Plague Doctor by Ron Houchin

(Paris, 1656)

At first, just walking the street
In this waxed wool suit felt strange
As finding a loaf of bread, warm

And comfortably soft, still baking
In the ruins of a burnt house, butter
Sizzling on a nearby knife.

Now, I wouldn’t recognize myself
Passing any mirror without the goggle-eyed
Snout mask (storax, cloves, ambergris, balm-

Mint leaves and other scents alive in there
Like seasonings for a stork’s supper)
And the heaviness of this black outfit.

Each night just climbing into bed,
I peel the day off like a dossil bandage.
Once I’d carve on the skin of tomatoes,

Idling, waiting to sell market fruit
And now can’t lift sheets or autopsy
Remains fast enough to close down the dark

Seeds routing bodies. While I sweat
Over their loved one’s remains, children
Lean in the door chanting, “Doctor Beak.”


Ron Houchin lives on the banks of the Ohio River, across from his hometown of Huntington, West Virginia. For thirty years he taught public school in the Appalachian region of southernmost Ohio. His work has appeared in The Southwest Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Poetry Ireland Review, Five Points and many others. HIs first novel, a horror story called THE DEVIL’S TRILL is making the rounds, looking for a publisher. He has seven previous books of poetry and one collection of short stories published. His latest book, The Man Who Saws Us in Half (LSU Press’s Southern Messenger Poets Series) was awarded the Weatherford Award for Poetry in 2013.