I would guess somewhere around 40% of my art discovery process happens when I cycle through Instagram stories. This mindless and yet somehow stimulating activity has turned me onto new songs, new visual artists, and now, thanks to the novelist Richard Chiem, a poem about touch called "Elegy" by Aracelis Girmay.

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You can find the poem in her book, Kingdom Animalia, available at local bookstores. Probably somewhere near Chiem's excellent works of fiction.

A few notes:

• The "elegy" has its roots in a particular Greek meter that governed a poem sung alongside a certain reed instrument. Sometimes Greek elegies were mournful laments, sometimes they weren't. Eventually, the 18th century English poets got ahold of them and solidified the form as "a melancholy poem that laments its subject’s death but ends in consolation."

• Girmay's "Elegy" dispenses with the lamentations real quick and gets straight to the consolation: "What to do with this knowledge that our living is not guaranteed?" she asks in the first line. Well, we come to terms with the fact that meaningful connection with other living beings on the planet perpetuates the life cycle, which is holy, she answers with the rest of the poem.

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• The poem's clear-eyed, urgent, and yet humorous tone recalls the great Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet's "On Living," which is another good poem to read during this time. But my favorite lines from Girmay's poem are the ones that conflate humans with parrots, suggesting that humans must meaningfully connect with, or "touch," all manner of living things in order to truly feel alive:

All above us is the touching
of strangers & parrots,
some of them human,
some of them not human.

• The point has been made a million times already, but it's worth repeating: the physical distancing guidelines literally deprive us of the free use of one of our senses, namely touch. That's a massive shift for an organism that navigates the world with only five total senses, or I guess six if you include language. As Girmay writes, we all belong to "the kingdom of touching," and here I think she means to privilege the definition of "kingdom" as it relates to taxonomy. No wonder some of us are feeling so disconnected—not just from the people we love or want to love, but from life itself. It's almost exactly like the Netflix Original feature film, Bird Box, starring Sandra Bullock. But instead of having to deprive ourselves of sight in order to survive an invisible invader, we must deprive ourselves of touch. And I guess the public health officials are Sandra Bullock in this scenario, because they decide who can touch. Anyhow, it's that level of fucked-up. Hopefully we fare better than many of the characters in that movie and ultimately get to live our happy life with parrots and friendly strangers.