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Reply to a COVID-related Reasonable Accommodation Decision Notification Letter

by Livia Meneghin

     Winner of the 2022 Peseroff Prize for Poetry      

The institutional language of medical and clerical systems is a whipstitch passing through the lives of the disabled and sick. Its presentation as neutral obscures, through euphemism and obfuscation, the violence of these systems in ways that can be difficult to make sense—much less poetry—out of. And yet, with acerbic wit, "Reply to a COVID-Related Reasonable Accommodation Decision Notification Letter," unveils this surreal institutional violence. One-by-one, the poet introduces seemingly disparate threads about therapy dogs and almonds, anti-sonnets and borrowed scraps of institutional language, before brilliantly threading them together into an ending that highlights the way these systems dehumanize the sick—render us less than animals. While this is very much a poem of our current moment, and the way medicalized bodies are abandoned as society "returns to normal," its critiques penetrate far deeper, making clear the stakes of daily life in a system that doesn't care if we live or die.
torrin a. greathouse 
2022 Peseroff Poetry Prize Judge

Livia Meneghin reads "Reply to a COVID-Related Reasonable Accommodation Decision Notifican Letter

Reply to a COVID-Related Reasonable Accommodation Decision Notification Letter

my  hospital  gown was  cyan \  the  therapy  poodle, Toby,  didn't  need  one because he was a dog \

only  for  humans  in  need  of  resources \  in need of  nine  hours  under  \   my  mother  helped  me

undress for  my  first shower  post-knife \  the  bathroom was cyan but sadder  \ sunlight slipped past

steam \  refracting against the tile  \  i turned to hide my breasts, lifted my shirt  inch  by  inch as her

hands  assisted  the cloth  \  she checked the temperature  of  the  water  \  warm  \  “are  you  alright,

sweetheart”  \  i should note, this poem is an anti-sonnet because it does not express love  \  i want to

make my reply clear  \  because i learned how to write here, at Emerson  \  did you know cyanide has

a bitter almond odor  \  imagine a rotting at  your fingertips  as you  beg for nutrition  \  golden  brown

turning  green on your tongue and  \  it’s too late to turn back and  \  the tree tells you that you always

had   the  choice to walk away  \  forgive me for not believing the College cares  \  your letter says you

reviewed  the  documentation submitted  by  my  physician  \  says  this  decision is limited  \  says my

request to teach  completely online is denied  \  did you know when you take a radiation pill everyone

leaves  the  room  to  observe  you, swallowing,  through  a  window  \  any  future  requests  will  be

evaluated  independently  \  i  only  have  one  question,  thank  you  for  asking  \  if  a  dog  eats  one

chocolate  covered almond, just one, will he be alright or turn a pale blue as the process is completed

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Livia Meneghin (she/her) is the author of Honey in My Hair and a review writer for GASHER. She is also a 22-23 Writers' Room of Boston Poetry Fellow. Her writing has found homes in The Academy of American Poets, Solstice Lit, Entropy, Tinderbox, Whale Road Review, and elsewhere. She earned her MFA at Emerson, where she is now affiliated faculty and Program Coordinator for EmersonWRITES. 

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