Ben Black’s Children (poem)

As the dog days of 1916 rolled into August,
the six children of Ben and Mattie Black
of rural Audubon County, Iowa,
were bright and healthy, the newspaper said.
And Mattie was again in a family way.

But Ben Black’s hogs began dying,
and all six children, ages almost two
to nearly twelve, became violently ill.
By Saturday, August fifth, when the
mercury crept up to 102 degrees,
the three youngest Blacks were dead.

William, not yet five,
had succumbed on Wednesday,
little Robert, three, died at 4:15
Saturday, the fifth, and baby Martha,
almost two, two hours later.
On Sunday they were laid to rest.

Perplexed neighbors thought
the children had taken sick
from eating green apples.
Nonplussed doctors consulted specialists
from Council Bluffs to Chicago.

Cholera, they deduced.
Black’s pet dog played with the children
after eating dead hogs.
The three older children were still
at the point of death.
If eight-year-old Lucille lived until Monday,
the doctor thought, she would get well.

She did. So did Everett, ten,
and Howard, almost twelve.
After all the summer heat and heartache,
six days before Thanksgiving,
Ben Black’s wife gave birth
to a healthy baby girl.


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