Involving the Histories of Public Perception in Times of Epidemic

Air hugs, no kissing. Knuckle
bumps, perhaps. Vitamin
C or zinc tablets. Keep your
drink to yourself; don't share.
Every day, the numbers go up. Your
face becomes a threat to others:
grocery shopping in an Italian town,
how do you become a target for fists,
insults? Yellow peril, plague-carrier, your
jaw broken, or a knife-stab in your ribs.
Keep to yourselves. Keep away from others.
Leave the ship at your own or other's risk.
Measles, malaria, cholera— gifts brought to
natives in the new world by Columbus.
Once a paradise, Pacific islands turn leprosaria.
Pity the unprotected, felled by terrible pathogens.
Quaranta giorni, the period a ship should isolate, being
replete with plague or other foul disease. On
self-seclusion in a lazaretto: first make a run for
toilet paper, tinned food, water, medication. The
ugly truth is that the poor always suffer more.
Vervain, laudanum, camphor, cloves, ambergris rose—
wadded into the beak of the plague doctor. Then as now,
xenophobia stalks the streets, pretending
yeast cultures don't thrive in mansions; pretending
zealotry isn't the more dangerous virus.

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