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Two Poems | Gretchen Rockwell

Under the Skin

           cw: disease, epidemics

I'm sitting down to write a third poem about yellow fever. I was just saying I've always loved disease stories, studies mapping deaths black and blue and yellow. [Let me identify them: Yersina pestis, bubonic plague. Vibrio cholerae, cholera. Flaviviridae, yellow fever.] I can't forget my fascination with the Red Death too, holding his illimitable dominion. In fiction. Il- limitable. Ill-limitable: most of the stories are about vaccines or scientists' efforts to stop the spread, mitigate the risks. They all show the suffering, of course, give symptoms in [sometimes] bloodless detail. The anguished faces of the sick, the precise descriptions sit innocuous in monochrome. They scrape like a scalpel over an open wound, shock surely as insufflation, suffocate: Darkness and Decay and all that. I can't watch slasher flicks, so I'm not sure why this gore is not only acceptable but absorbing. But it is. It's the distance, I think. I'm looking at the faces of the dead and thinking I don't know why I'm drawn to things that would destroy me, only that I am. Diesel fumes and a dancing flame. Bacteria dividing in a dish, in a body. You don't need to tell me I'm morbid; I know. I'm just glad to be drawn to things that cannot love me back.


Party Conversation: a Quarto

For Damiana

if nobody hears
in my head am i
still a person    maybe
& even thinking is
the way a tree    rots:

inexorable & deadly

brackets flabby & white

i'd like to say i have
an answer but i don't
& the rot       keeps growing

is this the way sanity
can fracture    like old bark

splitting    under age & stress

prolonging    the    slow

drying into nothingness
fit only to be    broken
& used    by someone
who needs the shell of you?

who needs the heart of you

what i say

still terrible? well

words do matter

poison for the brain

decay spiraling out

the saddest thing to see

how do you prune spite?

the way you search for the way to

know the language it's in

without ending without

& you will fail & find you

have no choice in your demise

no answers left on your tongue

heat-death of the universe:

nothing without someone to witness

burned to ashes themselves

& finding no one else

left to speak to yourself

left to put voice to your thoughts

Gretchen Rockwell is a queer poet currently living in Pennsylvania. Xe is the author of the microchapbooks love songs for godzilla (Kissing Dynamite, 2020) and Thanatology (Ghost City Press, 2020); xer work has most recently appeared in perhappened mag, Whale Road Review, Poet Lore, FreezeRay Poetry, and elsewhere. Gretchen enjoys writing poetry about gender and sexuality, history, myth, science, space, and unusual connections

Twitter: @daft_rockwell


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