Influenza, October 1918
By Merryn Rutledge
First Grandpa took sick, stumbling in from the pasture
as though he’d been snake bit
and falling into bed where he nearly died.
After the crisis, in the hours between nursing baby Louise,
Grandma went out to wash the bodies of neighbors who died—
until the night she came back to find Louise wheezing,
already blue from lungs that would drown.
Come morning, though the little red head lay still
and Grandma’s full breasts must have ached,
she trudged to the barn to milk the Jersey
and dug potatoes that lay like tiny heads in the sucking clay.
Then she washed Louise, put her in her going-to-church dress
and drove with Grandpa the twenty some miles
to the nearest photographer
so they could always bring their firstborn’s face to mind.
She and Grandpa never spoke much that I could see.
Did something between them die that day?
Did they blame each other for bringing death home
or did they blame themselves?
What was it like come spring when Grandma’s belly swelled
with another child, who would be my mother?
Copyright © 2020 by Merryn Rutledge.