Friday, March 20, 2009

Poetry Friday: Thomas Lux, Genoans, Tatars, Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, Aquarius, Fleas, &c.

Today, March 20th, is the day medieval scholars chose as the "beginning" of the Black Death - according to them, the plague was generated on March 20th in the year 1345 when there was a "triple conjuntion of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars in the 40th degree of Aquarius." That's a slightly more elegant explanation than the real one - that infected rats were carried to Europe on ships from Asia and the Middle East - once in harbor, infected rats died in the streets, and infected fleas from those dead rats then jumped onto humans and infected them.

There's a poem about the plague that I heard read by its author once and have never forgotten. It's written by Tom Lux, and once you've heard Lux read, no one else will satisfy, except possibly Seamus Heaney. Lux has a gorgeous, sonorous voice, and he's not afraid to broadcast it.

Maybe the reason I love this poem is because I have an older brother I adored and followed around like a puppy when I was a kid. I know, the poem is eerie. Lux based his poem on the old claim that Tatars, attacking the position of Genoans fighting them in the Middle East, catapulted dead troops struck down by the plague over the Genoan walls in an attempt to infect the enemy.

Plague Victims Catapulted Into Besieged City

Early germ
warfare. The dead
hurled this way look like wheels
in the sky. Look: there goes
Larry the Shoemaker, barefoot, over the wall,
and Mary Sausage Stuffer, see how she flies,
and the Hatter twins, both at once, soar
over the parapet, little Tommy's elbow bent
as if in a salute,
and his sister, Mathilde, she follows him,
arms outstretched, through the air,
just as she did
on earth.

--Thomas Lux


On March 27th - that's next Friday - I'll be hosting the Poetry Friday round-up for the first time, right here at The Drift Record. But this week, you'll find it at The Wild Rose Reader. Elaine, how do you have time to do this AND your Political Verses blog?


  1. Poignant. Very easy to visualize the scene and there is a connection with the victims because they are named. Effective. Thanks for the history, too.

  2. Horrifying! And I thought it was just spring...

  3. Oh, ohhh, what a poem. Those poor twins. What an eerie and realistic piece of verse. It brings the history right home, doesn't it?

  4. mmm, I can't decide whether I approve of the hint of Monty Python type humour. Probably an indication I need to get a glass of wine and chill. Appreciated the history lesson.

  5. Very eerie and scary. Those images are so haunting.

  6. Julie,

    How do I find time? I neglect other things like dusting under my bed and washing windows. Housekeeping is SOOOOO boring. At least I love to cook!

  7. If you haven't read Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks, put it on your TBR pile/list.

  8. I'm just now catching up on Poetry Friday -- strep in the house. And here I've been, cursing the trips to the doctor's. Wow, a powerful poem. I'm cringing, yet keep re-reading it.