NIGHT OF THE SCORPION

I remember the night my mother

was stung by a scorpion. Ten hours

of steady rain had driven him

to crawl beneath a sack of rice.

Parting with his poison – flash

of diabolic tail in the dark room –

he risked the rain again.

The peasants came like swarms of flies

and buzzed the name of God a hundred times

to paralyse the Evil One.

With candles and with lanterns

throwing giant scorpion shadows

on the mud-baked walls

they searched for him: he was not found.

They clicked their tongues.

With every movement that the scorpion made

his poison moved in Mother’s blood, they said.

May he sit still, they said.

May the sins of your previous birth

be burned away tonight, they said.

May your suffering decrease

the misfortunes of your next birth, they said.

May the sum of all evil

balanced in this unreal world

against the sum of good

become diminished by your pain.

May the poison purify your flesh

of desire, and your spirit of ambition,

they said, and they sat around

on the floor with my mother in the centre,

the peace of understanding on each face.

More candles, more lanterns, more neighbours,

more insects, and the endless rain.

My mother twisted through and through,

groaning on a mat.

My father, sceptic, rationalist,

trying every curse and blessing,

powder, mixture, herb and hybrid.

He even poured a little paraffin

upon the bitten toe and put a match to it.

I watched the flame feeding on my mother.

I watched the holy man perform his rites

to tame the poison with an incantation.

After twenty hours

it lost its sting.

My mother only said

Thank God the scorpion picked on me

And spared my children.

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