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Not every public health agency is publishing racial breakdowns of novel coronavirus infection rates (ahem, Washington State Department of Health), but the early data from those who are report that black and brown people are contracting COVID-19 at disproportionally high rates.

From a ProPublica analysis: "As of Friday morning, African Americans made up almost half of Milwaukee County’s 945 cases and 81% of its 27 deaths in a county whose population is 26% black...In Michigan, where the state’s population is 14% black, African Americans made up 35% of cases and 40% of deaths as of Friday morning."

From an analysis in the Atlantic: "In Illinois, the infection rate among black Americans is twice their percentage of the state population. In North Carolina’s Mecklenburg County, which includes Charlotte, black people comprise 32.9 percent of the residents, but 43.9 of the confirmed coronavirus cases, as of March 30."

Why this is happening is nobody's guess. ProPublica quotes Harvard physician and epidemiologist Dr. Camara Jones, who says: "COVID is just unmasking the deep disinvestment in our communities, the historical injustices and the impact of residential segregation."

This bad news reminded me of a good poem by Seattle poet Quenton Baker, which was published in a special new quarantine column for The Volta, a journal edited by a bunch of Seattle- and Arizona-based poets. You can read the rest of Baker's poem whenever he publishes Ballast, which is inspired partly by the 1841 slave revolt on the Creole. While you wait, pick up This Glittering Republic from your local bookstore.

A few notes:

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• I'm not sure how Baker starts the full book-length poem, but this section starts in medias res with "and then what? // we live." Beginning poems this way is a staple of epic poetry, which aims to tell the story of a nation or people. In the case of Ballast, Baker seems to be referencing the specific story of the revolters on the Creole, but the lines could apply just as easily to any situation where black Americans have had to fight to overcome systems designed to oppress and kill them. Okay, let's say we commandeer the ship and make it to the Bahamas? Then what? "We live." Okay, let's say we close the racial gaps in health care, housing, and wealth. Then what? "We live."

• Throughout the poem, Baker's use of viral and criminal imagery combats racist tropes associating blackness with disease and crime while also showing the pain of the struggle even after victory. The prize for the most badass lines that embody goes to "burst from hulled chrysalis / our names aerosoled as virus // how wide and supple a back must be / to rehome every bullet that finds us" and "we lustral bloodbearers / perfecters of spill / unkillable/fugitive dead." Notice how the sound from "spill" spills over to "unkillable" in that last line, and salute the multivalence of the phrase "fugitive dead."

• Baker ends the poem with a natural image of black abundance: "yes we will cut the head off a snake / build panorama from its end / treat any scrap of planet like juniper seed." That last image hits like a refreshing glass of ice water after all the blood and guts and violence that precede it, as it suggests a kind of flourishing renewal even from the smallest of seeds.