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Inadequate Shielding

Kate Bolton Bonnici //

Inside the room someone breathes

through a machine until at some point

they will be moved to a smaller room

& there will be no breathing machine

& breathing will end in some version

or another. (You get that this is code for

what you don’t know how to say.) Outside

the room, men & women who can breathe

talk & look at phones & there are children

too — pull up your mask — outside the screen,

with stronger breath, their pink alveoli

unoccluded by anything except freeway

proximity — all the way & stay six feet

& they have been told that someone

inside has trouble breathing. One asks

about the soul & you do not say soul

is code for what we cannot touch

because really what she’s asking is will

a body no longer breathing be buried

in the ground & if it’s buried in the ground

will it be wearing nice clothes. Yes,

you say because you haven’t addressed

alternatives — how do we change code status?

But what if you want those clothes,

the ones that get buried in the ground

with the person who no longer breathes?

You tell her she will not want them. (Of this,

you are confidently wrong.) But will we get

to be there & when you say yes

through the screen is that the same as yes?

Nearby, breath of song to which the child

turns — FaceTime us from the funeral — & you know

such turn is her code for saying no

matter, I will, through will, find out.

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