This poem was written when I was in the midst of my Covid days and watching my symptoms closely. I was terrified of getting worse and frustrated that I had still contracted it after being so careful. The possibility of ending up in the hospital as so many had around me was looming close in my mind. Getting Covid was not only a physical struggle, but a mental one too.
This poem was written when I initially received the diagnosis of Covid. As my father had it previously and did not do well, I was terrified of the thought that I might give it to him again. I was the one who dropped off groceries and saw my parents weekly.
Put very bluntly, this poem is about me and my partner wondering if we were going to die due to the pandemic. It’s also a bit of a love poem – I would die with you.
I wrote this poem for my dad, when he went to the hospital and had to be ventilated. Thankfully, he survived and is well today. This was written in those days when the doctors seemed to have given up and just told us they’d do their best to “keep him comfortable.”
This is about my first day of school.
I am sucking on artificial cherry
and holding back a deep rooted
cough, something powerful,
like your name in the middle
of the night or at daybreak. I am
swallowing electrolytes floating
in clear liquid like tears, wondering
if my breathing has worsened
or if the thousands of thoughts
shuffling and crashing against
the cracks of my skull are slamming
on the red button marked only
for emergencies. You are there, too.
I can taste adrenaline in the back
of my throat, along with the uncertainty
of the future and the way everything
must turn back to dust. I lay my head
back against the couch we picked
together, call for sleep as if it wasn’t
always watching, and hope that
when I awake my head won’t be
as light and your voice will have
softened enough to let me dream
of something nice for a change.
Fear has manifested itself
into a microscopic force
that hangs in the air
like the last word before
closing the door. It echoes
off hospital rooms, disinfected
surfaces where you stole a kiss
before it was allowed. I grip
my mask tighter at the moment,
tears swelling on command
from memories of touching
his cold, unfamiliar hand while
machines whirred and beeped
in place of your singing. I could
feel myself ripping my limbs
from the stitches at the thought
of my doing putting you back there.
Any of you. I walked with a new-
found fear of my own body,
harnessing the very thing we shook
hand sanitizer into our palms for,
covered our cracking smiles and
hid our skin from each other’s
touch. I can’t say where it attached
its desperate being inside me,
I couldn’t blame it for only wanting
to just live like the rest of us.
There was no grand dance that felt
worth it enough to risk becoming
a recluse in my own home, afraid
of my own reflection, afraid of catching
sight of anyone’s eyes. I can only wait,
swallowing viscous liquids and pills
that look like jewels. I can only wait
to see the damage I have done
by only living, only loving, only
wanting to see you carefully. I can only
wait and watch the oranges in my fruit
basket grow soft brown spots of life
going entirely too fast and rub their
surfaces knowingly, comforting the fear
they must begin to feel at this moment.
Spend the night shaking your leg,
wondering what I would do
with your life insurance money
if our luck ran dry and your lungs
gave in to this invisible enemy,
and I’ll remind you I would only
outlive you by a day. I think about
what our future looks like behind
the velvet curtain of nights in oblivion,
sinking worry with urgent kisses
and carelessly reminiscing about childhood
memories when the fact that nothing
made sense, made it all come together
like the last slice of wedding cake.
It looks like sparkling within each other,
tangled as climbing vines. It looks
like calling each other by our names,
given or dug up or God-sent or invented.
It looks like a dimension of the past,
rusted and grown in and I would spend
the rest of the night licking frosting
off the tips of your fingers to convince
you, it’s too late for me to go alone.
I’m here. I’m here after skinning my knees,
pulling at the world with trembling hands
to halt because you have, and it cannot continue
without you. I paused everything I could grab,
slowed enough to breathe deeply into moments
I thought would not shine quite like they do now.
But it keeps spinning: conversations stinking the air
about weekends spent in oblivion, unaware the world’s core
is lying in a bed with a tube down the throat,
pumping air like a body could ever forget. If I could
hold you to my chest so you’d feel my skin
and know you were okay, would your brain stop
throbbing? Could it sit back down instead of rising
like bread spilling over a baker’s last hope.
