Carne De Res Ipsa Loquitur

family portrait

When they first elected dumbass, scads of white men assured me that his buffoonery would be he his undoing. I remember one who grinned at me, baring his teeth as he condescended. He wore a lab coat and spoke to me in a tone I can’t imagine he’d use with a dude patient. “Don’t worry about him,” he said. “He’ll self-destruct.”

The doctor couldn’t see what was clear those of us forced to lurk in the margins, that free-range buffoonery doesn’t only harm the buffoon.

Free range dipshits cause collective harm.

. .

When discussing the dipshit-in-chief, my naysayers seldom sounded disgusted. Instead, they often sounded amused and slightly envious, as if they were discussing a devilish manchild pulling a looooooooooooong practical joke that we were somehow required to endure and figure out how to make the most of. You know, April 1st as political regime.

It was never funny to me though. Sure there have been funny things about it, funny moments, but the thing itself? No, the thing itself isn’t funny.

. . .

Like you, I opened my eyes the morning after the 2016 election.

Shit felt urgent.

I ran to the toilet.

After my diarrhea concluded, the bathroom smelled like what the electorate had done.

. . . .

Did that November give you the shits too?

Did you know that the shits are a symptom of COVID-19?

The shits are a sign of the times.

. . . . .

I have witnessed grown men rooting for toilet paper like truffle pigs.

. . . . . .

Do you remember those “halcyon days” when they talked about politically quarantining him? People would talk about the possibility of governing around him. They discussed doing so as if it was plausible. When I listened to these discussions, I’d imagine an abscess. Behind a wall of skin and pus, he sulked. Whose body was he trapped in? Yours? Mine? Ours? I was once trapped in my mom. And my dad. I prefer not to think about myself swimming in my dad though I did write a poem about it. The poem was called “Squirtle.”

. . . . . . .

I tend not to the think of our polity as a body. When I think of people forming a body, I get Catholickly triggered. Body of Christ. The church as a living body, a parochial organism. My parents raised me to be a Catholic but religion disappointed me before puberty ruined my life. My parents enrolled me in catechism classes to prepare me to make my first communion, to ready me to eat Jesus. The day that I finally let him melt in my mouth disappointed me.

He tasted like gluten. I’d been expecting meat.

. . . . . . . .

Now I’ve been ordered to isolate. Perhaps you’ve been ordered to isolate. We’re trying to survive a pandemic, an outbreak of a novel virus. There are befores, there are afters, and there are durings. We’re in a during. I’ve been thinking about the way things were before we went inside. I keep thinking of a moment at work, at school. English teachers had assigned Huxley and students who’d been dragging their feet were trying to cram his dystopian novel for a test.

Have you ever watched someone try to read Brave New World in fifteen minutes? It’s an ambitious gesture.

. . . . . . . . .

My mom has gone from coronaque? to before-we-die-tell-our-stories-tell-the-stories-of-mommy-and-daddy. She urged me to do so in a light-hearted way but even the light-hearted is heavy right now.

. . . . . . . . . .

Last month, school administrators forced me to take administrative leave. Someone deemed me a “disruptive” force and they ejected me from my classroom and told me to stay home. I felt shunned.

It seemed they were trying to quarantine me as a result of my politics.

. . . . . . . . . .

Looks like we’re all on forced leave now.

I’m not gloating. Not at all. Just commenting.

. . . . . . . . . .
. .

We’re all in this alone together.

We’re all in this together alone.

Where are you located, anatomically speaking, in our body politic?

Are you in the head? Are you in the respiratory system? Are you below the belt? Are you hair, skin, or teeth? Do you secrete? Are you a gland?

I might be a vestigial organ.

I might be the spleen.

. . . . . . . . . .
. . .

Yes, it’s weird to be ordered to stay home and to keep a distance of six feet from others. People call it quarantine though I think sheltering is a better term. Self-isolation is fine too. It gets to the point.

Many of us have lived in isolation before.

. . . . . . . . . .
. . . .

I’m worried about my uncle Henry.

Once upon a Cold War, our government drafted him to go do terrible things in Vietnam. He served in the jungles as an artillery officer. He killed people. He returned unable to stop hearing the screams of adults, children, and babies he killed.

A psychiatrist diagnosed him with schizophrenia, a phenomena which can result in incredible social isolation.

When Henry speaks, I watch listeners become overwhelmed. Henry talks in poetry. His language is mostly metaphor and synecdoche, a word I’ve seen teenagers add a ‘u’ to. A lot of people have a hard time processing incredibly poetic speech so rather than try, they turn away from Henry and ignore him. I’ve watched people do this to him over and over.

He became homeless for a while and then lived in his childhood home for a bit and then we, his family, worked to get him into a skilled nursing facility. Henry has hardware in his hip now. Parkinson’s shakes him. He suffers from chronic urinary tract infections and last year, a surgeon removed a stone the size of a Russet potato from his bladder. The surgeon asked to keep it. He said he wanted to display in the hospital museum.

Last week, the director of facility where Henry lives called me.

“You’re the one I see here all the time?” he asked.


“That’s great.” He paused. “We’re calling all of our patients’ families to ask that you not visit. We’re trying to limit exposure to coronavirus.”

“Of course,” I agreed. “Not a problem.”

He sighed with relief. “Good. Some families haven’t taken it so well.”

“We’re not going to give you grief. We’ll obey the order. It’s important.”

“Thank you.”

Henry had surgery the other day. My dad was allowed to see him.

They sat alone in isolation together. Henry looked at my dad.

“We’re getting old,” he said.

My dad answered, “I’m not,” and made a joke about being twenty- one.

. . . . . . . . . .
. . . . .

I thought that my great grandma, the one I’m named for, my tocaya, died during the 1918 flu pandemic.

She did not.

. . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . .

My great grandma worked as a housekeeper for a wealthy family in New York.

She was young, Polish and divorced.

She parented an only child, my grandpa Peter.

. . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . .

I’ve seen one photo of my tocaya.

She wears a white Victorian dress to her ankles. A belt with a butterfly-shaped buckle cinches her small waist. Her blond hair is swept into a Gibson-girl-esque bun. Liplessly and defiantly, she stares into the camera, smile-free.

I love that the only picture of my Polish housekeeping great grandma doesn’t front.

Her facial expression says life is hard and so am I.

. . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . .

My great grandma loosened her corset to cough. She coughed so much that health officials sent her to Roosevelt Island. There, in a public hospital, she coughed herself to death. In isolation, tuberculosis ended her short, blond life.

. . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . .

My grandpa attended his mom’s funeral. He was a little boy, at an age where sugar is everything, and after the service, his aunt handed him two pennies. My grandpa went to the store and exchanged the coins for hard candy.

When he returned to his new home, his aunt’s house, she asked him, “Where are the pennies I handed you?”

My grandpa showed her the candy.

She smacked him. She scolded, “Those were the pennies that we placed on your mother’s eyes!”

Sometimes, when I smell copper, I think of my tocaya’s eyes.

They were blue. Goethe, whose name I always feel funny saying aloud, wrote about this color. He said, “The appearance of objects seen through a blue glass is gloomy and melancholy.”

This essay might be a little blue but don’t worry. Blue is just a color.

Henry Gurba