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God knows how our neighbors manage to breathe.
No one is allowed
to touch me

for infection is a hazard of mercy
I will not transmit
as Legion transcribed from the mouth

of Error into his body
and sent into a herd of swine
who sent it to the sea

who’s been trying to return
to earth since creation
and nearly succeeds every day.

I just took my temperature.
98 degrees. I am better than healthy.
I am cooling even as earth

heats, even as it meets the sea
further inland and negotiates
distance from increasingly

disadvantaged position. I
am cooling because nothing
touches me.

Others may go to the petting zoo
and country fair
but don’t even tell me what they touch

there. I’m taking my temperature again;
my thermometer is digital and pink
and its beep is my name

being read from the book of life,
which is available on Kindle
and allows me to avoid the public library

but contains peculiar punctuation
errors and is transcribed by
evangelists while they wait

in line at gates you can’t see from here. 98.5.
Still cooler than life. I have another
glass of water, and feel you turning in me,

my little book, flipping over and over,
it’s time for bed little sow, little sow.
The book of death is open on my bedside

table and is called The Pregnancy
Countdown, and contains “advice from the
trenches” about how to level

the enemy the body.
It’s time for bed, little bee, little bee. I open my window
and find ten dead between the pane and the screen

which apparently has tears big enough
to enter and I leave them in state
in a pile and watch

the wind lift their
mighty wings in deathly
aspiration. It is the beginning

of flu season, Rosh Hashanah.
Every tear is recorded. I say tear
to rhyme with the chair by my window,

not tear to rhyme with the fear of God
here at the Fair of God  
where the just

leer at the milk cow
and brush up against
captivity and slaughter

in the name of zoonosis
and the vector. Nothing touches me,
little scale, little scale

I will not be meted I will
not give the mosquito
her share even though the blood meal

is all she has to nurture her eggs
and mother to mother I hear
her flight even as she’s drawn

to my breath by fate and nature,
which are one and as interchangeable
as babies in soap operas. Dangerous angel,

I will not lie down
with the lamb who is
contagious. I will not

hear your name recalled for I
have not named you and fear
tempers my love of the letters

of this world which are as
pins through the body
while the wings flail, but I

will not fail to meet you
when you get here
with your shadow

attached and your
failure a promise
entering the success

of your first breath. On what
grounds, on what faith,
dare we aspire

together where Legion
hears the ventilator
and enters the wire?

Source: Poetry (April 2010)

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This poem originally appeared in the April 2010 issue of Poetry magazine

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  • Poet Robyn Schiff was born in New Jersey. She earned an MFA at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and an MA at the University of Bristol. She is the author of the poetry collections A Woman of Property (2016), Revolver (2008), a finalist for the PEN Award, and Worth (2002). Her work has been featured in several anthologies, including Women Poets on Mentorship: Efforts and Affections (2007) and Legitimate Dangers: American Poets of the New Century (2006).
    Poet and critic Stephen Burt has described Schiff’s poems as “well made and uncommonly elaborate.” Her work frequently treats objects and historical figures in virtuosic lyric detail. In an interview with the Poetry Society of America, Schiff stated, “more so than a specific practice in one of the other arts, curation as an art form in itself has most informed me. Of course at museums I’m moved by so many individual works—but it’s the crosstalk...

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