the museum of americana

a literary review

Old City Cemetery — Poetry by Andy Young

              “History Park” and Wedding Venue, Lynchburg, VA

 

1.

No one is buried in Lynchburg’s Old City Cemetery 

           except for pet ashes in the Scatter Garden

           for those who can pay 

 

and the potter’s field that keeps filling

          with photos and plastic hearts.

 

         But among the gravestones

there’s a village 

of these small museum-houses

        that talk when you push a button.

 

The Hearse House houses

what else? An old hearse,

sealed behind glass,

        black and elaborate as a beetle. 

 

White horses if the dead were children. 

The voice of the house is twangy, over-friendly. 

Some cousin who shows up

        and has to make everyone laugh.

 

The voice explains the method of procession,

       how prolific death was then,

 

the hearse alone inside

as if it could be in there making breakfast.

 

Press the button again: 

Check out the Pest House Museum 

                              to learn about the great doctor John Jay Terrell

 

2.

The Pest House changed when Dr. John Jay Terrell 

took over in 1862, a Quaker who grew up 

on Dreaming Creek. He refused to own slaves

but served in the Civil War.

 

Terrell operated an integrated quarantine, it seems, 

treating both soldier and slave

when all were leveled flat by cholera,

yellow fever, smallpox…

 

with 75 patients he brought the mortality rate 

down from 50 percent to 5 

 

How could 75 patients fit in this room 

I wonder but yes that’s right this happens now too…

there’s a checkerboard on the floor’s dry, white sand. 

Terrell spread it there to absorb the stench.

 

           Reading the Bible, I learned it from Moses, 

           a voice says of the sand, but it’s a different voice

           for Dr. Terrell, a slightly British accent maybe?

           An earnestness for sure, a voice permanently 

           half-strangled by a suppressed weeping

           (did he come from central casting)? — 

 

           Lime and yellow paint on the outside,

           black paint on the inside to save the eyes. 

           Barrels of limewater and linseed oil 

           for sores so the clothes wouldn’t stick.

 

Dr. Terrell scooped cool water with a gourd dipper,

put patients on milk and cabbage soup,

fed them from the goosey neck of the invalid feeder.

 

The Difference Between Medicine and Poison?— 

the friendly cousin-voice is back—the dose. 

 

Take a look at the asthma chair: 

a rocker with arms lifted high 

to better fill the lungs. 

And don’t miss the amputation kit,

not so different from the ones we use today!

 

~~~

Andy Young bioAndy Young’s second full-collection, Museum of the Soon Departed, was chosen for the inaugural Patricia Spears Jones Award and will be published by Camperdown NYC next year. She is also the author of All Night It Is Morning (Diálogos Press, 2014) and four chapbooks.

 

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