Ryde, November 1878

On Hill Street Adaline Dallimore woke with a sore throat
was dragged off to morning service
where a sneeze of infection caught on the wind

droplets of death settling on the Harveys in the front pews
and over Bluey Charlo and Sabra Gentle in the rows behind
Virulent toxins ripped through the workmens cottages

on Albert Street - convenient for the cemetery
and along Spencer Road to the lower end of Union Street
where Walter Egerton, heavy with bull’s neck

kept selling his fruit and veg. Sarah Godfrey innocently
carried sick cells to the two teachers at the Catholic school
and to her fellow pupils the Fitzgibbons and the Toniolis

The brand new school at Oakfield
came to a close for lack of well children
and mourning colours prevailed at the School of Art

Ma Gardner had seen it in winters past, set up a croup tent
for Baby Eli and Mary the scullery maid. Kept nursing them
til the end, when her own windpipe jammed

The baby would have wailed but his voice box seized up
He mouthed silently in the cot where, for as long as she could
Mary rocked him with one limp hand

Shelley McAlister

Published in Winning and Commended Poems The 2010 Hippocrates Prize

Ryde Cemetery,
painting by Maisie Kitching,
Ryde Social Heritage Group

1 comment: