Choleric water flowing from the pump
on Broad Street. Neighbors liked it best,
preferred its tangy freshness on their tongues
while silent microbes loosened up their bowels.
Surprised the Londoners with swift attack
and babies died before the day was out
The babies died before the day was out
whose mothers fed them water from the pump.
The London doctor tracked the swift attacks
to Broad Street, mapped the houses where the deaths
of drinkers came with blood and ruined bowels
from water they thought tasty on their tongues.
Choleric water, tasty on the tongue
whose babies died before the day was out
the Ghost map noted every ruined bowel
and stopped the epidemic, closed the pump
On Broad Street, one brief victory at best
in medicine’s long record of attacks.
How large a map to chart the long attack
of HIV upon the human tongue?
Go house to house? The flight paths are the best.
The babies died before the year was out
whose mothers’ inner systems were the pump
to kill immunity and cook the bowels
Where else has death been pumped from breath to bowel?
The houses of the smokers, whose attacks
Of cancer coughing shredded inner pumps,
where every taste bud burned upon their tongues,
Whose babies grew up watching death go up
in smoke on Broad Street. Breath was not the best.
On Broad Street. Or its equal in Japan
when radiation loosened up the bowels
And babies died before the day was out.
Surprised the Japanese with slow attacks
Because the earthquake chattered on their tongues
Tsunamic water breaking up the pumps.
On Broad Street. How we like it best.
While silent microbes loosen up our bowels.
And babies die before the light is out.
Holographic Holistic Hagiography
Sounds like Hag Geography
The mapping of Hags around the world,
Hags I have known
Hags I’ve only read about
But this is Hagiography the photography that makes you say Gee!
Not hags, but saints, and those
Named after saints.
Monica, model of worrying mother
Martin, patron of the torn cloak
Rose, rubbing pimento into her perfect skin
Anne – in Leonardo’s sketch, huge earth mother with legs
like tree trunks,
Like the bed made out of the tree,
the castle built around the bed in the Odyssey
Saint Hopkins, reporting every sunset,
Saint Merton, still falling in love
Lucy, with her eyes on a platter
Lucy with her eyes on the assembly line chocolates
John the Baptist and Frank the Methodist
And Marlon the Method
Who can tell the population of heaven?
On “The Ghost Map”:
I teach a course on 20th century history and literature of Europe and Britain, and in researching for it, read the book The Ghost Map,by Stephen Johnson, about early epidemiology and a cholera epidemic in London. It made a terrific impression on me. I wanted to connect that story with other stories of deadly sicknesses . I struggled for a long time with the sestina form with this one.
On “Named after saints”:
I love to play with words, and most of my poems have some free associations in them.
This one certainly does. I started with hagiography, which means an idealizing biography, usually of saints… and took it apart and looked at the other words I could make with it. But the idea of sainthood, and who is a saint, ran through it. So I named my favorite poet GM Hopkins, and some other favorites, and kept on playing.