Forgive me: before this message, I’ve tried
to reach you though the customary channels.
I dropped a line to your business address,
then later, with some qualms over manners,
your personal email, the one at which
I imagine, your close friends send chain mail.
I have a few requests; I wanted to bend
our mutual ear, and thought it best to deal
with our joint interests directly, to cease
miscommunication through scraps of data,
through lab reports generated by the hospital’s
automated systems. Let’s be honest: do either of us
know what to make of the milk-ghost images
shot through with X-rays? Yet having heard
no reply after what I myself would characterize
as a civil interval, I confess that I tried
calling you. Perhaps you were out—you let
the line ring for some minutes, no machine
catching the call. I wondered, briefly,
whether you knew it was me on the wire,
whether you read our name on a pop-up screen
and decided to wait me out. But speculation
is beside the point. I trust that you can appreciate
my position: after decades of working together
toward what I believe is our common good,
I’ve been surprised by your recent failures
of good faith. I hope I do not go too far, but
I view your recalcitrance as willful disregard.
When I desire to grasp, say, an apple—does it matter
why?—I feel I can expect your help, your closing
of fingers around the green rind. Or when I need
the knee to hold, the joint to bend appropriately,
that I should not need to wonder if you’ll comply
or toss me to the ground. You’ve left me,
I confess, in a spasm that looks for all the world
like a drunk’s bungling rage. I’ve tried
to appease or inspire you, shouting down
the nerve-trip wires with pill after dissolving
pill, but you don’t seem cheered. I’ve considered
the possible dissolution of our partnership,
but on further reflection, I do not see a viable
alternative to our continued work together.
I hope I do not seem too familiar, too cavalier
if I say that I have grown to like you, over time.
At the outset of our working relationship, I may
have thought you a bit ungainly, and might have made
some remarks uncomplimentary to your appearance.
For these, I am sorry: I see now that the texture
of your hair or the general curvature of your muscle
and fat is in no way my concern, for you are
an independent entity. I hope that any dismissive
comments on my part are not to blame for our current
state of affairs, and that we may repair the rapport
we once took as a given. Please, consider
replying to this letter. Whether by post or email
is at your discretion. In case you choose to call,
I’ll be waiting with our hand on the phone.
To My Seatmate, on a Cross-Country Flight
The mask is not for you. I don’t wear it
to keep you safe from what rides with me
in Seat 17B where I’m wedged against you
through takeoff, flight, then landing.
It isn’t here, strapped behind my ears
and fogging my glasses, to shelter you
from what I emit into the plane’s
closed air-system. That’s not to say
I mind your thinking about tuberculosis
or a mutant influenza that’s rutted
in pig dung. Or that I resent the look
on your face as you contemplate
how you’d make your meeting if you caught
what you suspect I have, which clinics
flank your hotel. I’m not bothered
by your scanning for empty seats
in this too-full, body-stacked fuselage;
it’s nothing I don’t do myself, and daily,
a risk-benefit analysis as to whether to touch
the germ-riddled handrail on a staircase
or take a seat on the heaving train
next to the child with the glistening,
effluent nose. Then again, this mask
does little to help me, either. Leggy proteins
kick through paper, gravitate toward skin
in their will to replicate. See how the mask
gaps at the side? It’s a reminder that we breathe
the same air, you and I. That what you inhale
I have exhaled already, strip-mined
and sucked through lungs to feed my own
creeping blood. That though we are careful
not to bump knees or elbow the armrest
at once, we share the secret spaces of alveoli.
Our molecules comingle. That you, hale in your
wool suit and I, knuckling my cane,
we are caught up together as the plane banks hard.
“Doctors baffled about why H1N1 targets young, healthy”
—Global News, Canada
The flu season comes in its usual tide
of cough syrup, cherry reds and arsenic
green. Kleenex bunts the couches
of waiting rooms, drapes the desktops
in offices. News headlines pump hysteria
across the wire, make a virus’s replication
into a particular insult to healthy adults
and children. Pictures show lines at clinics
men with shirtsleeves rolled up, injection sites
bared with high gravity. The hoards look
like a pitiful regiment, ready to march to war
against viruses that threaten the American Way.
Experts appear from clavicle up,
their televised jaws slack-flapping the same
blather as always, telling us that usually it’s only
those who have underlying conditions
who die of influenza. Only us, only the few
shadowy figures barely worth mentioning.
We few, the cancer-bald. Just us, the asthmatics.
Nobody in the death-ranks but we of genetic
mutations. But when film cuts to an image
of a sweat-glazed toddler hooked to electrodes,
it’s only we with the underlying conditions
who know how to say, Oh, baby, little one, I know.
Kelly Davio is the author of the poetry collection Burn This House (Red Hen Press, 2013) and the novel-in-poems Jacob Wrestling (Pink Fish Press, 2015). Her work has appeared in Best New Poets, Verse Daily, The Rumpus, and others. She is the Poetry Editor of Tahoma Literary Review and former Managing Editor of The Los Angeles Review. She teaches English as a second language in the Seattle area.