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A scene during a client's manicure at Luxe Beauty nail salon, in Winnington, Britain, in July. Photo by Molly Darlington/Reuters

A poem that extends a hand in our lonely times

The way loneliness skulks in one of Elizabeth Acevedo's poems probably would have felt familiar even before the pandemic forced us into more isolating situations.

Beginning with the line "it's the being alone, i think, the emails but not voices," her poem "You Mean You Don't Weep at the Nail Salon?" rattles off the potential sources of these feelings, never offering a clear answer.

Before the global health crisis took hold, Acevedo was frequently on the road, giving dozens of presentations — if not more — that kept her away from home.

Elizabeth Acevedo reads her poem "You Mean You Don't Weep at the Nail Salon?" Warning: This piece contains profanity. Video by PBS NewsHour

"While the touring life sounded really exciting," she said of that time about three years ago, "it's also incredibly lonely to be by yourself in a different hotel room, night after night after night."

And now, throughout the year's pain and distress caused by the pandemic, people have been finding Acevedo's poem, connecting with its core theme of loneliness, she said. Yet the final, gentle moment, set inside a nail salon, is one of reaching out, and having someone reach back.

You Mean You Don't Weep at the Nail Salon?


it's the being alone, i think, the emails but not voices. dominicans be funny, the way we love to touch – every greeting a cheek kiss, a shoulder clap, a loud.

it gots to be my period, the bloating, the insurance commercial where the husband comes home after being deployed, the last of the gouda gone, the rejection letter, the acceptance letter, the empty inbox.

a dream, these days. to work at home is a privilege, i remind myself.

spend the whole fucking day flirting with screens. window, tv, computer, phone: eyes & eyes & eyes. the keys clicking, the ding of the microwave, the broadway soundtrack i share wine with in the evenings.

these are the answers, you feel me? & the impetus. the why. of when the manicurist holds my hand, making my nails a lilliputian abstract,

i close my fingers around hers, disrupting the polish, too tight i know then, too tight to hold a stranger, but she squeezes back & doesn't let go & so finally i can.

April 2018

READ MORE: Why poems can be safe spaces during the pandemic

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