The Eye as Metaphor
I rarely have difficulty falling asleep, but that night I didn’t sleep at all. Metaphors and images skittered across the screen of my consciousness, keeping me alert and wakeful—one of the blessings and curses of being a poet. It’s not that I didn’t pray that night—I did—more fiercely than I ever had in my life. But when you are a poet, or any type of writer, I imagine, literary allusions and metaphors supplement your prayers. I hope that doesn’t make me sound pretentious; it’s just the way I’ve always dealt with confusing issues in my life. Don’t understand something? Try to break it down into a poem. Oh yes, and pray.
Here’s an example of what was happening to me that night. My stream-of-consciousness thoughts ran to a poem I’d published years earlier in the literary journal FIELD: Contemporary Poetry and Poetics. (It was the Fall 1991 issue, Number 45, for those who wish to dig deeper.) Called “Correlatives of Pain,” it’s a long poem that weaves aspects of Catholicism into scenes from my childhood. Populated by saints and angels, it featured a mystical woman named Lucia, who stood in for real-life Lucy, a neighbor of my Sicilian grandmother’s, who performed what I referred to as “an inverted baptism” on me when I was a little girl suffering from headaches.
In actuality, Lucy was famous in that Lorain, Ohio, neighborhood for her ability to cast out the evil eye, or what Sicilians call malocchio.
Here’s that section of the poem:
The winds of Sicily in her throat, Lucia begins to pray
for me in Grandmother’s green kitchen.
I’m nine, with a headache, being checked for the malocchio.
Lucia performs an inverted baptism,
a shallow bowl of water in her lap.
The trick is to form an unwavering eye of oil.
She carefully adds a drop,
then another, and another …
they disperse wildly, will not bind in an eye.
The family holds hands, their voices bound in prayer.
And all this time I’m standing before the bowl,
prayers floating around my head, legs aching.
I’m praying for the whole eye.
It’s what I’m told to do. When I look up,
my parents smile down at an oily eye,
like the dead round eye of a fish.
Applause. And Grandmother to Lucia:
Have a canoli, have a cup-a coffee.
My head still pounds, but I am proud.
Such a good girl. Good girl. Good girl!
There’s laughter in the kitchen now,
a cold wave I catch, rocking
back and forth on the porch,
fingering the scapular around my neck.
Make sure she keep some garlic on her,
Lucia says, leaving the house,
making the sign of the cross, trailing water.
Lucia will be a saint someday, I whisper.
Excerpt from “Correlatives of Pain” by Mari-Marcelle Janas. FIELD, Number 45 Copyright © 1991 by Oberlin College Press.
Other allusions surfaced as well. I noted them in a journal I’d starting keeping during this period. The great, blind giants of the literary canon—Homer, Milton, Jorge Luis Borges, Goethe’s Faust—for what did eye cancer lead to if not blindness? That was my soon-to-be new reality, I was convinced. Despite my prayers, despite reaching for the comfort of metaphor, I was already preparing myself for the fact that I could very likely go blind.
Morning came. It was time to get ready for the drive to the Clinic for my surgery, when sleep, at least, would come.
To be continued …
© 2012 Marci Rich
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