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Poetry and Medicine
December 9, 1998

Cholera

Author Affiliations
 

Edited by Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor.

JAMA. 1998;280(22):1902E. doi:10.1001/jama.280.22.1902

Melikhovo, 1892

The epidemic bursts from Astrakhan
and roars north, pushing flames of panic
in front of it. They say the corpse's
muscles can twitch for hours after death,
and peasants whisper, the dead still speak
Priests take to the road with their icons.
They pester their saints for forgiveness.
A crowd of ruffians enters the room
we've gathered the drugs in and smashes
the bottles. You wouldn't believe their stories.
They say doctors are causing the outbreak—
it's a scheme to keep the population down.
They say big government is behind
the conspiracy—we who work in the field
are dupes, we are the tools of perdition.
Cholera seems to strike for no reason—
it hits the vigorous, the young spill their guts.
The peasants place their bets on evil—
the doctors' or the czar's—as the source of it.
How can they face life if death is meaningless?
They run to the clinic, bludgeon the doors,
chase out the sick. Escape from the death house!
There is enough truth in their ignorance
to make you wonder, enough calamity
in their passion to deepen the burden.

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