Love in Darkness
by Moná Ó Loideáin Rochelle
It is difficult to get news from poems, yet men die miserably every day
for lack of what is found there. ~ WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS
Boarding a battered Belarusian Bombardier, tattered
satchels on torn seats nest like albatross on a cliffs ledge
as chickens cackle. I listen to the febrile trill of a little child.
Seven guards hold seven AKMs to the throat of a shackled
suzerain. I listen to guttural Soviet commands.
Traversing the Steppes on the banks of the Kura,
Kolkhida Lowlands greet beaches of the Black Sea—
and there, barbed wire binds the border crossing.
We argue with the guards who watch suspiciously,
as war shadows the narrow, rutted road to Sukhum.
Appalled, I throw-up.
Plague: infectious disease spreading rapidly, high death rates.
Multidrug resistant tuberculosis:
ffects lungs, brain, kidneys, spine, floats in air several hours,
spreads through coughing, sneezing, speaking, singing.
Épidémiologiste: One who studies epidemic ‘dis-ease.’
I’m a spook, a closer, I study dog-eared data.
The fieldco shows me ‘the office,’ a heater-less closet.
My mind’s Absinthe in a labyrinth as I listen
to one-hundred and forty-four-proof Abkhazian double-talk.
What’s bullshit, what’s not?
Long days working missions by frozen cisterns.
Selaphiel the Turk translates for us:
Gabriela the nurse, Rafal the log, Uriel the doc,
Barachiel the tech from Liberia, and moi
the American épidémiologiste, frantic with worry.
We drive threading roads over crusted snowdrifts,
rapt in concentration, quiet, too full of fear to talk.
Yes, fear. The outpost’s remote. The ward a row of beds
in cold cells. Nino, a child of ten, laying in a cot.
She reminds me of my daughter. Slowly she speaks—
‘Everyone’s dead, my mother, brother, sister. I take
thirty pills a day. Have pity on me, end my misery.
I want to play in the Black Sea.’
TB the dragon slayer of children.
On Sundays, we stroll streets of streaming sewage.
Mothers mourn sons—sons shot-point-blank.
Corpses twelve deep. We’re told three-hundred-thousand refugees
fled. Here old men in black moth-eaten wool drink black-market
vodka, playing backgammon on alder wood.
Putin unplugged the power grid yesterday,
he did today, as he will tomorrow. Minutes, hours,
days, without water, without heat, without light.
It’s Christmas. Cloistered in the compound,
we ignite beeswax candles, sup on khachapuri,
down Putinka in prisms of fire, huddling children
terrorized in the dark. I’ve never been one for long
nights, and retreat to my four-by-six cell, and
like a monk, I pray—
Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.
Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me…
Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy…
I’m snow drifting, dreaming all is calm in America.
It’s midnight in Zugdidi, mission post
on the east hills of Georgia. I’m fractured
like the cracked glass in my room.
I write my name on the frost
to remember who I am. The cook calls
‘Bonjour. De quoi avez-vous besoin?’
‘Je ne parle pas bien français.’
She shrugs ‘Do you want café?’
Merde, I hope Rosetta Stone refunds my 300 Euro.
A new team arrives—gypsies
from Marseilles, Bordeaux, Kinshasa,
Monrovia, Port Townsend. Lion-hearted
Argonauts who traveled permafrost hills hidden
between then and now at minus
11.1111 degrees Celsius.
The military-green hôpital’s cinder-block walls
hold holy icons, smell of camphor, soap, and
candlewax. Cell after cell, convalescents fast
like hermits, kissing Saint George—slayer
of dragons, aura of light, protector of the poor.
The scent of sorrow lingers in each room:
a child, a woman, an old man, suffer
twenty-thousand pills, two hundred
injections, two-years of psychosis,
deafness, pain in solitary confinement.
It’s New Year. Gauloises’ gold with flame
anesthetize the pain. We drink rivers of wine,
bodies swaying side-by-side in pixilating light,
every Georgians’ a poem.
I need to leave this place.
I need to go home.
* * * * *
"Love in Darkness" was first published in Journal of Medical Humanities, March 2016, Volume 37, Issue 1 and is part of the author's collection On the Brink of the Sea (Cave Moon Press, 2019).
Moná Ó Loideáin Rochelle is published in The Southern Review, American Journal of Poetry, Notre Dame Review, Southword and elsewhere. She’s the author of On the Brink of the Sea (Cave Moon Press, 2019), and Mourning Dove (Finishing Line Press, 2014). All revenue from sale of On the Brink of the Sea is donated to Médecins Sans Frontières and Catholic Relief Services, for whom she volunteers. She holds a PhD and MPH from the University of Washington. https://monalydon.com/