Yellow Fever Cemetery, Martin, Tennessee

Here, small wooden houses still crowd
the flanks of the field,
and the foundations of older
homes lie dormant, sealed

in a sleep hidden from their carved
stone neighbors, the pitted
headstones and pious, bent angels
now blooming and bitten

with petals of ivory lichens
and moss like green snow.
The bones that rest among rooted
elms have withstood the slow

pressure that spills through the black earth
while the boughs spread their shade.
Here, the townfolk's first dead were placed,
their markers hastily made

by stonecutters whose profits would
have soared, were they immune
to the black bile, the chills, the blood
that tore their skin, the swoon

that came after the fever broke,
then the delirium,
and sheets twisted around a corpse
no one would touch. Though some

stuck around—Dr. Sebastian
was one, a black, Andrew
Shepherd, was another. He worked
the railyard, without a crew

for months, while the epidemic
spread from vein to vein, borne
by the Mississippi from New
Orleans, then held in the corn

freight loads that swept from the Delta
through the cotton country—
western Tennessee, near nameless
rural towns that lay

along the tracks—they felt the weight
of the yellow plague; its roots
sat down for the summer, and stayed
until frost killed off the shoots.

by William Flowers

William Robert Flowers was born in rural west Tennessee. He earned his BA in English Languages and Literature from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in 2006, and he is currently pursuing his MFA at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. His poetry has appeared in Hunger Mountain, Poetry Miscellany, Great River Review, Apple Valley Review, and Prick of the Spindle, and a work of short fiction is forthcoming in the anthology Dad’s Bowtie: Patchwork Path. He lives in Wilmington with his wife, Megan.

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