from Medulla (Ill Meat): A Translingual Erasure

Annick MacAskill

Annick MacAskill is a poet and translator who lives in Halifax. Her poems have appeared in journals and anthologies across Canada and abroad, with recent publications in Best Canadian Poetry, Canthius, The Stinging Fly, Plenitude, Prism, and Arc. Her debut collection, No Meeting Without Body (Gaspereau Press, 2018), was longlisted for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award and shortlisted for the J.M. Abraham Poetry Award. Her second collection will be published by Gaspereau in the spring of 2020.

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"One Saturday afternoon, while pacing my apartment, I ran over, for the umpteenth time, two of my favourite lines by Catullus: 'Ille mi par esse deo videtur / Ille, si fas est, superare deos.' These lines open Catullus 51, itself a translation of Sappho 31. Both are sublime poems that speak of a lover’s envy for their beloved’s beau. My brain, clearly tired of entertaining these lines literally, came up with an erasure for them on the spot: Ill… m… e… a… t. Ill meat, I thought. What a great metaphor for a love gone wrong. I later added the Latin noun medulla (‘marrow’) to the title.

     "Medulla (Ill Meat) is an erasure and an imitation (neither a translation nor a paraphrase): I use Catullus’s poems in the original Latin to compose new poems in English that re-tell Catullus’s love affair with a woman he calls “Lesbia” (the name thought to be an homage to Sappho, the poet from Lesbos). Section I contains 25 poems in Catullus’s voice. Section II contains 25 poems in Lesbia’s (or Clodia’s) voice, each of which was written using the same material as the corresponding poem from the first section (e.g., and erase the same lines from Catullus but do so differently).

     "Given the constraints of the Latin alphabet, I allowed certain phonetically and typographically informed substitutions and additions of letters (e.g., Latin I can function as English Y, the letter Y not being part of the Latin alphabet alphabet). These substitutions and additions are italicized."

          I. vii.

     Love     rose victorious

                   candid in his mother’s marrow

                   ate her wiles     simple tantrums,

                   met age in his teeth     never man –

     we trust the small.

     Now he             dives in our breasts

                                 stakes claim on our neurons     noradrenaline.

     Our flesh           twisted

                   hunger              bit rot bone.

          I. viii.

     Transparent, the

     morning           I in your room.


     You dry your little nose

     eyes turgid.


     Your puppy’s dead      silly pup

                    or I don’t care –

                                  but wait:


     I’ll bury the suburban pet,

     press its snout into mine

     so I taste your tears.

     Now pluck your corpse up while I nest.

[ . . . ]

          II. vi.

     You ask me if he’s striking, as if looks

                    were your problem.

     It’s true: my love’s handsome like the men

                    on the evening

     tv screen, makes Adonis and Idris


     My fellow is as true as the luminescent moon,

                    as gentle –

          II. vii.

     Like the marrow in my bones

                                   I take my love everywhere


                                   I keep him under my tongue

                                   an offering.


     Unbenevolent                I deny him to all others

                                                I salt away         our devotion


     these hours made to run

                                   elegant             to endure.


[ . . . ]

          II. xvii.

     Trastevere, its streets not yet overrun

                    with pilgrims.

     I could hear his breathing like it was

                    Rome’s only

     radio station, music of his lungs’

                    devout rendering.

     I could see the universe down the jet

                    of his throat,

     where little birds sang the catechism

                    we would write.

     O, Beau, no air more true,

                    or pure –

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