Ode to Casting a Vote

It was called a pain pump, the thing that, when I awoke
from surgery, had its tube burrowed in my leg.
A cartoon cannonball, it was a complex balloon
in a black case drooling through its tube
into my thigh a numbing juice, though, too
it had a hand-held mechanism like a detonator
which, when pressed, released a double-dose
for those moments when it became necessary, though
the nurses warned that to use it often
would use it swiftly up, and I was gripped
by a thrifty pathology
that forbid
         my pressing the button even when I began to feel so
on fire I would not have been shocked to see fire
in the dark in the bed where my leg had become
a mob of torch-waving peasantry, a march of tiki-torch-
brandishing white supremacists
in floral shirts burning
         their goatees into historical
memory—my leg an enemy, incinerating
and persisting unmitigated by what was behind
the button I had my thumb on. Under
one thing is always another thing you can’t see
if you don’t
         want to. Beneath my expensive incision, and flush
with my new titanium kneecap, I guess the cartilage
harvested from someone I’ll never know
was doing its best in my body which was burning
to own it. When I awoke,
         apple orchards and the rolling hills
of gold Washington wheat, my old homeland,
had been added to the metastasizing list of wildfires
which are never said to do anything
but rage, so fire was raging across my memory
of the land west of Steptoe butte, named for a Colonel
who, in 1858 defied the Governor’s order and crossed his army
into Native land to provide comfort
         to the whites.
The fire consumed the small town
of Malden so the Governor visited the smoldering
ruins, bringing with him the get-well gift of a crate of apples
from his own backyard, defying the apple-maggot
quarantine law which bans home-grown fruit
from 18 counties in Eastern Washington where so many
apples are grown that, were they placed side by side,
they would circle the earth 29 times, and each
one hand-picked, just think
of that,
         what people can do. It made the news,
the video of Governor Inslee’s apples sliced
in half, codling moth larvae munching there in the hazy
air of the poorest county in the state. Isn’t it extraordinary,
like an superbly cursed Russian doll: a quarantine
failing inside another failed quarantine. Maggot
in an apple in a hand—Covid chewing through
the innermost chambers of those who cradle,
if just for a moment, every American
         migrant laborers leaving unbruised,
somehow, the perishable fruit
of national myth, ensuring an astronomical number
of Thanksgiving desserts there where Coeur d’Alene,
Palouse and Spokane tribes trounced Colonel Steptoe despite
his two mountain howitzers in a battle we were never taught
was called the Steptoe Disaster. So now you’ve seen
the landscape, so lovely,
         was named for him. In those hills as a child, I rolled
snow balls big as me which, on occasion, broke open
to reveal a grass and gravel spiral of all they’d amassed
as they grew. When I awoke again to the world I began
to ask myself Do you feel like yourself? Tissue graft
from someone else under my skin, wound wound
in white bandages—what I marveled at was how swiftly
my body, without even my asking, took to using
the body of a stranger. I council my students
push your characters to their breaking point so that we may see
what they are made of.
Until a thing
is cracked open, it is hard
to see what is inside.
         I mean to say I was myself. I was myself
on fire in my country on fire. I mean
to say I am my country. Broken, I reveal I owe
what I have to the death of someone I’ll never know—
and the gratitude my flesh musters is pain.
What should be grace is fire, is torches. I am
American. As such, I have somewhere,
something that resembles nothing
if not a detonator. I have a button I can press
which has a small effect on the present
though nothing it can do
about the past.

Rosalie Moffett is the author of Nervous System (Ecco) which was chosen by Monica Youn for the National Poetry Series Prize, and listed by the New York Times as a New and Notable book. Her poems and essays have appeared in Tin House, The Believer, New England Review, Narrative, Kenyon Review, Ploughshares, and elsewhere. She is an assistant professor at the University of Southern Indiana.