The Epidemic

By Michael Bazzett

There is a dispute about where it began.
The current consensus is it was probably
in the back alley of a quiet neighborhood
where the ochre-toned houses are stacked
like old pottery on the hill above town.
Bougainvillea beard the balconies there,
dropping papery petals onto the byzantine
network of narrow paths and stairs below.
I remember pausing upon those steps
as my son and I descended to school.
Boys were hunched in the bluish shadows,
worrying a scorpion with a stick. Its pincers
lifted awkwardly, its golden armor stunned
to slowness by the cold. My son was still
young enough to hold my hand reflexively
but old enough that he dropped it once
the boys looked briefly up. A distant bell rang.
A knowing look circulated among the knot.
Before its clanging finished, they started
down the hill in their matching sweaters,
one stepping back almost as an afterthought
to grind the scorpion beneath the heel
of a sturdy black shoe before jogging off
to rejoin the knot. It was only in recollection
that I realized none of the boys had spoken.
And when I later read about the epidemic of
silence spreading among the neighborhoods
above the town, I thought of that morning.

This Poem Features In: