A Constellation During the Black Death by Tom Holmes

Feb 7, 2024 | Bubbler

Outside Colchester’s new graveyard,
a fresh sign reads Warning: Rats
of Death Diet Here. A mother drops
her bundled baby. She runs.


In Colchester, the sky is cloudy
all year. All year, citizens wear coats
with hoods. Rats crisscross streets
for moldy morsels or dead cats.


One feels safe from the plague
wearing gloves, boots tied tight,
and wrapping a scarf around
the eyes. She wears a sack cloth.


Don’t look in another’s eyes.
That’s how it sickens you.
is repeated often. Rarely
by the same person for two days.


She’s been running for three. Once
she climbed a tree and slept.
Now, she slices a cow’s gut.
Crawls inside. Holds it tight.


The Dutch Quarter burns foreigners
with dead rats and infected blankets.
The priest in dark goggles delivers
blessings in contagious smoke.


Rats gnaw the cow’s tongue.
Then esophagus. She sees eyes.

For over twenty years, Tom Holmes has been the founding editor and curator of Redactions: Poetry & Poetics. Holmes is also the author of five full-length collections of poetry, including The Book of Incurable Dreams (Xavier Review Press) and The Cave, which won The Bitter Oleander Press Library of Poetry Book Award for 2013, as well as four chapbooks. He teaches at Nashville State Community College (Clarksville). His writings about wine, poetry book reviews, and poetry can be found at his blog, The Line Breakthelinebreak.wordpress.com/. Follow him on Twitter: @TheLineBreak