EJ Shu is an Australian-Canadian poet whose recent work appears in Antiphon, Plumwood Mountain, Cordite Poetry Review, Poets Reading the News, Plum Tree Tavern and Psaltery & Lyre. She makes her home on the north west coast of Tasmania. You can read more about her on www.ejshu.com
A breach in the first line, the second,
and closer, a whiff of sepsis. The arc of our ambition
has faltered, boils appear
to lodge in the meat, crusts
while we, the sick, each counted day turn
from blighted x-rays in a weak bargain, discreetly
so as not to spill our defences and rouse
an unholy consumption.
It has come down to this
scant arsenal in profitless vials,
a pocketful of posies,
duds against bedlam and phlegm, buboes, the spatter
of iron blood in the mouth.
Natural selection is a slow way to end
the tragedy of the commons—
Shigella: dysenteriae, flexneri, boydii, sonnei
will sing your child to sleep without a hitch.
We act like it’s burial we should shrink from,
mineral stink and slip
of wet clay, base indignity,
but that’s where she’s headed—she’s sure deliverance lives
in that dumb, hypogeal dark.
Into the breach, game
and down the fissured ways, tracking
labyrinthine and invisible rivers like the ones
tattooed on her arm.
The flowstone is a refuge. She treads
the boneyard maze like the moon between
cloudless pools, between
gypsum bushes and cave pearls, heaped,
glossy by headlamp, milky
mounds of calcite, hoodoos and here,
a pit lead blowing good air, crystalline
spines that prick
and lodge in the hands,
and kneels to swab and drill
the velvet wall, hoping
for a bomb, a dam, an adult’s hand to stop
the carousel and let us off.
For something thickly coiled inside uncanny breeds,
the aleph-bet seed. What we missed
up there, where the resistome blooms
like there’s no tomorrow.
Response to: Pawlowski, A.C., Wang, W., Koteva, K., Barton, H.A., McArthur, A.G., and Wright, G.D. 2016. A diverse intrinsic antibiotic resistome from a cave bacterium. Nature Communications. 7: 13803. doi:10.1038/ncomms13803