invisible glass, just as we believe the body is a suit made of meat. Doubt all things invisible. Doubt all things visible.
 

Colin Powell

Not to be a tragic person. What is a tragic person? The victim of a crime who does not realize the criminal is himself.
 

Adonis Prettyboy in Hell

And then her son with love-gun and a quiver
snatched a love-shaft and delivered—a twiggy arrow 
in her nipple like a nasty sliver...
A big pig stuck me with his tusk, but it's life that's the bore, silly!
I never got desire, I always got what I wanted
And in this hallway incredulous of lights, I want wild pears, firm booblike fruit—Daffodils! 
Clovers! And the trill of starlings why not! We could grow 
apples here... Apples? So, I suppose I do miss her

          —You know when I fell out of life
I grabbed her heart like a rope;

Virginia Woolf

 

The target audience of my secrets is not my friends, but my journals and the strangers who will read them in the future.
 

Child of Immigrants

I used to pretend I was American.
This was until I realized I was American.
 

Richard Rorty

What is forgiveness? When someone else's sin becomes merely an action we ourselves might plausibly commit. The virtue of hypocrisy—we temporarily become people other than ourselves and can notice our actions from the other side, as saintly as no one.
 

Io

Symbol is 
abridgement. I am not a cow and Argus not omniscience. 
We are clockfraught beings. 
The man I love stopped my heart when he froze the world to night. 
My heart being part of the world.