It’s about my aunt getting tuberculosis.
Outbreak in her village is Devilry after 1 death – Risk at 10.
You can reduce anything to a number and elevate any number
to a name: Pandemic at 100, when the W.H.O. trucks roll in.
Harbingers of infection are chicken, songbirds, and horses.
In TB cases, the first to die are slender birds learning to sing
the same way toddlers talk. A process of trying and flailing –
A fucked-up, un-birdlike song.
Otherwise, not much warning except general wrongness.
Hunger and nausea couple. On the disease map,
the wash of pink covering Sokoto State is impolite,
alluding too obviously to swollen gums.
I believe there are lifetime statistics that should be kept
on all of us: How many times disease has saved your life.
My great-great-grandfather was kidnapped as a slave
and released. He backtracked a borderline on leprous legs,
so tired his soul just dragged its body along on his shoulders –
to the ancestry of Infection.
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Excerpt from MASS FOR SHUT-INS published by Yale University Press. Copyright © 2023 by Mary-Alice Daniel.