If ‘capitalism distances us from our senses,’ Franny Choi’s poem ‘Quarantine,’ reminds us of the boon that comes with minor acts of resistance under the weight of larger suppressive systems. Like the scent of onions; the touch of sandpaper; skin; the groan of a trash receptacle emptied; breathing; a burn. For Choi, to feel—the sensory affect of the physical and the material—is to live. A survival, a sort of resistance.
There is a density to the images clustered in the first half of the poem—“the cow’s fear,” “the stones that formed in the child’s body,” “hands in dank soil,” “the cop’s boots,” “the plastic-wrapped meat and the mouse traps”—juxtaposed in repetition of “because I did not have to.” An expression that contrasts but familiarizes the conditions that follows and makes even more striking the line, “because my job was to stay clean and thankful and mostly imaginary / I have been / stealing / what little I can.” Here is burden in gratitude masked by debt, desperation, a longing, and willingness for more. Here also, Choi gives us an assemblage of things that touches us in more ways than one. “Onions,” tears. “Sandpaper,” a friction that smooths. “Handfuls of skin,” how intimate. The “hurried breath,” like hope, feels immediate but strained. And “hot knives,” like hope, is sterile and torrid.
In anticipation of the coming year, I try to imagine how hope may look. What form will it take shape in? How will it feel? And even then, what is its worth? I consider what it means to have witnessed the end of one year and the beginning of a new one. How to then confront ugliness and still welcome beauty, because isn’t that what hope appears like in the face of resistance? Us, living our best lives, day to day, in the worst timeline in however way that is.