Quarantines

                   i
Imagine the media coverage
of the Black Death, whole
families boarded up to die inside,
the comic bring-out-your-dead carts,
cameras on location by the mass graves,
Shakespeare, the Globe closed,
Lear televised to the yokels.

Tired of YouTube, my bored
daughter draws over and over
stick figures with straw hair
like the thatch of the round
red hut in a boma,
outside whose prickly perimeter
patient lions pace.

                   ii
From the Old French, first used 1617,
along with virulence, withoutdoors,
and highwayman.

The rest of us cower (cringe, grovel,
quail) inside, while out on the highway,
the hiccups (hiccoughs?) of Harleys
changing gears, flaunting
the bravado of bare faces.

                   iii
A far-off murmuring
has been going all morning,
like a rumor or maybe a mower
over a lawn with no end.

Or as if all our ears
are being held
to the same shell.

Or maybe now we’re just
hearing it, the giant mosquito
that never bloats
on earth-blood, this buzz
of invisible things.

                   iv
How about that Black Death?
Really tapered off, huh?

And only today I was lamenting the loss
of both my feet,
when I saw a man with no shoes.

Two satellites reentered the earth today
but missed my house.

Goddamn it.

Catholics call it a State of Grace,
one I’ve never driven through, though
I’m sure all the Highway Patrolmen
are beautiful bears, fuzzy,
with brown button eyes.

But if I ever spin fortune’s wheel,
I’m betting all my bucks
on the black and bad.

And on the righteous red?
Half an egg
from the farm’s sickest chicken.

                   v
au pair: the two nannies—Guilt
and Fear— now live upstairs.
We were hoping for Faith
and Charity, but they were already
taken, probably by the Better Parents
down the block whose Perfect Kids,
helmeted, knee padded,
zoom all over, play soccer
in the street, while G & F,
as we call them, stay awake
half the night with pastimes
that startle our dreams: the scrape
of their Ouija board,
the snap of their tarot deck.

                   vi
somewhere in the Universe
the switch labeled Fortune
just got flipped
again.

A bad patch the British say,
like black ice on a curve, or,

the rubber band-aid
we used to patch flats,
hoping to make it
to the greasy garage on the edge
of that shabby little Western town
called Calamity
I can see from up here
on the ledge.

                   vii
the Feast of Hunger, how starving
explorers in the frozen north
and south, dreamed, not of wives
and children, but food, dreams
that dogged their tracks
until even the dogs were eaten
before they died.

Now, I, too, begin to imagine
the lemon-buttery oases of seafood
of New Orleans, hallucinate the winey
flavors of France, even, God help me,
the spam and beans, Toad
in the Hole, and Spotted Dick
of Wales.

Even murderers get a last meal
but on the news this morning
I learn the locusts have come back
to Egypt, stripping the land
right down to the beasts and berries,
leaving only the blood and bones,
the leftovers.

                   viii
she’s been waiting so long
out there, wings drooping, almost
too sodden to soar anymore, white
gown grown opaque, as if
left in the sun too long,
and tinged yellow from some
old wedding.
When I see her head bowed
and blurry through the window,
blonde hair disheveled, dripping,
with so many tears to be told
in raindrops, so tired of waiting,
waiting out there, finally, for the smear
of lamb’s blood on the lintel
washing away in the rain.

 

 

 

 

William Greenway’s Selected Poems won the 2014 FutureCycle Press Poetry Book of the Year Award. His tenth collection, Everywhere at Once (2008), won an Ohioana Poetry Book of the Year Award, as did his eighth, Ascending Order (2003), both from the University of Akron Press. His publications include Poetry, American Poetry Review, Georgia Review, Southern Review, Poetry Northwest, Shenandoah, and Prairie Schooner. He lives in Ephrata, PA.