Bertha Rogers’s poems have been published in journals, anthologies, and in several collections, among them Wild, Again (Salmon, 2019); Heart Turned Back (Salmon, 2011); and Sleeper, You Wake (Mellen, 1991). Her translation of Beowulf was published in 2000, and her translation and illuminations of the riddle-poems in the thousand-year-old Anglo-Saxon Exeter Book were published as Uncommon Creatures in 2019. She co-founded Bright Hill Press & Literary Center of the Catskills in 1992; although retired, she still teaches literary workshops and edits poetry collections for the Bright Hill Press. She lives on a mountain in New York’s western Catskills.
IN THE TIME OF PLAGUE STUMBLE DOWN
It narrows—this ornate staircase,
leads us to the last bed,
the pillow, tangled sheets of disease.
We stumble down, hands sliding
splintered, breaking rails
lost to their own, forested origins.
This old man petitions air,
one last cigarette.
He demands immunity from the evil
he so freely dispensed, wants
to sprint again,
arms waving high in easy victory.
That woman contends she gave good
when requested, never
despised her speech-scarred days.
All together now, lungs begging
to retrieve the air
they daily squandered.
Plague’s heavy weight, our own feet
encased in death’s
cratered stockings, break the final tread.
IN THE TIME OF PLAGUE DARKER AND BRIGHTER
Every August they promise, the fleet
Perseids, to gift us with a glance
while they shoot down the midnight sky.
They do caution that conditions
must be congenial—the dome ink black,
the moon a silver sliver, the time just right.
And then they loose their starry bodies
from the monstrous cosmos.
Like every orchid’s stem,
they let go all the finished flowers.
IN THE TIME OF PLAGUE SEEDLINGS
Nothing to come, nothing to see
but burning grass, scorched leaves.
The bucket of flower seedlings
holds, anyway, some scant hope
because something waits,
someone forecasts, someone else
needs blooms all springs.
So, bend, count pinned buds,
predicted petals. Expect scent.
Open sleeping soil, insert
the dangling feet of spindly fronds.
Shower them with god-water.
Then, bury them deep.
It is air that, pushing too close
to their hungry roots, executes
these tender, buried youngsters;
Yet it is breathed air that gifts
the flowered, bolstered virus—
words spoken, sung;
glutted lungs coughing death.
Behind the magic mask—
face that hides your own,
begging face—mouth pledging
a prospect of gardens
every counted summer.