Saint-Domingue

The Rebel lieutenant slapped a mosquito, not carelessly or petulantly as you might imagine, but heartily, with moderate force and much flourish, as if he were slapping a comrade on the back.
For a time the mosquitoes had been kept at bay, literally he supposed, not by the guerrilla tactics of sooty mustached bats but by the sooty smoke of burning sugarcane.
Burning the plantations also saved the slaves from the vengeance of ants, rattled by machete blows from nests among the sugarcane roots, and from the sting of salt sweat which sluiced their sugarcane leaf inflicted incisions. It freed them from the lash.
Of all these harriers, mosquitoes were the first to return, and the lieutenant, an ex-slave himself, welcomed them. Mosquitoes, he sometimes suspected, served as the emissaries of sickness, and this year - 1802, he welcomed that too. Sickness as an ally? Why not? After sampling various Spanish, French and factional alliances, he adjudged sickness more reliable.
His fellow ex-slaves being relatively immune, the lieutenant hoped the season would bestow an abundance of sickness on Napoleon's vulnerable regiments. He hoped it would smoke their wan skins yellow, and soot their vomitus black; not uncharitable considering that the stakes included those of the metal or wooden variety.
The mosquitoes delivered no message in their wingbeat songs, but only in their numbers. No-one knew what caused the sickness, but bevies of mosquitoes presaged its intensity. Consequently, the lieutenant dispatched mosquitoes in a genial manner.
Impassively, he watched one shilly-shally in currents of breath and body heat. It alit and probed his skin. One limb was delicately raised. Taking the gesture for a salute, the lieutenant responded with a high five, or whatever the equivalent of a high five was in 1802. Then, opening his palm, he tenderly blew the tiny envoy on its way.

by Diane Hine

Comments (8)

A great poem, yellow fever was a real killer. Sometimes we need to be reminded of the history of the world.
Impassively, he watched one shilly-shally in currents of breath Very much interesting really and impressive one. Statically poem of observation and beautiful.
Satirical and allegorical in concept and witty in rendering the whole sequence of episodes, this poem is an absolute entertainer Diane... I love the way the history of a terrible fever being co related to how Napoleon`s act of half prudence boomerangs on him.
Why are you not a history teacher Diane? Your knowledge is incredible. Excellent write, love the comments too
Well it may not be poetry strictly speaking, but poetic imagination and poetic justice are certainly here in abundance. You are such an interesting and talented writer Diane! I loved it too! The historical detail you include too is always interesting and I assume accurate.
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