Even in Times of Global Panic I am a Narcissist ~ a poem by Steven Duong

Back Bay” by pmb2ack (Creative Commons: BY-ND 2.0)

Even in Times of Global Panic I am a Narcissist

as my fever rides on
to a brighter & snowier peak
the tyrant of my heart texts me a HuffPo
article about the novel coronavirus

its humble origins at a pet market
its humble hijacking of
bats snakes dromedaries
& the hospitalizations spiking
now among aunts
& uncles who look if you squint
like my aunts & uncles

in this case novel means
as of yet unwritten
corona means garland wreath crown

small fealties sworn in cell beds & protein
cathedrals to kings of imaginary kingdoms

these lands where I am always breaking
what I do not get into
more easily ingestible truths
pills to powders
powders to finer powders

I collect thank yous in every language
& file my teeth on them
arranging the dust in lines
as orderly as legislation

so when the virus arrives at last in the city
of me I will be a fountain of accessibility
a most gracious host

my love is worried which worries me

& of course I imagine dying
which is the easiest breakdown to imagine
the body finally giving up
its thank yous
becoming the sum of its syllables
bone-shards bleached by salt by sun
by everyone

I arrange a hospital visit
I do not have the novel coronavirus

the doctor dopes me up half an hour
after I dope myself up
& so I ride home in a chariot
of blue light
synaptic clefts closing like liquor stores

an avenue of hungers blurs
into an avenue of thirsts
pink-light districts & watering holes
where tourists
light small pyres & catch their flights

as I round the corner
the corner rounds me

I send lovely but uncomforting texts

I withhold sensitive information

in the cracked touchscreen of night
I convert Celsius to Fahrenheit

Steven Duong is a Vietnamese American poet and writer from San Diego. His poems are featured in AGNI, The Massachusetts Review, Hobart, Passages North, and other venues. A 2020 Thomas J. Watson Fellow and 2020-2021 Kundiman Poetry Coalition Fellow, he lives in Boston with his loved ones.


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