The Old People Believed

with No Comments

by Attracta Fahy, Galway


The Old People Believed

to cut the horns off a black snail, would rid you

of earache.

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.