The contagion that killed the fisherman’s wife
The contagion that killed the fisherman’s wife –
(this is my translation from the Arabic of AMM’s poem published 2018, and which forms part of a bigger narrative work looking at transference of guilt and sin, and our relationship to death.)
All i’s live in me, and I am in every i,
Every trace that runs through each eye
Runs through me and none will ever die,
Their life recorded in the I of i’s.
Twenty nine people sickened that week;
At first they blamed the sea mist,
Which, one dawn, crept over the houses
A mantle suffocating,
Leaving all those touched, they said,
Stilled, eyes open yet unseeing,
Death’s blank cloud burned into their sight.
Then the Healer, summoned by the Council,
Pronounced she’d traced the root, the source;
“The sea does not kill,” she said. “Its fruits feed.
But those that take what it gives,
Add their own malice’d spice, their spite,
They are Death’s Maidens, to him beholden,”
And she spun her staff of woven snakes,
On her fingertip it rose hissing,
Coiling, twisting, scenting, searching –
All, who sat circled, sensed its touch,
Recoiled, closed their cloaks upon themselves –
Straightened: the fisherman’s wife is accused;
She’s been seen seated on the rocks,
Singing to the beasts that rise from the black,
Profane verses, many say,
Forms lewd and lionising.
“She was calling me,” her husband protests.
I’m the mythical lover,
The centaur summoned by her songs.”
The Healer, silencing, continues:
“Spring’s celebratory broth she made
With water hemlock infused.
Lemon and lime hid the taste.
Those that ate died. This demon’s breed,
Opened to his touch, she must perish!”
“We all ate,” the husband cries. “Why are we alive?
This plague is God made. It is His will.”
None heed his words; there is justice to be played.
By their silence the woman is condemned,
The contagion born of their shaking hearts.
Twenty nine lashes she received;
Fainting planted into the earth,
Her eyelids peeled, facing the sea;
Screams drowned by the roiling tide,
Those watching grateful at the sin passed,
Mantras whispered to avert the Healer’s eye.
The sea spun songs race towards the shore,
The Moon’s circle wanes,
The Earth spins on.
Her skull whitens, is needled to dust,
Mixed with the grains from which she rose,
Received back into the I, the master of all i’s.
There is no i other then the I
Which looks out from within without
At the i which is the one I,
The I of all i’s, master of itself,
The root to which all i’s can be traced,
Their records tied to the beginning of this eye,
The beginning before the beginning of this beginning.