The Madness of Crowds

Tulip

Long thought wrongly to be Turkish for turban

but as it was fashionable in the Ottoman Empire

to put tulips on turbans perhaps the translator

 

was confused having gone astray in alleys of Ordu

or Constantinople, where the flower had long been

popular. Ladies in the garden at Augsburg thieving

 

pollen, augment! Barges bright on the Zuyder Zee

komen fill your holds with these immortal tubers:

each species well-recorded in these colored plates.

 

Pompeius de Angelis! Lipsius of Ledyan! You

middle classes of Amsterdam and Hoorn: a silver

drinking cup, two grey horses & three tons of butter

 

for one rare bulb of Semper Augustus, the very same

a Harlaam sailor was deposed for plucking

thinking it an onion, some relish for his herring.

 

Witch

The record quotes one Margaret Arnold. Your Honor:

Myself I saw the children swallow bees, then vomit

crook’d pins two-penny nails, splinters & a vile froth

 

On her pillow we found cakes of feathers large

as crown pieces, placed in a curious order.

(Making radii, your Honor—)

 

a star-shaped onion, some bewitched pigs, a mouse

that thrown into the fire shrieked like any whelp

 

(the maid-servant—was she deposed?)

 

Their wives having transformed themselves into cats were burned forthwith.

 

They kept a careful record of the names.

 

Song

Cherry Ripe! Cherry Ripe! Ripe I cry,
Full and fair ones
Come and buy

 

London Hospital 187—

 

My Dearest Zee,

 

I keep a record of their faddish songs:

 

The aforementioned Cherry Ripe was a plague

lasting near nine-month. Young men & old,

wives & widows, maid servants, were all alike musical

fishermen, loose women, all the idle in town—

 

My dear, the popular humors of this great city

are a constant source of amusement to me

whose sympathies are amenable enough

to embrace this madness though I be refined.

 

The ice bathes having failed, they try a sugar cure

 

Relic

 

In Paris is kept with great care a thorn

nail-clippings mulberry Christ’s tears bottled

 

& on the street they’ll sell you hanks of hair

toe bones encased in their own small coffins.

                                                           

Come and buy!

(happy is the sinner)

 

Astray in Naples shreds of garment from the luckless

Masaniello, a fisherman raised high by mob favor

then shot like a mad dog, spat on & quartered

 

by & by he was unburied & arrayed in royal robes

his poor torso, at least, and the village women

later tore his wooden door off its hinges

 

(who possesses)

for splinters—

 

( Z, the fisherman—was he?)

 

 

 

 

Amy Beeder is the author of Burn the Field (CMU Press, 2006) and Now Make An Altar (2012).   A recipient of an NEA Fellowship, a “Discovery”/The Nation Award, James Merrill Residence, Bread Loaf Scholarship, and Witness Writers Award, she has also worked as a creative writer instructor, legal writer, freelance reporter, political asylum specialist, high-school teacher in West Africa, and an election and human rights observer in Haiti and Suriname.

 

Issue #67 February 2017
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