1517 A lover’s grimoire

A Lover’s Grimoire
by Linda Quibell

Grimoire: a book of magic devised to invoke supernatural entities such as angels, deities or demons

*

The Plague

The first year of the plague we knew nothing
being neither doctors nor priests nor midwives
we did not know that eyes were infectious that mouths were a vector
and that once the heart was compromised a terrible end was inevitable

Copper engraving of Doctor Schnabel [Dr. Beak] (ca. 1656), a plague doctor in 17th-century Rome. From Johannes Ebert and others, Europas Sprung in die Neuzeit (2008) via Wikipedia

Our education progressed in minute increments
at the beginning the forfeitures were barely noticeable
first it was Ah, that’s sad, she fell, and so beautiful too
who’d have thought it would be someone we knew?
but after a few years we became inured to the losses
our hearts calcified we could not save them all
Yes, he’s gone now, that house has been abandoned
there’ll be someone else along shortly I expect <shrug>

Many fell forgotten on the field
all of them were precious in their ways
even the brutal and false and infirm

Under the siege of Love we formed and lived
and died with that terrible knowledge
it was a wonder that anything happened at all
that anyone attempted anything at all
how to begin when disaster is predestined
and failure is your due?

                                   *

1968

Roman’s eyes were green

the colour of the river bottom

every night

I sank

down

in

them

caught in the weeds shuddered

and drowned in the mud

That warm spring I’d wake as the sun hit our bed
you brought hot coffee when I groaned
a kiss now <dobré ráno láska> and the front door clicked
I jumped up ran to the window to watch you
cross the bridge on the way to Nemocnice Františku
give Saints Damian and Cosmas a high five <hey!>
those holy patrons of pandemics and surgeries
in those days we needed their armour against the contagion
that was coming from the East (we were so young
we thought we were immune) by August the streets
were filled with gas and tanks and I lost you
I lost you my love moje první láska
I looked for you everywhere
at the hospital they said that you had fallen and I wept

*

Thirty years later in a bar at Bloor and Bathurst
your green eyes are tragedy clagged with pain
you grimace at my shielding Tibetan Book of the Dead
and my prophylactic glass of single malt
you say if only you knew and take my hand
you’ve lived many lives your hands are very old
odd compliment—are you trying to get in my pants with that?
The ache of you is so attractive I find myself sinking
into that river bottom once again that voice is
doing it I’ll be right back I say I need to breathe
I head to the toilet to see if my eyes are turning
green with the wide contagious dolour of your grief

I return.

Ah, I did not think you would come back
good for you for being such a brave Canadian girl
invasion lost youth homesickness the past
make me lose all sense of the limits of my skin
I begin to seep into his stories then it’s late
and I do I do I give him my phone number god help me
days later I sit at home replaying the message over and over

It was him or me you understand
someone had to succumb to the plague
and I chose

I’m sorry.

                                   *

Azoth part 1

Azoth my lover was a mercurial fellow
sometimes I’d find him sitting on the front porch
in the shredded wicker armchair
playing with his zippo lighter like a top
I had my keys in hand grocery bag in hand and
he’d slide me to the worn floorboards
and thrust into me so smoothly it was like
a dance yes a dance I said it
nothing was forbidden everything was permitted
in those days before we learned the truth
days spent in sticky-sweet splendour in the shade
the hammock swinging in time with our caresses
stifling our cries on each others flesh
so the bitch of a landlord wouldn’t hear
we’d stay locked like that together until
the neighbours’ dinner preparations
wafted over us and then we would start to drink
(in those days alcohol wasn’t the disease it is today)

Leaving in the morning he carelessly smashed the clocks
every day I would gather count resmelt
the scraps scattered in around underneath the bed
but I had lost the previous night’s mould
and had to make do with whatever I could find
each reforging was weaker than the last

The nuclear transmutation took place later
instead of gold we ended up with lead
alchemy failed to save us once again.

