A poem of disease
Act I: Scarlet Fever
On a milky stomach a rosy rash grows
Pale around the lips
She rips up my shirt on the kitchen floor
and displays the sight like an aberration
I am making trouble.
All stories start somewhere, and here is mine:
The girl who caused too much bother
Wind back that heartbeat,
Unbark that song.
She is at it again.
Fever hits its highest notes
There’s nothing outside of this bedroom
Except to turn the pillow over and find its cold side
Feel its embroidery on your strawberry face
Veils of lilac line the garden
It is not right to be sick in spring.
Death is the worry of the parent; not the child.
It is proper for the old to die first.
Pastia’s lines, red quills.
Disease that unravelled the Victorian children
In our home.
Check the funeral records at St George’s
And then the curtain falls.
But mine remains open; I flower again.
Life goes on. Tombless, enchanted.
Young enough to search for fairy rings
Quivering and quiet.
The trees and dogs my friends.
The last evening of childhood is warm and sweet.
Think fondly of those days until your nose is in the flowers.
Act II: An Adult’s Ill
I cut a person from my heart, and with him my health.
I am still angry, greedy for its return.
Greedy for apologies never given
And debts unpaid.
My heart, unsure of itself, bursts into a fevered dream
Swollen jaw, swollen spleen
Bloody lungs that cough pink phlegm.
Arms too weighted to move
Cough passing over dry lips.
Take me home somewhere safe
Drive on, and tell me to be a gracious child.
I am making trouble.
Out of duty, I orate.
My mouth burns.
I believe in ghosts,
But this sickness has no afterlife.
I peel it off like a dead skin.
Hang up your coat and enter this next room.
It shines brighter than the last.
Act III: Death in the Holy City
Vedi Roma e muore
The next stop is brutal, bitter.
Yellow oleander on the roads
Ahead only desert.
Over the road from the fat pastry shop
Where the rolls for tomorrow lie unbaked
I feel the nausea rise and my body contract
The bile hits the porcelain bowl.
The night is never silent here,
Under these strange middle-eastern stars
In unknown patterns, fading out.
I plaster on my smile: “Rise up! Be useful!”
Crack that face in two.
A calm voice tells me I am dying.
So dispassionate, this judge with black cap on!
Should such a prophecy not come with pomp and ceremony?
Please blow the horns in this sad, white, rented room.
The pain is a wire running through me.
I am cleaved in half.
Jiggle the rope and I expel all my innards
I vomit battery acid
Hitting the paved streets in the old town
While the tour meanders on to the graveyard
The irony is not lost on me.
I never saw those miraculous tombs.
The locals offer me grapes from their bare hands as though I weren’t a leper.
They say to look for warmness here through dour faces
In pursed lips and open palms I have just found it.
I touch them with my purple fingers.
The diseases mentioned are, in order, scarlet fever, glandular fever, and cholera.