Home > Poetry > Misunderstood
Published: Thu Jul 1 2004
Eva Lundsager, Were now like (detail), 2021, oil on canvas

The literature abounds
in accounts of unfortunates
who have heard their intractable internal
afflictions dismissed
as fancy or worse.
_                                     _A shoemaker’s
“agonizing chewing in the gut”
was pooh-poohed by his wife, who had always held him
for a shirker. The doctor
prescribed a course of tonics, to scant effect.
_                                                                                             _ The parson
was persuaded he was “troubled by a secret sin”
since he confessed
he had lately been subject
to certain strange and unappeasable
appetites. And when
_                                           _two neighbor children
reported they had seen him through a crack
in his henhouse wall
bolting a dozen eggs, shells and all,
word of demons
flew about the town.
_                                           _The sufferer,
doubled over in incessant
pain, incapable
of work or sleep, weakened, shunned, ashamed
of what even he by then half believed
to be only his own
_                                       _ imaginings,
eventually lost
his wits in earnest, smashed his lasts,
set his shop aflame,
and in full view of the village, turned his awl on
himself and expired.
_                                           _The reader
may readily conceive
of the horror of the widow at the wake
when the final ceremonial
raising of the casket
lid disclosed
_                           _a living snake
“as thick as a man’s wrist, and twice as long
as his arm, almost,” at rest
on her husband’s breast. His cooled
flesh having become
_                           _ the creature
had (it was assumed)
achieved its belated egress through the puncture wound,
and was now clearly witnessed
by the congregation, lying tightly coiled,
and motionless
_                                _save for its tongue.

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