Supercharged Mutant by Katie Gene Friedman

The virus has evolved. The New York Times
sounds the alarm. Of the immunocompromised
they warn, may be incubators
of mutant viruses.

Sounds like how they talk about abortion,
my cousin points out the striking
coincidence of language. Incubators. Receptacles.
Objects to hold another. Existing
only in relation.

Like how I learn in med school
vagina is Latin for sheath. Implicitly, a penis
and a vagina, a nucleus and negative space. And the nubs
on the undercarriage of the brain are mammillary
bodies, after the A-cups they Rorschach.
Things named for the function
they serve to those with dominion
to designate.

As a kid I wanted to be a Ninja Turtle
when I grew up, so I find the word mutant
empowering. The idea I’m a medical monstrosity
who could morph into a manufacturing
plant for mutant spawn. Productive,
in the way a cough might be.

Though I know, what they mean is:
we are vectors, links
in the chain of transmission, leading up
to those who are not faulty. You are the weakest
link… goodbye

A doctor interviewed recommends
we be among the first offered the vaccine,
so our bodies don’t turn into incubators
for the world’s next supercharged mutant.
His sensational forecast could be mistaken
for the fictional show on Daria, Is your cutlery holding
an edge, or going over one? Diary of a mad

steak knife tonight on Sick, Sad World.

A sudden twist of fate: once, cast as vulnerable;
now, competing for resources,
a menace to public health.

I envision myself as public enemy
number one: the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. Lumbering
over the city. Detonating. Dumping
gobs of goo.

On the heels of the Club Q massacre,
another headline inverting actor and target:
Rising Fears Over Drag Shows: Dozens of performances
have drawn angry protests and threats… becoming
a tense frontline in America’s gender debate.

Disabled bodies, queer spaces. Fecund battlegrounds—
attracting fragile lunatics, ravenous pathogens.

Alternative tellings: Angry white men seek
gender nonconforming entertainers to terrorize.
Wily viral particles hijack defenseless
bodies, demanding squatters rights to assemble
virulent genetic variants.

In the early days of New York, I felt I’d been born
and raised for this, to view strangers as would-be predators
on the prowl: the spectral presence of the virus
synonymous with a faceless man lurking
in an unlit service entrance. But now, I am the spectral
presence. The incubator. The reservoir of mutants.

The virus had evolved, and continues to evolve—
the R0 multiplying, the incubation period dividing.
And squatting in the New York Times archives,
the article gains mutations—updating seven months later,
triple in length.

Apropos of whom to prioritize, the doctor adds,
We should give the best shot… to protect this population.
The vaccine widely available, the afterthought insincere.
We all have gobs of goo on our hands by now.

Katie Gene Friedman is a queer, invisibly disabled high school dropout and healthcare worker, who enjoys musing on the indignities of having a body. Her nonfiction chapbook Foreign Body is out with Future Tense Books. You can find her prose and poetry in Foglifter, SFWP Quarterly, Hobart, Portland Review, and elsewhere. On social media she goes by @ValleyGirlLift.