"Heart's blood"

"Variant"

Annick MacAskill

Annick MacAskill is the author of two poetry collections, No Meeting Without Body (Gaspereau, 2018), nominated for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award and shortlisted for the JM Abraham Poetry Award, and Murmurations (Gaspereau, 2020). Her poems have appeared in journals and anthologies across Canada and abroad, including The Stinging Fly, Versal, Arc, The Fiddlehead, Room, Canthius, Plenitude, and Best Canadian Poetry 2019. A member of Room Magazine’s editorial collective, she lives in Kjipuktuk (Halifax) on the traditional and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq.

“These pieces are from a full-length poetry manuscript that explores miscarriage and disenfranchised grief from a feminist perspective and through re-writings of ancient myths, primarily as related in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. ‘Heart’s blood’ takes as its inspiration the story of the death of Ajax, whose blood is said, in Ovid, to have turned into a flower. From this story, I imagine a sort of memorial site that would be frequented by women grieving infertility and pregnancy loss. The second poem, ‘Variant,’ considers the transformation of the grieving and furious Hecuba into a snarling dog.”
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“expulit ipse cruor, rubefactaque sanguine tellus
purpureum viridi genuit de caespite florem,
qui prius Oebalio fuerat de vulnere natus”
—Ovid, Metamorphoses, XIII. 394-96

“the blood itself expelled it, and the earth, red with blood,
bore a purple flower in the green grassy field,
like that which had first appeared from the wound of the Spartan”
(my translation)

   Where a hero’s purple blood spilled out, I stand.
               Mothers abandoned too early visit,

   place flat rocks over my roots. Shed cold tears on my petals—
               the gods have moved away from them.

   They no longer understand their bodies,
               which once held purpose in pleasure & work.

   I grow & wilt & am reborn
               while the pregnancy tests remain stacked

   in bright boxes along the back
               of gleaming medicine cabinets. The women

   will not throw them out
               or pass them to friends. They don’t know what to do

   with the baby blankets, little socks, hats. Sometimes
               they leave them before me, stroking

   the modal-cotton fabrications while muttering
               the warrior’s mother’s name. Grey stone barrenness

   they greet within themselves
               like an old frenemy. The acknowledgement

   is temporary. How ridiculous they are! their
               dark clothes, vacant shoebox

   tombs & gifts to the shadows of children
               they know to be lost; painting the walls

   of online forums with trite epithets—angel
               babies only the most pathetic among them.

   When they cease to beg the goddesses,
               they know the sin is in their wanting.

“at haec missum rauco cum murmure saxum
morsibus insequitur rictuque in verba parato
latravit, conata loqui: locus exstat et ex re
nomen habet, veterumque diu memor illa malorum
tum quoque Sithonios ululavit maesta per agros”
—Ovid, Metamorphoses, XIII. 567-71

“but she chased after the stones thrown at her, growling and baring her teeth,
and, preparing her jaw for words, trying to speak,
she barked. That place still exists and from that event
takes its name, and she, remembering the painful event, is
mournful, and still moans through the Sithonian fields”
(my translation)

   It’s about the stupidity of our sorrow, its fucking
               recipe: pulling out hair, beating our chests, turning our gazes

   to sky; stretching red mouths like new wounds
               to flaunt a loss that goes otherwise unmarked

   in our bodies; screaming to shame the gods,
               as if they’d think to look down.

   But how else to measure epics? One woman’s face
               to launch a thousand ships, another’s

   to welcome the bodies home. & when devoid of witness,
               our suffering turns to rage. What is left

   when what defines us falls away? In some, calls fade to silence,
               grief stilling us to stone, in others,

   they crest to howls, domestic & unknowable
               as a dog’s. Or so the poets say.

   But there you have it: when I forget the woman’s name,
               I still remember

   her endless ancient longing, & the metaphor
               she became—a beast abandoned on the shore,

   talons caught in damp sand, her moans louder
               than a taut barrel chest should convey—

   chin on paws, amber eyes tearblinking, & a
               flat, wet nose invaded by blood

   & the blue salt of wanting.

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