The Black Death reared its bulbous head in or around 1347,
carried to Italy by parasitic fleas on brown rats.
It gave you black boils like an onion head on your armpits and groin
and covered its victims like ashy seeds of black peas.
Some people vomited blood.
Almost everybody died.
There were 3 plagues having a romp with humans back then;
besides the bubonic one,
they had themselves pneumonic and septicaemic ones too,
which were fatal about, oh, let’s say roughly 75% of the time.
Oh, and they were entering a “little ice age”
of colder and longer winters around this time.
And did I mention the two Europe-wide famines of 1316 and 1317?
Having food to eat every day wasn’t a given.
The doctors had no idea about bacteria,
and the level of sanitation in this era was…
let’s just say there wasn’t a whole lot of handwashing going on.
Every time new cases of the plague arose,
people fled in a panic,
spreading the disease further.
Florence lost 50,000 of its 85,000 residents to the disease.
Carts piled high with corpses became a common sight on the streets.
Most citizens did nothing much else except carry dead bodies to a burial pit all day.
There were no stimulus checks handed out to the masses.
Toilet paper hadn’t been invented yet.
But afterwards personal piety flourished,
people began to question authority,
serfdom was abandoned for wages,
women gained some property rights,
feudalism went way out of style,
and almost everyone began to donate to charity.
25–30 million people died during the plague’s 5-year stay.
It took 200 years for humanity’s population to return to pre-plague levels.
We are modern.
We have disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer.
We have N95 respirators and surgical masks.
We have soap and hot clean water to wash our hands with.
We have hospitals with ventilators and ICU beds.
We have 14-day quarantines and mandatory self-isolation orders.
We have others to do our grocery shopping for us.
People take so much more than their share,
as much they can,
more than they should handle.
I saw a woman in Walgreens put another woman in a headlock
and wrestle her to the floor
over the last package of toilet paper on the shelf.
Hospitals in Italy are two-to-a-bed;
and nurses are having to reuse their masks and gowns every day for weeks at a time,
while people flock to the beaches in Florida,
and attend massive church services in Louisiana,
as all travelers are advised not to visit the New York area.
Some guy was hording 35,000 bottles of Purell in his garage.
People are purchasing obscene amounts of flour.
We have so much,
yet we get so very little of what we need out of it.
Experts tell us to stay at home.
Entire states and even some entire countries have completely shut down.
All of this over some microscopic virus
that loves to be hosted by humans and to spread the party exponentially to other humans.
In 1347 people thought the devil was wiping them out for kicks.
By 1352 they were sick to death of god and country,
and perhaps life itself.
But they won.
The goddamn human race won,
in the end.
even during something called The Black Death,
for Christ’s sake —
we kept on and made the best of things.
after a little while,
the Renaissance happened.
We have Zoom chats and Instagram to keep us together when we’re apart.
We’ve got space heaters and Vitamin-C Gummies.
We’ve got mobile ad location data to track our movements.
We’ve got 24-hour news cycles to fill.
We have morons in high places.
We have idiots everywhere.
This is the way the world never seems to end.
With unprepared governments
and panicked populaces,
survival’s fashion never fades,
even in the grimmest of times.
There are extraordinary moments in the humdrum heroics of daily life:
prisoners sent home from jail cells,
cats asleep on the arm of a couch,
ER doctors and grocery clerks working overtime without sleep,
impromptu arias bellowed from balconies,
loaves of bread rising under a damp towel,
egrets quietly posed on loan from dusk’s flimsy shadows on the lake,
sneaking across the room
— the unteachable natural style of your saunter should be patented —
naked and warm and still a bit wet from the shower
without noticing me ogling
every mesmerizing last inch of your shape
in the diffused auburn light of an otherwise overcast morning;
and nobody around except for us
to care about or notice
anything much happening here…
nothing much happening here