valentines day

++++this day
I wasn’t in my body anymore.
spineless in the reflection
of widespread windows
barriers of glass doors
closing, needles and
beeping and jumpsuits
eyes and warm sheets.


I met many eyes
eyes made of sun
always there to see mine fog
they watered often
doors sliding and
water squeezing
coughing out air I couldn’t keep in
liver failing of no pain
a mute peace I entered


I remembered boardwalks and
grass but not the type of grass you stomp on
but you float and
the rush of griot and collard greens seeped
in my nostrils and the warmth of shea butter
I thought of bricked steps and
echoes of laughs by the river and
guitar chords and penny loafers in reverse
++++all the joys are erasing


didn’t know how to say goodbye
maybe it wasn’t time
just enough movement
of my fingertips to speak
all I could read were hearted emojis
scrolled and scrolled and scrolled and
forgot what a tight sealed hug felt like
this was enough, now.


I wanted this body to come back
this body I hated
ripped up and shredded with my words
the body I wasn’t sure would fight for me
I didn’t make myself proud yet
I hated the fiery burned nostril through
this tube and the tiredness of each hard breath
out and in, out and in, sudden movement
and coughing out of air and those eyes would come back
++++they would always come back


I told them who I was
when joy made sense to reach after
the first time I felt free
walking across the bridge under the sun
above the water, water I missed
missing pencil ridges and lettered portraits
I told those eyes I never fell in love before
I let go of my phone
I wanted to stop.


every night I heard gospel
fist up, shaking
caressing the soul of my fingers
afraid to sleep out my lungs
my body hugged me just before 1am
++++let me back in.

Click here to read Serina Gousby on the origin of the poem.

Image: by Stefano Pollio, licensed under CC 2.0.

Serina Gousby:

A few weeks after my COVID-19 hospitalization in 2021, I had the strength and energy to write. I don’t remember much of my time in the hospital, but I remember every moment of this February day. This poem started out as an essay, but as emotions rose to the point of it affecting my breathing at the time, replacing long sentences with shorter ones, poetic melodies, and scenery made it easier to complete it.

On this day, I was in the ICU, and to avoid negative thoughts, I focused on things that I loved—from outdoor scenery, music, favorite foods, to poetry and calligraphy. In addition, this experience left me to unpack the relationship I had with my body. The day I was cleared to leave the ICU, I promised myself to return to poetry and my art, which I had to pause on towards the end of 2020 to focus more on work and my family. After surviving COVID, I know now that the regret of not finding time for my creativity would have stayed with me had I not survived.

My ICU nurse was amazing. Describing to her who I was as a writer and traveler is my favorite memory, and it humanized me in the hospital room. I found hope because of my nurse, and I believed that I could fight this and return to those joys. Many tears and weeks of recovery later, this poem was born.

Serina Gousby
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