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Sunday, September 13, 2020


by Sharon Olson

The king is always allowed to do as he wishes.
And so he chose our city, our neighborhood,
as a hiding place from the plague abound in London.
We who live here are weavers, our hands and feet
engage with our looms, the steady thwacking,
for shawls and lap rugs and the tightly woven arras
behind which the king is kept safe, wrapped in his silks.

The king never travels alone but brings his retinue,
his retainers, the men and ladies waiting on him,
jesters, hangers-on, crowds he thrives on
who gawk at the royal trappings, and yes,
the shiny bubble of pestilence has journeyed
here as well, so that each time we entered the church
we could hear the names being written in the parish book
of Salisbury, St. Edmunds, beginning in July:

Elizabeth Clark, of ye plague
Sarah dau of John Conduit, of ye plague
Martha Bartlett, widow, of ye plague
Elizabeth wife of John Conduit, of ye plague

until in September the buriall column in the ledger
overflowed, in Salisbury alone five hundred died.

The king has had his carnival, has come and gone.
Long live the king.

Editor's Note: “Many of the more affluent city members left London when the plague broke out, including King Charles II and his entourage who left the Lord Mayor of London, Sir John Lawrence, to deal with the plague while the king and court retired to Salisbury; they possibly brought the plague with them in the process, as it broke out there after they arrived.  Once this happened, the king and court retired to Oxford to wait it all out.” —Today I Found Out

Sharon Olson is a retired librarian who lives in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. Her book The Long Night of Flying was published by Sixteen Rivers Press in 2006. Her second book Will There Be Music? was published by Cherry Grove Collections in 2019.