The Pestilence, and Photograph of Saturn

By Israel Wasserstein

The Pestilence

. . . e duro questo pistolenza fino a . . .
“in the midst of the pestilence there came to an end…”
--Giovanni Villani

A third the world died, as the Revelation said.
A third the world died, black boils sprouting
from groins and armpits, Pestilence transmitted
by a glance, an evil eye. Grain wilted in the fields,
bodies heaped outside doors, were dragged
to mass graves. Judgment was upon the land:
priests would not perform the rites.

Trapped by death in their monasteries
with no company but fleas and rats,
scribes despaired of anyone who would live to read
their accounts. The plague did not spare
the rich or the holy. Winter brought no respite.
Famine reigned.

Who could doubt the end of days? The world
was given over to Death. Devils slouched behind
desperate eyes. Parents fled from their children
and spared no thought for tomorrow. Nothing slowed
the sickness of the eastern wind.

Public mourning was banned, and all mourning
clothes. No one gathered together. Prayers
went unheeded. Villani’s chronicle
ended mid-sentence: there came to an end…

Yet pestilence ceased, and life resumed. Scholars
wrote little of the disease, turned their pens to War.
The Judgment passed: the condemned carried on.

Photograph of Saturn

Racing past the sixth planet,
Cassini snaps the photo:
Saturn’s dark sphere engulfs the sun,
haloed by its light.
The rings glimmer against the void.
Above the immense world,
a speck of blue light, barely brighter
than distant stars:
A billion miles distant, Earth.
Cassini speeds away. I watch
a distant galaxy which tore
itself apart a hundred million years ago.

Last night, they hanged a dictator.
His neck twisted to an inhuman
angle. Killed for killing.
A murderer dead, A billion suns extinct,
and still I watch the sky.
There is beauty and loss enough
to sustain us. There are reminders
of our place:
a small planet drifting
through an unremarkable galaxy.
We are alone. Our dim light
tints blue. Cassini drifts on.