Editor's Note: Welcome to National Poetry Month. Twice each week in April, KQED Arts & Culture will present a poem by a Bay Area poet. This series is curated by Rightnowish host Pendarvis Harshaw, who also speaks with each poet about their work.
'Bittersweet' by Kevin Madrigal Galindo
Losing my sense of smell made me realize all food tastes the same and what are we at the end of the day if not the stories & memories associated with scents of the past.
What I mean to say is COVID made me inhuman & contagious and I have never wanted to dissociate my mind from my body more than the sore throat, body aches, and isolation I was rewarded with for being reckless.
The first person to call and check in was my primo Luis in Guadalajara, whose father died from COVID and I can’t help but notice that he sounds more like my memory of his father. I wonder if it’s intentional, regardless I have COVID but won’t die from it, most likely.
The weird thing about losing your sense of smell is that complex flavors like aged triple cream cheese condense to salty and my favorite apple, the pink lady, loses its tartness and becomes only sweet.
Like 80% dark chocolate, there's a bitter truth about living through hardships your loved ones couldn’t survive but right now that truth only tastes sweet.
Pendarvis Harshaw: What specific experience inspired this piece?
Kevin Madrigal Galindo: I caught COVID in October of 2021 while living at home with my parents (I'm vaccinated, they are too, and we are all okay, thankfully). I've been working as a chef & nutrition educator in some capacity for the past nine years, so when I came down with symptoms and ended up losing my sense of smell, it really messed with me. A year before, in September of 2020, my tío Jose died from COVID. I had started off 2020 living with him and his family in Guadalajara, until I eventually returned home after news of the pandemic. I wrote this piece while I was in isolation, just eating food because I had to. I couldn't help but think about my tío, the stark differences of our COVID experiences, and the family he left behind.
Personally, I struggled with finding the language and energy to express my own experience with COVID. How did you manage to do so, and how did it feel to get it off your chest?
Since I began writing, poetry has served both as an outlet for expression and a sort of personal therapeutic practice. I felt like I had to write about what I was feeling in order to really process what was going on. When I do sit with this piece, though, I always feel a sense of guilt, connected with all the people that I know (even just within my own family) that have died from COVID. I don't know if that guilt will ever go away, but I think it's necessary to carry it along with the memories of my ancestors.
Why do you write?
I think Josiah Luis Alderete said it best: "Black and brown poets, we're historians. Art for a lot of us is about survival. Survival is history, memoria.”