Published on Academy of American Poets (https://poets.org)


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.  

Credit


Copyright © 2020 by Ken Chen. Originally published with the Shelter in Poems initiative on poets.org. 

Author


Ken Chen

Ken Chen is the author of Juvenilia (Yale University Press, 2010), winner of the 2009 Yale Younger Poets Award selected by Louise Glück. A graduate of Yale Law School, Chen served as the Executive Director of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop from 2008 to 2019. He is currently a Cullman Fellow at the New York Public Library.

Date Published: 2020-05-12

Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/fingernails