I’m here and why isn’t that enough? Sticky from sugared
coffee, the high from a heart that won’t accept
it’s not dying, raw lips peeled and peeled like an endless
layer with no center, no promise, no beginning or end,
stains on my sleeves, why can’t I remember the last
thing we said? But I’m here, like you told me,
time and time again when I cursed at hollow skies
that the loneliness felt like being swallowed alive.
This is quicksand, on the surface of hard fabric
that creaks like broken leather, on the tile inside
your shrine of beeping engines blurring the line
between helping you stay and taking you over.
Grabbing your humanity: how you sing before you eat
and snore like a warm thunderstorm that I would give
anything to keep me awake now. Grabbing it
with cold, calculated metal that makes your hands
feel not yours. Wake up so I can tell you,
you smell good, you always do. Wake up so I can
cut your eyebrow hairs and watch you fight sleep
and compliment your hair and hold an index finger
up because you were right, you are number one
and I’ll never leave you. Wake up and I’ll go
to church with you, no whining. I’ll clean the kitchen
and watch a civilization meet the beginning of the end
on TV. Wake up so I can tell you I’m not sure
if it was me, and you’ll tell me you knew it
and I’ll grab your hand and it’ll be yours again,
annoy me for the rest of the day. I’ll write a book
for you, I’ll go back to school, there’s so much left
for you to see. In the walls of this hospital, time
is altered, fluid and it shifts between our tired bodies
in waves. Reality seems but a perception, uncertainty
thick enough to choke on if you breathe in too deeply.
I couldn’t put a number to the number of steps
it seems we’ve taken back. The past seems counted,
like priceless glass shaking and tumbling in nervous,
quaking hands. The future seems endless, days
rummaging through medical websites, waiting for a sign
God heard us begging on our knees. I won’t hear Him
say anything but your name, glimmering like second
chances often do, even in a thick fog or a hammering rain.
There is a reel of homemade film over my eyes,
skipping lovingly with excitement as they often do,
past the traffic jams and lines that wrap around buildings.
But into that sepia light, infiltrates a quiet fear I’ve known
for well over a year now. It tracks the coughs
from the classmate across the table from me,
sinking her chest so she must exit the room for a fit
against something invisible. I adjust my mask tighter
at the bridge of my nose, steady my breathing, gaze
out the window at passing students hooking arms
and laughing as if there wasn’t a war waging in the wind
around them. Questions bubble into the air, tense
as a waiting room on the ICU floor of any hospital
in the world. She cannot answer. None of them can.
Because a governor in the heart of the state wags a finger
and threatens any caring instructor to wonder
how many of us are willing to protect one another,
or to gently suggest we breathe through fabric to steady
our chances at coming out of this as lightly scathed
as possible. We cannot ensure a lab partner
has let their arm be punctured in the name of those
with bodies that could not yet handle its contents.
Our bodies are written on as numbers, statistics,
to be posted as graphs for a quick Google search. Our bodies
once more, are not our own. They are on signs at protests,
they are masked, they are not, they are policed, they are
not protected well enough, they are slammed against walls,
they are pumped full of air, they are cold. Our neighbors
are threatened, nail salons are filled with racist remarks,
fear manifested into a misplaced hatred of misunderstanding,
there is not enough compassion: it is dying on the streets,
reeking of decomposition with not enough will to live.
We cannot resuscitate what has already lost a pulse
for too long and there are people dying. Fear looming heavy
so during the day, we only see darkness. We are begging
those officials with magic pens to write into the law,
something along the lines of caring, something mirroring
a deep respect for the people they are said to lead.
But in their high towers, they don’t seem to listen.
We gather metal scissors and cut strips of pink construction
paper, tape it in place and let the light fade it into nothingness.
Amarainie Marquez (she/her) is a first-year graduate student working to obtain her Master of Science in Information Studies (MSIS) at the University of Texas at Austin with a concentration in librarianship. She obtained her Bachelor of Arts in English with a minor in Creative Writing from the University of Texas at Arlington. Amarainie enjoys reading fiction, writing poetry, and playing with her dog, Athena. You can find her on Instagram @fulltimetrying.