                                 *

INTERLUDE: NECROLOGY OF PAST LOVERS in chronological order, or not

  • János, fond of Hershey’s Kisses and cunnilingus. Went down in a blazing zeppelin.
  • Samir, restaurateur from the Maghreb, prepared a magnificent sole for me. Knifed in an alley in the 13e by his wife’s cousin.
  • Gerald the Unlucky fell from a thirty foot ladder and broke his neck. I mourned for a decade
  • David, acquaintance of the Krays and pathological liar. Lost his life on a bet one day.
  • Douglas the Gentle. Disappeared into an abstract painting in my living room.
  • Curtis, the throwback. Suicide, but sent me birthday cards for years afterwards.
  • Barry the virgin-slayer, singer of odes. Crushed under radio silence.
  • Brian taught me things no woman should ever know, and for that I shot him.
  • Mike, union organiser and bookshelf builder. Is he dead? Maybe.
  • Paul, professional poet and professional asshole. His heart exploded.
  • Rob, who as a child was tied to a tree by his father. The humiliation never left him. Cirrhosis, then drowning.
  • Sweet Sam the Younger. At dusk we patrolled the streets of our village together, sharing cold noses. Poisoned for his samizdat poetry.

I loved not wisely, but too well

                                               *

Dente Canticum

It began and ended with a kiss
I fear you won’t understand what I’m trying to tell you
there are ghosts in mouths do you understand

What goes in?
Food wine tumescent flesh pills the occasional fly
pollution icicles dust bile chocolate

What comes out?
Invective puke sighs drool words of love
screams tooth fragments ejaculations of disbelief

I adored your mouth it was a squashy overripe plum
I always apologized for my mean strips of lips
but you kissed them nonetheless you loved to kiss
it was your chief talent I have to admit that and anger

One day you came home more different than you’d been
I was frightened when you began to talk of lions
in your sleep I thought you were reading my dreams
so I slept on the couch then you came and kissed me
in the dark your mouth was sharp as knives why?
slowly you became obdurate less tolerant of cats
and kindness and I realised that you had been infected
by the cadaver bone that was hidden within you.

                                             *

La Commedia

I loved the sky huge creamsicle scoops of clouds
the smell of wisteria on the air at dusk
at night we walked the Palatine through the cruising men
who glanced invitingly at you ignoring me we laughed
how could we not it was a joke this idyll
we were so incongruous each with the other
and each with our surroundings of marble and stone
new world pilgrims traversing the old
walking with Caesars and eating fries
imagining la dolce vita con amore e poesia

Firenze it was that divided us into warring camps
I carried your mother on my back up the Janiculum
Pulcinella was thrashing my legs all the while
urging me on to greater vigour
arriving at the top I panted exhausted
as I listened to Mum sing of your loves
then the blood-rawness of my throat fledged
into the canker awareness you were a stranger to me

I fell down down into the earth
my heart floated above my head like a drifting leaf
then dropped heavy upon me like lodestone
fatally drawn to my naïve leaden brain

Yes I escaped with my life.

                                  *

Azoth part 2

I invoked Azoth when desperation called
when the importuners closed in
and the symptoms became impossible to ignore
aching for transformation I bid him come
I conjured his oil-soaked seabird eyes
with offerings of burnt rum and hematite

Then I sailed to his shipwreck island as a salvager
carrying supplies panaceas correctives hope
things that might assuage the beast between us
sometimes he was there yet often not and
usually happy to see me but sometimes not
this time he was waiting for me on the beach

I was a reminder of the past you see and the image
of our young selves reflected in the glass
of that café was an unforgiveable rebuke
to the wild man of the island and his erstwhile consort

The final showdown happened yes I willed it
when I could least afford it but the need was dire
amputation is never a pretty solution
besides the blood and pain and tearing
it leaves one unbalanced
haunted by phantom appendages
but that’s how we were purified
I dragged our dissevered bits into the crucible
placed the lid stoked the flame
the heat did most of the work
hours later we were nothing but vapour.

