Sunday, July 13, 2008

Night of the Scorpion - by Nissim Ezekiel

NIGHT OF THE SCORPION
- by Nissim Ezekiel

I remember the night my mother
was stung by a scorpion. Ten hours
of study 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 paralyze the Evil One.

With candles and with lanterns
throwing giant scorpion shadows
on the sun-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 births
be burned away tonight, they said.

May your suffering decrease
the misfortunes of your next birth, they said.
May the sum of evil
balanced in this unreal world
against sum of good
become diminished by your pain,they said.
May the poison purify your flesh
of desire, and spirit of your 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.

1 comment:

Anitha said...

i totally love this poem.. its beautiful..