My mother the barefoot doctor


(originally titled: “My mother the witch-doctor”)

My mother rests against white silk embroidered cushions,
An empire’s passing gift,
And little eyes of mica dance the still confusion
Of a room adrift
In times and places and many cluttered travels, not her own,
Her own too far to tell,
And in amongst the dried bouquets and figurines and ancient stones
She stirs a pot of spells.

She stirs with soft intent and speaks the incantations:
Lavender for calm.
Camomile maroc and lemon oil to aid expectoration,
And pungent lemon balm.
Pure frankinsence for warding off delinquent spirits,
Ivy, mint and sage
For fortifying lungs and clearing minds and subtle other merits,
And rose to calm the rage.

And drops of devil’s claw to guard against malign reactions
And arnica for hurt
Potassium and phosphorus to kill the mind’s infections
And make to fear inert.
Dried nettle leaves to make the blood immune and juices flow,
Replenish spirits spent;
And aesculus to aid the birth and help the baby grow
And words for heart’s lament.

She adds them drop by drop, reciting from the ancient books,
And breathes into the potion
Her long collected breath and unspent promises of gods and crooks
And her unspent emotions
And all those things she stored and gathered for so many whiles.
And when the sacrifice is done –
She will distill the potion into darkened phials
And send them to her sons.

So they can hold account for all the promises to her denied,
Embrace what lies in store,
And anchor down that room, adrift too long and far, beside
Some still forgiving shore.

– o –


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