by Attracta Fahy, Galway
The Old People Believed
to cut the horns off a black snail, would rid you
In the sixties folklore didn’t appeal to my palate.
Slugs taken from their natural habitat gave me
creeps, my skin crawled, stomach gagged, as boys
dared me to play with slimy creatures, worse
than any ache I couldn’t decide if I felt sympathy,
or disgust. Live, and let live became the motto
I used for divinity. This betrayed what my brothers
deemed to be brave. No fear of climbing trees, chasing
through graveyards at midnight, tying scarfs to headstones
just to prove – I wasn’t afraid.
I imagined the snail bleeding to death, his family cursing,
dooming me to a terrible fate, scared of not having peace,
I never complained of earache again.
I liked sugar, mindful not to eat much as I’d wished,
it caused worms. Imagining slithery organisms
inside my stomach was nauseating, the cure even worse,
to sit with a bowl of oatmeal, mother spinning charms
over your head, inviting these white squirmy, maggots
out of your mouth. I stopped eating sugar.
Rubbing a snail, it’s smear all over my finger to be rid
of a wart didn’t entreat me either. I was a martyr!
With five brothers– it wouldn’t look good to let down
your guard, scream. Being a girl, weakness enough.
I hid a glass coke bottle in the haggard – ‘keep it secret,’
my mother suggested, creating new folklore to relieve
the stress. My wart disappeared.
‘We don’t need to kill I explained,’ already enough
on our farm, lambs, pigs, chickens–
‘It’s normal, survival,’ my father explained,
‘but, it must be humane, that or starve.’
Only humans were safe, and I wasn’t so sure, still,
we had confessions. That’s how it was in the old days,
a cure for everything except fear, and remorse.
Repentance, or plenary indulgence didn’t remedy
for me. Earaches, and warts, were tolerable, guilt,
empathy for all life, can be an infliction.
Attracta’s poem is based on cures in the folklore collection:
cure for EARACHE: Get a black snail, cut off both horns with one cut instant cure.
cure for WARTS: Get a black snail without looking for it, rub it on warts three times, then hang on a white-thorn bush. As snail withers warts will disappear.