A poem for public health

I’m surprised whenever an outbreak of foodborne illness is picked up in the U.S., except the most egregious violations of sanitation and safety, where large numbers of people are sickened.

Those investigations with people scattered across states, like the current E. coli O145 outbreak that has sickened over 50, are a testament to the skill, dedication of training of public and environmental health types.

Yet across the U.S., public health is taking budgetary hits as the trickle down of housing and financial collapse makes its way to the local level — states and counties are looking everywhere to balance the books.

A public health type penned and posted the following poem at http://randomleaves.blogspot.com/.

FIRST THEY VOTED to eliminate child care inspections
And I didn’t speak up because I didn’t have children

THEN THEY VOTED to stop inspecting food service establishments
And I didn’t speak up because another agency did those inspections

THEN THEY VOTED to get rid of nursing home and hospital inspectors
And I didn’t speak up because I worked in the OSTDS program

THEN THEY VOTED to abolish Environmental Health
And there was no one left to speak up


Caf?? Rotavirus – a barf poem by John Estes

There’s an upside to getting written up in Slate magazine, as barfblog.com did last week, and it’s that a new audience can be reached.

Like the barf poetry crowd.

John Estes, who teaches at the University of Missouri, wrote me this morning to say he discovered barfblog.com through the Slate article, and that,

“Since you have no barf poetry (it’s a niche genre) I wanted to offer my poem, ‘Cafe Rotavirus.’"

So here it is (and that’s John’s son, Jonah, with their dog, Sophie, right)..

Cafe Rotavirus

Last time we all
ate here, a Sunday, after
the baby played with
—chewed on—
their toys: six
days and nights
of puke and diarrhea.
This stuff kills
starving kids in Africa,
underdeveloped as
electrolyte industries
are there.

But I cannot stop
returning and returning.
What pathogenesis
makes me weak
for, so consoled by,
this biscuits and gravy—
though I cannot
stop imagining
trillions of rotifer-driven
microbes racing
around this apparent
locus amoenus
like, but not like,
animated soap
bubbles scrubbing up
bathtub scum?

To believe in history,
now that fixed
stars are not so fixed,
might be to believe
each instant struggles—
fatally, hopefully—
to loose itself from
some unoriginate whole.
But, and this makes
instinctual sense
so long as instinct is
nothing but undigested
experience, it may also,
or maybe instead,
be the collective orgy
clearing its gorge,
suffusing each instant
with the particles
of every other
but in tastier order,
because nothing is real
until it means
and nothing means
until it returns,
returns like a dog returns,
as it will with verve,
to a baby’s vomit.

John Estes teaches at the University of Missouri and lives in Columbia. Recent poems have appeared (or will) in West Branch, Southern Review, New Orleans Review, Tin House, and other places. He is author of Kingdom Come (C&R Press, forthcoming) and two chapbooks: Breakfast with Blake at the Laocoön (Finishing Line Press, 2007) and Swerve (Poetry Society of America, 2009) which won a National Chapbook Fellowship.  See his website for more poems and prose.