A PAGE FROM THE HISTORY OF BIOLOGICAL WARFARE
The Siege of Caffa. Crimea, 1346
The stench of these latest victims
flies far beyond the power of words
but soon they will be gone. Even now
you can hear the catapults straining,
the taut ropes twanging ever tighter
as the corpses are loaded for shooting,
arms and legs locked in twisted dances
and now – there! – they sail right over the walls
like leaping fairground dolls then land
with drumbeats of thumping finality
somewhere among the stubborn enemy
and silent disease begins its work.
The ones outside have eaten mud for months
and now this coal-black plague harvests them like wheat.
Raw winter has made its own demands,
its icy hand dragging the failing sun
a little lower every day and hunger
squeezes till your bones stick out like broken sticks.
The ones inside could end this with a word
but they prefer to hear death’s steady roar
made hoarse and dull from over-use,
so let them taste the bitter pestilence.
Published in Allegro
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