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My Body Swollen

By: Gertrude J. Fraser

My feet are swollen

Toes pressed tightly together

A peculiar sensation of skin jammed against skin

My fingers burn

Toes splayed too firmly on the floorboards when I go barefooted

My symptoms started during the Spring of 2020

In the world of quarantine and teach from home

Too many hours spent sitting in Zoom meetings and time flown by

Shoulders compressed—writing power—point lectures in a chair meant for eating quick meals

And sitting to grade papers, sending and reading texts, emails

How worrying to feel my body shifting into an uncomfortable sausage mode

I think its diabetes

Excess salt, old age

Creeping through the arteries

Slow to make its circulatory way

To the far extensions of toes and fingers

I think the swelling is a work injury, too much sitting still

Blood and cells pooling

I am a white-collar worker at the university founded by Thomas Jefferson

He could not have imagined me

Working digitally

Reaching into the global spread of living rooms, home offices, a table in the kitchen

Students and colleagues wait

I am getting paid

But I can imagine the working people—on Monticello Mountain—owned, unwaged

The left pinky slashed from a slip of the knife, slicing okra for the stew

In the scalding outdoor kitchen

Annexed to, but not really inside the main house

I can imagine frost burned tips of ears, noses, toes

Too long exposed to the freezing rain and harsh wind sweeping across the mountain

But wood has to be gathered and animals fed

-in the morning and then just before the day loses light

Cold or heat or smoke

Respiratory conditions can put an enslaved woman, man or child in the ground

And I peek into the nail factory—Jefferson’s dreams of industry-brought to reality by /for FREE

Un-FREE labor

Acres of FREE land endowed by Peter.

It is the real nail factory

Not the reconstruction tidy one

Approved by architects and brought to light by archeologists

I know hot iron can singe flesh, burn the hair from forearm

And a quick turn to reprimand the young boy pumping the bellows

Yields crushed fingers, blood-filled and later inflamed

Poulticed and bandaged

I imagine the fear of error, the fear of death

We make work meaningful

A finely turned chest of drawers

A pound of nails

A meal to be remembered

A new digital course coming live in two weeks

Jefferson’s vision of industry and intellectual pursuits of a freed mind

The sorcery of stealing and making humans into property

A brutal kind of alchemy

Our bodies bent to work bear the wounds of labor

~Gertrude J. Fraser

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