Ian C. Smith
One Hundred Years Ago

When the Wright Brothers flew
one hundred odd haphazard yards, today’s
skyscrapers were only imagined silhouettes
piercing an innocence of cloud-scudded sky,
like the pyramids and the Eiffel Tower.

Going through the musty belongings
of my adventurous landlord, another old pilot,
newspapers, magazines, ghosts
crying out from bundled archives,
I found a thin red book, clothbound,
Excerpta Therapeutica in gold lettering
published back then by a drug company.
Bubonic plague spreads from Adelaide to Sydney.
The Black Death. Rats. Buboes bursting.
The book advises on home treatment,
ventilation, rest, medicines of the day.
My mind, skittering from the horror,
admires the onionskin pages.
Their fraught sickbeds offered some consolation,
brandy, beer, and stout are all prescribed.
Imbecilic with dread, I would need the brandy.

It has grown late while I inhabit the past,
So few sounds of tyres on a wet road
during lockdown, so deathly quiet.
I raise this exquisite book, sniff its cryptic odour.