Rita Dove

Fiammetta Breaks Her Peace

I’ve watched them, mother, and I know
the signs. The first day, rigor.
Staggering like drunks, they
ram the room’s sharp edges
with the most delicate bodily parts
and feel no pain. Unable
to sleep, they shiver beneath
all the quilts in the house,
panic gnawing a silver path to the brain.

Day two is fever, the bright
stream clogged, eyes rodent
red. No one weeps anymore, just
waits, for appear they must —
in the armpits, at the groin —
hard, blackened apples.
Then, at least, there is certainty,
an odd kind of relief;
a cross comes on the door.

A few worthy citizens gather possessions
around them and spend time
with fine foods, wine and music
behind closed drapes. Having left
the world already, they are surprised
when the world finds them again.
Still others carouse from tavern
to tavern, doing exactly as they please…

And to think he wanted me
beautiful! To be his fresh air
and my breasts too soft
spiced promises. Stand still, he said
once, and let me admire you.

All is infection, mother - and avarice,
and self-pity, and fear!
We shall sit quietly in this room,
and I think we’ll be spared.