Medulla (Ill Meat): A Translingual Erasure
Annick MacAskill is a poet and translator who lives in Halifax. Her poems have appeared in journals and anthologies across Canada and abroad, with recent publications in Best Canadian Poetry, Canthius, The Stinging Fly, Plenitude, Prism, and Arc. Her debut collection, No Meeting Without Body (Gaspereau Press, 2018), was longlisted for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award and shortlisted for the J.M. Abraham Poetry Award. Her second collection will be published by Gaspereau in the spring of 2020.
“One Saturday afternoon, while pacing my apartment, I ran over, for the umpteenth time, two of my favourite lines by Catullus: ‘Ille mi par esse deo videtur / Ille, si fas est, superare deos.’ These lines open Catullus 51, itself a translation of Sappho 31. Both are sublime poems that speak of a lover’s envy for their beloved’s beau. My brain, clearly tired of entertaining these lines literally, came up with an erasure for them on the spot: Ill… m… e… a… t. Ill meat, I thought. What a great metaphor for a love gone wrong. I later added the Latin noun medulla (‘marrow’) to the title.
Medulla (Ill Meat) is an erasure and an imitation (neither a translation nor a paraphrase): I use Catullus’s poems in the original Latin to compose new poems in English that re-tell Catullus’s love affair with a woman he calls “Lesbia” (the name thought to be an homage to Sappho, the poet from Lesbos). Section I contains 25 poems in Catullus’s voice. Section II contains 25 poems in Lesbia’s (or Clodia’s) voice, each of which was written using the same material as the corresponding poem from the first section (e.g., I.vi and II.vi erase the same lines from Catullus but do so differently).
Given the constraints of the Latin alphabet, I allowed certain typographically and phonetically informed substitutions and additions of letters (e.g., Latin I can function as English Y, the letter Y not being part of the Latin alphabet alphabet). These substitutions and additions are italicized.”
Love rose victorious
candid in his mother’s marrow
ate her wiles simple tantrums,
met age in his teeth never man –
we trust the small.
Now he dives in our breasts
stakes claim on our neurons noradrenaline.
Our flesh twisted
hunger bit rot bone.
morning I in your room.
You dry your little nose
Your puppy’s dead silly pup
or I don’t care –
I’ll bury the suburban pet,
press its snout into mine
so I taste your tears.
Now pluck your corpse up while I nest.
[ . . . ]
You ask me if he’s striking, as if looks
were your problem.
It’s true: my love’s handsome like the men
on the evening
tv screen, makes Adonis and Idris
My fellow is as true as the luminescent moon,
as gentle –
Like the marrow in my bones
I take my love everywhere
I keep him under my tongue
Unbenevolent I deny him to all others
I salt away our devotion
these hours made to run
elegant to endure.
[ . . . ]
Trastevere, its streets not yet overrun
I could hear his breathing like it was
radio station, music of his lungs’
I could see the universe down the jet
of his throat,
where little birds sang the catechism
we would write.
O, Beau, no air more true,
or pure –