Quarantine, 1918

There were towns
that knew about the flu before
it arrived; they had time to imagine the germs
on a stranger’s skirts, to see how death
could be sealed in an envelope,
how a fever could bloom in the evening,
and take a life overnight.
A few villages, deep in the mountains,
posted guards on their roads,
and no one was allowed to come or go,
not even a grandmother carrying a cake;
no mail was accepted and all the words
and packages families sent
to one another went unopened,
unanswered. Trains were told
not to stop, so they glowed for a moment
before swaying
towards some other place. The food
at the corner store never came
from out of town and no one went
to see a distant auntie
or state fair. For awhile, the outside world
existed in imagination, in memory,
in books or suitcases, deep in closets.
There was nothing but the town itself,
hiding from what was possible,
and the children cutting dolls
from paper, their scissors sharp.