American Body. Poetry Honorable Mention.

by Danielle Cowan

American Body

“The reality of the
Is about to come crashing down hard”—Ask Reddit, March 2020

Before finding all the creative writing workshops and community-making migrating to Zoom,
I collected a Reddit comment that seemed like the least Corona-covered contaminant to consume.

Is it the
Of the 1 train conductor?
calling out “the next stop will be…”
on late weekday mornings
Wielding the same smoothness as a Kiss FM announcer
while warning passengers away from
the doors he managed to never close on my cane?

Is it the
Of the halal cart cook?
The one at Fordham’s corner telling me when it was safe to sail through the inscrutably diagonal
intersection defending the Lincoln Center campus entrance
jokingly threatening my next order with extra spice?

Is it the
Of one of the protesters?
Rearranging their ranks
Around their hard-won wall of Trump International
So I could access a turn to my preferred
Set of steps down to the train station?

Is it the
Of the woman I judged?
For her jittery unwarranted worrying
About my spatial relationship to abysses
Guarded by big Braille-like bumps
On Grand Central platforms
Until she halted our half-hearted small talk
To say she hadn’t eaten for the second September
Day since her friend’s murder?

Or is it the
Of New-in-Town Molly?
Whose map-reading talents meshed
So well with my thespian eye for events
That she asked for my number after acting
As Interpreter of iPhone Cartography
From the Franklin Street station
Towards Town Stages?

The reality of my
Are these brief connections
made by brandishing my blindness as a cane.

I know nothing of narrative medicine
Or how history’s repeating itself in Navajo nation.

And the closest I’ll come to caring for the affected
Is volunteering to assess tipped workers who’ve requested cash relief.

I don’t know if I’m writing about the realities of my disabled American body
To escape the realities of my racialized American body.

Or whether I write about the realities of my racialized American body
To escaped the realities of a traumatized American body.

I cannot uncouple
These questions and self-quarantining streets
No longer tied together through
Traffic surges by working out
What they want me to remember
About the teacher
Touching my shoulder
And saying “safe”
While I practiced self-sufficiently crossing
Streets with steady parallel traffic
On Pelham Parkway North.

But I am learning
That the American body
Of a poem
Can exist without
Doling out
And dissecting
It’s detailed entrails as offerings
To inhabit the same stage
As entire archives.

Danielle is an electoral organizing fellow born and raised in New York City. You can find her foraging for free lectures, queer feminist theater and great cake, or, on a healthier day, a hiking trail she can conquer with her cane.

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