Night of the Scorpion

I remember the night my mother
was stung by a scorpion. Ten hours
of steady rain had driven him
to crawl beneath a sack of rice.
Parting with his poison – flash
of diabolic tail in the dark room –
he risked the rain again.
The peasants came like swarms of flies
and buzzed the name of God a hundred times
to paralyse the Evil One.
With candles and with lanterns
throwing giant scorpion shadows
on the mud-baked walls
they searched for him: he was not found.
They clicked their tongues.
With every movement that the scorpion made
his poison moved in Mother’s blood, they said.
May he sit still, they said.
May the sins of your previous birth
be burned away tonight, they said.
May your suffering decrease
the misfortunes of your next birth, they said.
May the sum of all evil
balanced in this unreal world
against the sum of good
become diminished by your pain.
May the poison purify your flesh
of desire, and your spirit of ambition,
they said, and they sat around
on the floor with my mother in the centre,
the peace of understanding on each face.
More candles, more lanterns, more neighbours,
more insects, and the endless rain.
My mother twisted through and through,
groaning on a mat.
My father, sceptic, rationalist,
trying every curse and blessing,
powder, mixture, herb and hybrid.
He even poured a little paraffin
upon the bitten toe and put a match to it.
I watched the flame feeding on my mother.
I watched the holy man perform his rites
to tame the poison with an incantation.
After twenty hours
it lost its sting.
My mother only said
Thank God the scorpion picked on me
And spared my children.

Nissim Ezekiel

This has to be one of my absolute favorite poems. I learnt this poem when I was in 8th grade, and it has always struck me for it’s simplicity and its ease of use. The imagery is brilliant. (“flash
of diabolic tail in the dark room? AWE.”) The poem has two recurring themes, and neither has to do with the scorpion. The first has to deal with the superstitions followed by the villagers. Instead of helping her, they rationalize the very essence of her existence, and do nothing. (“and they sat around
on the floor with my mother in the centre,
the peace of understanding on each face.”)

They search around like maniacs for the escaping scorpion, believing that his every move affects the mother.

The second is not a theme, it is three lines. The mother’s love for her children is seen in the last three lines,

(“My mother only said                                                                                                              Thank God the scorpion picked on me                                                                             And spared my children.”)

The mother’s love for her children is brilliantly seen in those lines. Some people believe that the mother actually dies, and says the last few words when she was in heaven. I dunno, I only like to appreciate its brilliance every-time I read it.

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