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Camphene, Straw, and Wooden Matches

"Staten Island -- yes, it's more than probable. What then? Why, private considerations must be made to yield to the more interesting ones, the public welfare." Dr. Richard Bayley urging the establishment of the quarantine on Staten Island, 1798.

Hospital -- salt spray
burning with fever
strawberry patches and
burial grounds

gate-crashing forefathers watched
the hurl of slop pots overboard;
waves swarming with insidious
life lapped the shores,
bathed their green-island mother
in death waters.

The men of Castleton rose;
island mothers washed fever
from damp curls on baby brows
and bloody vomit from sheets:
Richmond horror show.

Camphene, straw, and wooden matches
on a cool September night
no more no more no more
would crematory clouds
serpentine, wreathe
the heights, the hills, the harbor.

Camphene, straw, and wooden matches
cauterized the island mother's sore
as she disgorged the small-poxed
and fevered from her body
lovely and pulsing.

No more no more no more.
Charred wood and earth intoxicated
men of Castleton as they marched
down the turnpike holding
riotous effigies aloft
lashing in the harbor wind,
thrashed by boys with sturdy clubs
and pock-marked faces.

Now we, fifteen decades later,
sit complacent and sniveling
about garbage heaped on the island's
lovely, green body,
watch our mother fouled
and despoiled,
paved and ball-fielded
when all we really need
is some camphene and some straw
and 50,000 wooden matches.


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