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Friday, August 14, 2020


by Wendy Taylor Carlisle

Could America’s pandemic response be any more medieval? 
—Dana Milbank, The Washington Post, June 30, 2020

The Great Mortality produced, when it came,
a five-year torment for the Gothic mind.
Wise men—there were not wise women then—
proposed these causes: conjunct planets, corruption,
close-by swamps, over-consumption of fruit, dung.
Further, they condemned corpses rotting in ditches
or in makeshift graveyards. Folk understood their murrain
as the footprint of God’s fury, a penalty for their lapses.
Nobody said fleas. Nobody said rats.
If a citizen sprouted buboes there were nostrums:
banishing foul “vapors,” balancing ill “humors,”
drinking urine, yours or others’, holding a dead snake
or a live hen against your afflicted skin, burning spices,
using potions: Unicorn or theriac, Four Thieves Vinegar
or if you were well off, powdered emeralds.
The pious tottered along scourging themselves.
Most cures contained a fair amount of opium.
To stop the spread of plague without a remedy,
the Fourteenth Century would separate the sick from well
for 30, then for 40 days under the law of quarantine.
The US tried isolation for a month or two, then gave it up.
Despite the pestilence, news from the government was
they were on it, but since it exploded as a novel virus,
what could they promise? After that, they faked the data,
muzzled experts, gas-lit, spread the blame, and when their
constituents asked, without a remedy, how do we survive
contagion? Their answer was, wear masks, stay home
or keep six feet apart. However puzzled, folk understood
they must persist in using the regime's meager directions,
or perish en masse. Proving our regime no more advanced
than our forefathers, salvation just past what politicians
can imagine, just past their careless, medieval reach.

Wendy Taylor Carlisle lives and writes in the Arkansas Ozarks. She is the author of four books and five chapbooks. Her poems have appeared on line and in anthologies.