Matthew Sumpter (Video)

  • Hi, everyone.
  • Today I'm going to read a poem,
  • actually one that I wrote,
  • that I've been working on
  • over the past couple of weeks.
  • And it's dealing with
  • how even though I
  • feel like I'm very lucky
  • and that my quarantine
  • has been with my family
  • and they keep me company
  • and very busy, that
  • at the same time,
  • I really notice the loss of being able
  • to interact with strangers
  • in public places.
  • And this poem is kind of about
  • dealing with that particular
  • loss, and it's called The Stranger.
  • After days of disinfection
  • and nights plotting survival
  • in the post-corona world
  • that approaches
  • like limbs rolled in a rug and unfurled
  • toward our feet, I finally let myself
  • confront this simple thing;
  • a mosquito, long dead,
  • lying on the front door frame.
  • I've been afraid to touch it,
  • the way I've been afraid
  • to touch most anything.
  • My face floats in its glass
  • bubble of regard, unscratched.
  • The mailbox handle gets a wipe down
  • after our carrier's truck turns
  • the corner in shame.
  • We've been in quarantine for weeks,
  • and the mosquito —
  • or maybe death — commiserates.
  • Its wings fading each day
  • to a more transparent brown, its legs
  • quivering with even a minor draft.
  • I've walked beneath it
  • in the darkness, checking locks.
  • I've turned away from it
  • to scroll through images of empty
  • playgrounds and hospital tents imposed on
  • exponential dread.
  • I finally touch it in a sort of accident
  • as I clean crown molding and push it off.
  • Watching as it falls apart midair.
  • Like something between flower petals
  • and ash
  • descending more slowly
  • than I would have guessed in pieces
  • that near invisibility
  • before they touch the ground.
  • I wipe it up by reflex
  • then ferry it toward the trash.
  • On the way, though, I stop.
  • Staring at the desiccated lines
  • of cursive, its body forms
  • against the white Monier cloth.
  • And I feel something
  • unmistakable and weightless.
  • I felt many times,
  • but never quite like this.
  • The closeness of an unfamiliar body,
  • a stranger,
  • something neither friend nor family, yet
  • close enough to strangle, nudge, embrace.
  • I gently breathe on the dead
  • mosquito, then folded away the cloth.
  • Thanks.