To The Lions
I am born from my mother's milk
It has always tasted of fear
And rung alarm bells at the teat
She tells me that in order to be safe
I must always feel unsafe
These savannah grasslands are like my eyes
Open and wide and green with envy
At your power, great lions!
They say you have a golden coat, an auburn mane
Though I always see it soaked in red blood, I don't know why
Gazelles, zebra foals, wilder beasts
Pass on their heartbeats to me
When they fall prey to your prowess
I see the air churn sickeningly
Like a mad man's mind, whenever you are around
Mother says it's not your fault that you kill
Hunger is nothing if not motivating
If leaves could talk, wouldn't they admonish us for devouring them?
Yet, even if it's natural and ok for you to hunt
I can't help but wonder about love
Where does love go when lives are suddenly extinguished
When mothers lament the cruelty of loss
And children anguish over missing parents
When tears are unstoppable and milk lies wasted in the udders,
Is that why the air feels moist? Is that when new shoots come to life
On mangled, rootless tree barks?
Many years ago, it is written, a dictatorial leader of the church sponsored a massacre that reverberated through the mountains to which the city clung. Some say that the city's walls have never been fully cleansed of the blood.
In fitting with the secretive ginnels that lay below the city's sheen, the politics, legal system and the upper reaches of its social classes covered a complex system of brotherhoods and secret pacts. It was a world that those who were not part of would not believe existed. Is this not true of the best of fairy stories and folk tales?
The night it happened, there was rain such as had never been seen. Wind blew as if it would tear apart the very walls of the city. Shards of water fell so fast and hard that they shattered the pavements. Rain mingled with the unforgiving filth of the streets: cigarette ends oozing into shit filled puddles. The night it happened, more than one child hid beneath its blanket, terrified that the howling monster without would break through the windows.
A murder so vicious and unprovoked that the good citizens tried not to speak of it, in case putting words to the story might bring its awful truth to their own door step.
They arrested the witch of course: a young woman who lived in the darker part of the city. She moved only at night and those who saw her said that her large eyes flashed dangerously, that her beauty hid a soul full of debauched evil. It was known too that she consorted with the lowly, they who knew only chemical happiness, who lived in the most neglected quarter. The gossips whispered that they provided her with spells and potions so that she could weave her magic across all who met her.
Some people swore they had seen her transform into a cat and this was the reason for her feline allures and her ability to spit and hiss when backed into a corner. Others said she had a black crow that followed her around as her familiar, to whisper black magic in her ear and to pick over the carcasses of her enemies.
Rumours attached themselves to the witch like leaves blown against a wall. But rumours are not so insubstantial and hold fast to their subject, clinging and moulding themselves to its shape. She wore the rumours like masks, shooting her directive glances through the shield and the whispers followed her, 'Witch! Whore! She Devil!'
She was guilty of the crime before tried; guilty of this and many other contortions of human nature. Pictures of her circulated around the city, those in which she shot her most wicked looks and gazed far more lasciviously from under lengthened eye-lashes than a young woman of any good character ought.
When she herself spoke of the crime, her eyes filled with tears one day and the next, the sound of her laughter rang around the city walls. It was the shriek of an evil banshee and the hysterical sound of a creature hunted and backed into a corner.
Yet others saw not a witch, but an angel: an young woman innocent of al that was levelled against her. 'Bambino' they called her, 'Angel face', falling into a fixation with her beauty.
Guilty though, pronounced the court of the city. Guilty of this crime and all other crimes besides.
'Witch, witch, killer, she-devil!' the voices pounded insistently.
'I am not who they say I am. I am not that person,' she insisted, rocking to her knees, 'I am not who they say I am.'
The people talked of little but the witch, 'her eyes said it all' they agreed, although most had not seen her in person. Her beauty bespoke a soul sold to the devil.
Witches are not unusual in folk tales, you are thinking. But what is unusual about this one was both her age and her denial. Not the old woman on the edge of the village. No dalliance with herbology and natural medicines. Our witch was the Ann Boleyn: scheming, manipulative, full to the brim of wiles to get her way. Beautiful, manipulated, used.
For a mediaeval crime, for witchcraft and murder, an old punishment. As she was thrown to the lions, the watching people whispered in delight, 'Six fingers on one hand! Her tongue is forked! Look! Look!'