by Hosanna Greene
It is the first summer of the last plague.
You are still small inside me, fed by a tube,
bones soft as those of sardines packed in water.
It is the first funeral that requires masks.
This early in the summer, we still hope
to protect each other from our breath.
At the funeral, we expire slowly, each breath
a mist that might carry this new plague.
He’s in a better place, the sweaty preacher hopes,
and anger constricts my throat into a tight tube.
For once I’m thankful to hide behind my mask,
although it feels as if I’m breathing underwater.
We sit packed like sardines. I wonder, how much water
can air hold? I try not to hear his father sob, his breath
heaving, tears plastering the blue surgical mask
onto his cheeks. Every morning new numbers plague
us: infections, deaths, the minutes it takes for the soft tube
of a man’s neck to be crushed by another man’s knee as he hopes
for his mother. Inside me I feel you move—a fist, a knee. I hope
it was painless; perhaps he folded his limbs into the warm water
of a bathtub and counted out a rosary of pills. I hope the tube
interlaced with your limbs doesn’t fold, cutting off the breath
I take for you. But then, who wants to be born into a plague?
The first time you see my face, it will wear a mask.
Maybe by the time you remember, we’ll lose our masks.
We are creatures of addiction and hope—
that doesn’t change during a plague.
Our bodies will always require water
just as they will always require the breath
that packs ICUs full, everyone on a tube
until their lungs swell like mushrooms and the tubes
become useless. Still, behind our masks
we curse each other under our breath.
Sometimes inside me I feel a dark hope,
small and slippery, for judgment by water,
apocalypse by plague.
Soon I will cut the tube connecting us so you too must breathe.
Behind our masks, we will welcome you to the plague,
where hope is tenacious, dangerous, like water.
Hosanna Greene is a poet from South Carolina. She currently lives in Cambridge, England, where she spends her days chasing down a good cup of coffee and her toddler (in that order).