                                *

Memento Mori

See this radioactive dust of Persia
watch it sift through my fingers into the bowl
this is the hourglass I made expressly
to calculate the years I spent trying to diagnose
how your diseased condition has changed me

For I am a different woman make no mistake
more wary sadder less trustful faster to judge people’s
sincerity and intentions which is regrettable to me
you paid such a high dividend to those who
thought like you dressed like you ate the same food
and I invested all I had in that market
(which wasn’t much but prohibitive nonetheless)

I’ll never rid myself of the inky shoals of shame
that wash over me at night when I recall
the acts I committed in thrall to your glamour
the acquaintances I poisoned at your behest
enemies I seduced with your borrowed vulpine smile

But I did not go blind like you I did not
your wings did not melt from flying too close
rather you stared foolishly at the divine light and
your retinas abraded to brittle scales
I shielded my eyes and resisted

You my bête noire can no longer read this
but I can write it.

                                *

Et In Arcadia Ego

“Don’t bite me”, I say. Says he, “I’ll bite you”.

Mr. Tuttle never called but listened intently
the landline hissed due to the proximity
of the transfer station outside my bedroom
Szeged (8,917 km) was far too far for satisfying
exchanges conversation was never enough
we relied on silence to communicate
handsets on table we ate together sparely speaking
broccoli and cheese—you?
brown bread butter and jellied beets
we took our phones to bed and once awake
words of balm awaited me
that was when the blessèd recovery began

For I had not even known I was blighted
your verses inoculated and healed me
they entered my bloodstream like curative venom
circulated and purged the leftover juices of old lovers
that were pooled in the heart-sac and tied up with jute string

But in the end the virus jumped the host
you were just too susceptible
and within a year you were gone

Soha nem ismertelek          I never knew you

I still have the scar on my breast where the fox bit me
I held him so tenderly yet he panicked
and jumped from my arms.

                                  *

The Lightening (sic)

The thrill and terror combined in me
as we lay on our backs in the loft
watching the flares through the window at our heads
the lightning storm was unlike anything I had ever seen
FLASH—<gasp>—SLAM!—just like that and it kept going
for at least an hour I was out of breath the whole time
screaming or laughing or crying

The chimney was metal the roof was metal and we
were on the mattress inches away from the sear
of hot aluminum your left hand swirling in my belly
dipping in sliding out so wet I wondered if rings are conductive
the potential for annihilation was giddying

I sickened to think of electrocuted squirrels
blasted owls deer driven mad by the fire in the air
and crashing into trees head-first
charged toads burrowing in the muck
and galvanizing slugs indiscriminately
juncoes suicidally throwing themselves off branches
into the mouths of berserking coyotes

Clearly nothing was safe

That was the year of heat and water and ice
The year of the plague.

                                  *

Survivor Guilt

One day I’ll weep for this. One of these days I’ll start to cry.

This book is an old one
see how its spine is cracked and
the pages are ragged creased and torn
from overuse or neglect or trauma
and foxing has blemished the paper
I lost the dust jacket years ago
who thought I’d still be needing it?

But it sits waiting with the others
in case I haven’t sufficiently learned my lesson
in case I need a gift for some grieving young friend
or perhaps I’ll lend it to a bedridden old friend
who will read it with a knowing laugh

It’s a book of ritual and remembrance
and like most things out of print
it’s either worthless or precious
depending on the appraiser’s perspective and interests
however the curiosity factor is high on this one
due to the inscription on the flyleaf:

All who fell will be remembered still
Their resurrection is in our power
Bearing witness is the least that we can do—

The name of the original owner has been scratched out.

*

Linda Quibell

Linda Quibell is an actor, singer, playwright, and theatre maker who lives in Vancouver and Seattle. Editor’s note: Linda Quibell has also contributed a pandemic letter, To Walter Benjamin, to The British Columbia Review.

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The British Columbia Review

Publisher and Editor: Richard Mackie

Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Cole Harris, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies.

“Only connect.” – E.M. Forster

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