Poetry: 2020 Plague

(Trail Around Middlebury (TAM) – Chipman Hill – 4/7/20)

I sing these trails of my homeland,
with elegiac footfalls 
on layers of fallen foliage.
A green-yellow striped garden snake 
slithers and crinkles over dried leaves
then freezes in camouflage. 
We consider each other.
Snake neither knows nor cares
about the 2020 plague,
Corona virus – our crown of thorns – 
something between living and not.  
But it brings us to our knees.
Climbing above the cloud of contagion 
that hangs over my village below
like valley smog,  
I breathe deep the respite, 
and feel curious camaraderie
with Snake over our shared fate.  
Were it not for spring’s redemption, 
Earth’s fragrance and crocus courage 
I would feel faint hearted,
anguished under the scythe of plague. 
Sister Snake reminds me that death,
just over my shoulder, lurks
every day and night, every season.  
Sister Snake says, “This is not Eden.
I did not tempt you.  
The tree of knowledge
still bears succulent fruit.”
Hope is not blind optimism. 
Hope allows for death, forgives failure.
I pray for Sister Snake and myself,
for my son, for every creature that rises 
from unknowable turning of earth 
and the fragrance released by death, 
inhaled with grief and blessing.  
None are immune.  
Loosen the bound Earth, free the bulb,  
the leek to delight your senses.
Dig with whatever tools you have,
even your bare hands, 
to sustain you for one more season, 
to share our planet with Sister Snake,
with death, with loss and abundance.
Jack Mayer, MD, MPH, is a writer and Middlebury pediatrician at Rainbow Pediatrics, which he established in 1991. He is the author of “Life In A Jar: The Irena Sendler Project” and “Before The Court Of Heaven.” His latest book, Poems From the Wilderness, will be published by Proverse Publishing in November.

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