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