“This Country Is Going to Kill Me”

Forrest Hamer

Forrest Hamer, Ph.D., is a graduate and faculty member at the San Francisco Center for Psychoanalysis in private practice in Oakland, California. He is the author of three collections of poems.

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Forrest Hamer

When it became clear that the novel coronavirus was disproportionately affecting Black, Latino, and Native populations in the U.S., I began noticing what sounded like myself speaking something uncanny, and I couldn’t tell at first if this was a conclusion, a concession, or an alert. But the idea that the country of my birth was going to be complicit in my death once again haunted me. I had felt vaguely haunted when I faced the fear I might not survive the virus if I became infected—I am older, have health vulnerabilities, am Black, am male; I assumed thus the haunting voice was mine. But as I learned more about the virus, and appreciated my privileged ability to protect myself from it—working remotely, having easy access to good health care, living in an area where medical resources were less likely to be overwhelmed—I realized I might well be attending to someone else’s voice. In fact, on reflection, most of the Black male patients in my practice had recently been speaking about their heightened sense of vulnerability, and several of them had someone in their families or among their friends who had died or become very sick.

But then Armaud Arbery was hunted down and killed in Georgia, and Amy Cooper threatened to weaponize her white womanhood against Christian Cooper in New York City, and George Floyd was killed when a Minneapolis police officer locked his knee against Floyd’s neck. I realized then the voice I had been hearing was many, many voices, among them many who had come before me and from whom I had come. And, what was making the voice immediately haunting was that it was gasping—from infection, from violence—for air.

Terrance Hayes has written over 300 sonnets to his “past and future assassin” (American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin, Penguin, 2018, includes 70 of them), and in these he explores and discovers the complexity of his relationship to an annihilative Other and to an otherness within that helps me consider what my relationship with a disembodied, many-bodied voice might be. In his sonnets, a history of violence and cumulative trauma becomes figured as a psychic presence with whom the subject is always engaged; and, the American sonnet becomes a site of potential surrender or enlivening resistance to said assassin. So too might we think of my haunting utterance within psychic space—it may prove to be a prediction, but within the realm of the collective and an individual unconscious, it may just as easily engage resistance and resilience. It might help many become better able, ironically, to breathe.