Rage

Forgive the late entry today. I was busy with the day job.

I had the pleasure of meeting Betsy Brown last week. She’s a real poet, and I tried to get her to stay for another glass of wine and recite a bit for me, but she had to go. She graciously sent this along to me though, and so I thought I’d graciously pass it along to you.

She told me she’d written it about her sister, who’d been found to have breast cancer. We have some of that in our family, too, and it was a sad but sweet pleasure to read Betsy’s poem.

Rage by Betsy Brown

In 1764, a herding dog lunged out
of her fields to ravage the French village
of Thiers, attacking twenty people

and infecting them fiercely with
pre-Pasteurian rabies, called rage
by the French. You traveled to Paris

to study the original printings
of these stories: the victims doomed,
the pages onion-skin parchment

too frail to copy, sometimes too precious
to open, the bitten first numbed
with knowing what’s coming, then

as they say, enraged, terrified of water,
convulsant, apologetic about how much
they wanted to bite their Parisian

doctor, who bled them and burned
the fanged gouges with steel and mercury.
In the Fifth Arrondissement, your

fine tall library, your walk daily through
Luxembourg gardens and all the slim
streets past high black iron gates,

shuttered window panes; they put
the victims in a huge vacant hospice
and separated those who became

hydrophobic: Eh Monsieur, I see clearly
that I am lost, they place me in this
unfortunate room, from which no one returns.

In 18th century France, rage patients
sought miracle cures at the shrine
of St.-Hubert, the priests worked

to keep that pilgrimage active,
and all the scholars fought about
the passions and the morals of the dead.

I’m sorry I had to take you home
from Paris. It was snowing and you
were crying. All the mad strangled

rabid patients carried us, remember,
back to Baltimore; you wanted
to save them, we brought our offerings

to radiologists, we applied to oncologists —
we were all ghosts and stories
about walks to the health food store

and the ways people so deeply numbed
find to talk about a future. In Thiers,
the 12-year old boy just simply

could not drink the water. He shattered
the cup and convulsed so violently
they tied him to the bed. Tonight

in a tiny lamplit apartment in Paris,
a reader sits riveted by the newspaper —
all these stories ending with life.