733: Disease Is Not the Only Thing That Spreads

733: Disease Is Not the Only Thing That Spreads

733: Disease Is Not the Only Thing That Spreads


I’m Nate Marshall and this is The Slowdown.

Do you remember those early, flickering days of the pandemic? I do, though it is a blur now. I remember canceling a trip to a professional conference in early March, not because I was feeling particularly cautious but because every one of my half dozen events at the conference had been canceled by other people pulling out. I remember saying goodbye to students at the opening of a freshly elongated Spring Break and feeling upbeat but unsure.

At first it just seemed like a little extra time off. I remember early on when it was suggested that we wear some kind of facial covering but refrain from panic buying medical masks and a colleague happily relayed his use of bandanas and the roguish feeling it gave him. I remember telling him, in one way or another, that I was hesitant to wear anything of the sort given that my relative color and size tend to make me the kind of body who might be too easily misunderstood as threatening should I arrive in a place of business bandana’d up. I remember his clumsy but sincere apology and the myriad of other clumsy but perhaps sincere apologies that flooded my phone after the catalyzing moment of George Floyd’s murder and the subsequent uprisings.

Today’s poem is about a different pandemic, the Ebola virus, but it is also about how these moments of disease and pathogen also reveal the other, less physical forms of sickness that we live with in our human societies.

Disease Is Not the Only Thing That Spreads
by Seema Yasmin

What else is contagious: Ellen’s long tongue.
A rumor we buried daddy in an unmarked 
grave. History. Pathogens criss-crossing agar
-plated petri dishes like rebel soldiers breaching 
trenches. This story: that we had it coming,
that we are good only for uncivil wars and dis
-eases. That we prayed for colonization. Blood.
Microbes escaping test tubes conquering
lab countertops slower than hearsay, she say
we burned Daddy’s corpse like bad Muslims;
like White (coated) doctors instructed. What else
is contagious: doctored death certificates. Half
-truths. Cursive. Ink. They say there is no cure
then there is a cure only for them. So. What 
else spreads: knots of grief twisting bowels
into distended loops of fermenting torment. No
days of mourning. Two years of outside
intervention. Armies. Conviction. Belief that
this will spread & spread. That all contagions
wax endemic. This one will never                  end.

"Disease Is Not the Only Thing That Spreads" by Seema Yasmin, from IF GOD IS A VIRUS copyright © 2021 Seema Yasmin. Used by permission of Haymarket Books.