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BIOLOGICAL WARFARE: 1781 by Kim Roberts

The sachem’s council fire is extinguished,
the few survivors of the contagion
scattered into the woods. The Governor
has ordered all returning soldiers

to stop outside of towns and be inspected
for signs of pestilence. The Selectmen
are bound to ensure those with the pox
be removed to a place of safety, their clothes burned.

A baneful ravaging of pustules, a fever,
sores erupting at the mouth and nostrils,
severe back pain, dehydration. The stench
as the ruptures crack and ooze, skin

cleaves to blankets. Those who survive
are often blinded, and always scarred,
especially the face, hands and feet,
where the plague takes strongest hold.

Only the lucky ones will see their bodies
transform to one massive scab, and know,
finally, that they will live, and be forever
immune to the scourge. Still the noisome

distemper advances, carries off
sometimes entire villages, and no one left
to bury the dead. The former slaves
fare worst: they flock to the soldier’s camps,

take ill in grievous numbers, are dragged off
to quarantine with no nurses or salves
to relieve their suffering, or anyone to carry water.
They fester in intolerable and mortal air:

turned adrift, wretched, with pox their only bounty.
Some dying Negroes are laid along the roadsides
by the Red Coats for the sole purpose
to communicate infection to the rebels.


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