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Saturday, February 29, 2020


by Alejandro Escudé

When the so-called Black Death swept through northern Lincolnshire during the middle of the 14th century, sick and desperate people turned to the nearby Thornton Abbey's hospital for care. So many people died there that the members of the abbey's clergy were unable to prepare individual burials and instead had to bury the bodies in a so-called plague pit … But even though dozens of people were consigned together to a shallow mass grave over a period of just a few days, the remains were nonetheless treated with respect and received individual attention, according to a new study. Photo: A close-up shows part of the mass grave at Thornton, where the deceased were carefully positioned and placed in an organized manner without any overlapping. (Image: © University of Sheffield/Antiquity Publications Ltd.) —Live Science, February 18, 2019

Forty eight humanoid figures
on the archaeological diagram
of the Black Death burial site;
Thornton Abbey monks, patient,
pious, wrapped each individual,
performed last rites, conscious
of the space between negligence
and love, light separating all us
pilgrims making the trek out
to the country to die with hope
of afterlife. Why does the cross
resemble a key? Why is the answer
always more patience, a power
more like prayer than habit?
I won’t forgive some around me
despite our woes widespread.
Rat-psyche world, words heady
as a virus, our bodies buried
side by side so they don’t overlap
even in life. What is love but hope?
When one looses hope does
one loose the ability to love?
These monks didn’t. Wouldn’t.
I see their bony, medieval hands
sorting it all out in the dirt,
disease, blood, vomit, their
screams suppressed by prayer
and see the same monks in
the people wearing hazmat suits
today, leading those sick with
a new disease down the stairs
of an airplane, the disease itself
the shape of the airplane,
a cruise liner, an old couple
quarantined in their cabin,
taking it all in stride, they say,
unabated fear in their hands,
their jittery faces, those carried
away in China, yelling like
hostages, stowed away in clear,
plastic houses. Abbeys whose
hymns we’d rather not hear.

Alejandro Escudé published his first full-length collection of poems My Earthbound Eye in September 2013. He holds a master’s degree in creative writing from UC Davis and teaches high school English. Originally from Argentina, Alejandro lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two children.