My body is a vessel for my- self But where do I begin and where do I turn into just skin and just bone? Am I all in my head? Neurons firing, singing a song of self in unison. Over and over, I am me. I am alive. I am here. Or are slivers of my being entwined in my toes and traces of myself tucked on the tip of my tongue? Am I a fragment of someone else? My mother and father and their mothers and fathers surely. Or a figment slipping into the minds of others. Pockets of me in dreams and memories. Am I you?
I wrote this poem on what it means to be a body at Davidson College during the COVID-19 pandemic with fellow humester Isaac Franks in December of 2020. I wrote the left column while he wrote the right.
We never could have imagined this reality a year ago– starting college while an invisible war wages, the enemy taking the lives of society’s most vulnerable, leaving no one truly safe. A pandemic which ravages communities, leaving bodies gasping for air in hospital beds. We learn to recognize Our new peers by friendly eyes peering over masks, which shield each of us from the other, protecting us from the danger of ourselves. A disease which could always be lurking in class or the cafeteria or wherever one might go. We learn to adapt to the perpetual threat of infection, to building community through digital screens and from a distance and yet I think we’ve discovered that connection can be even more powerful when built on the promise to keep each other safe.
We have tables with fewer chairs We give hours of awkward stares To try to decipher Who is who and how they feel When everyone has more than one mask A mask to keep a virus in And a mask to keep up happy appearances On the worst days they are the same mask When a frown is concealed by cloth or paper No smile beneath But when both masks stand in our way In between our loving and our being loved We learn to speak, to reach out We talk with our eyes, our tone, our hands Hands that don’t touch Hands that promise with open palms That this distance doesn’t weaken us Our chairs are fewer but our laughs are not Our stares are awkward but we figure them out We learn to unmask another, and be unmasked And be ourselves in the strangest places and times