Playing in the Plague Pit
She was four-years-old and slipped away
when the guide turned to cough,
under red velvet ropes, down stone steps,
blue dust and bronzy bones, gasps and Oh, God
thawed from the fourteenth century—
fleas, black breath, bursting buboes, fingers blue,
bells tolling, half of London dead and buried quick.
But there were more jobs, the docent explained,
peasant wages up, the Hundred Years War
called off early, and people talking real English.
Kelsie, get your butt over here!
Her mother winged down, an apologetic angel
amid laughter and chattering amazement
that a little American girl would want to play
in that horrible old plague pit.
We buy rounds and he recites: Drink provokes and unprovokes, smiling at the K-Mart gal who accepted his pledge, three times, until he pissed her new employee discount floral sheets. Wild regales and sidewalk snoozes, broken glass and a night in jail. Why ask why? he shrugs and sighs, stroking a torn-eared cat. We press a few bucks into his greasy hand, see him tenting along the river, before the rains and demons arrive, before we turn away from our local drownings.