Medulla (Ill Meat): A Translingual Erasure


Annick MacAskill

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., and 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.


     Transparent, the
     morning            I in your room.

     You dry your little nose
     eyes turgid.

     Your puppy’s dead      silly pup
                    or I don’t care –

                                     but wait:

     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
                                 an offering.

     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

                     with pilgrims.

     I could hear his breathing like it was
                     Rome’s only

     radio station, music of his lungs’
                     devout rendering.

     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 –

Subscribe to our newsletter

for updates on long con magazine & Collusion Books, including new issues, workshops, and submission calls.

We’ll email you less than once per month.

Why are we asking you to subscribe?

Over the past three years, we’ve relied on social media to spread the word about long con & Collusion Books—but as corporate social media become increasingly extractive and unreliable, we’d prefer to keep in touch with you directly.