David Mills

We Are

(The Covid pandemic)

We are a Queens-bred Italian-
American governor straightening
the state’s spine. Daily. We are
an African-American borough
president from Brooklyn handing
out gloves to black folks who are
falling farthest and fastest (13%
of the nation; 50% of the corpses)
We are a mask mailed to the Apple
from a white, Kansas farmer who’d never
left his state’s wheat fields: its flat
rectangular majesty; we are a Nigerian
home health aide (an essential worker)
who speaks broken English but, with
kindness, fixes up her clients, a Salvadoran
home health aide who speaks little English
but gives buckets of love. We are comfort
from a ship with the same name; we are
12,000 medical personnel who came
to an Apple being eaten alive, chewed
up and spit out by something invisible
and insidious, but we/they came with-
out question, with or without fear
(sometimes without a hotel room)
but with hearts that beat determined
to beat back a virus. We are a Mexican
delivery boy who died with his family
south of the border and he, caught in
New York’s essential slaughterhouse,
buried in an anonymous carton in Hart
Island’s potter’s field. America is a Bronx
sanitation worker headed back to hauling
trash after a hip replacement. America is
a doctor who was stricken by the invisible
but rose again to give her life to those on
ventilators only to sadly take her own
life because she could take it no longer:
patients who, if lucky, died with only
a stranger’s hand to hold. We are a Native
American community that asked for medical
supplies but were sent body bags. We are a 28-
year-old Navajo who now wanders among covid’s
ghosts, leaving behind a two-year-old daughter
named Poet whose arteries pump metaphors
rather than blood. America is a prayer, is
an hour that applauds every day, is 7 p.m.
resounding so loud it’s rattling heaven’s gates.
America is now this uninvited hour we will
somehow get through.

August and the Law: Sandy

(Enslaved New Yorker living in his master’s cellar/kitchen)

Sickness, now, a light sleeper. What 
                             might kill number of us, upstairs whites

never notice. Chimney and oven
                          weavin’ heat to more heat. Some

time just easier to curl up outside.
                           Late summer so sticky: August

and sleep should be outlawed

Talking to the Teeth

(Teeth of enslaved New Yorkers found in Manhattan’s slave cemetery, 18th century)

Now you are one with a skull: its white hush But sometimes a mouth was a hot leaking
cottage we was all forced to live in

Front tooth, why were you whittled to an enamel fang? Animal fang? What animal?

Not animal. Enamel. Teeth ingredients. like what you been reduced to: bone When she giggled. chewed or smiled, some knew
I might be the one thing she clung to from home.

In the children’s graves, their teeth were almost always gone Cause they was the here-born. The start
life. The too-often sugar, corn suppers.

In the back of your mouth, one of you looks like a peg. Death picks everything clean. Here now,
skinned, buried, lips can no longer
hush us, way a lid might muffle
a pot of cornmeal mush.

And, you, tooth, shaped like an hourglass? A tooth occasionally tells a skull’s time: means I was
born and adorned before this unwelcoming earth.

Mr. Mills is the author of two poetry collections — The Dream Detective and The Sudden Country. He has received a fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts. His poems have appeared in Ploughshares, Crab Orchard Review, Fence, Colorado Review, Jubilat, Live Mag, The Literary Review, Hanging Loose and Callaloo.