A Visitation

A Visitation.

In 17th century Naples, the poison Aqua Tofana (consisting of arsenic, lead and belladonna) became a popular means of disposing of unwanted and abusive husbands. So sought after was it, it was also known as ‘the Manna of St Nicholas’.

When I returned she was already talking
syllables piling up and indecipherable,
like some forgotten language,
talking in tongues
in the car parked under the stone golems
and ruptured sewers of Foyle Street.
I calmed her down, take a breath
and followed her mime
to the back of the Guildhall
by the fountain that had run dry,
across the river from where the helicopters land.

A minute later I found
my two friends circling and shouting,
without explanation,
and in the half-circle
a skinhead, much older, eyes bulging
out of his fuckin’ head,
veins like knotted rope in his neck.
A girl beside him, her face
already swollen, venal,
beaten senseless but standing.

We edged forwards and backwards
approaching him,
like volunteers at a sideshow
brought up to prod the tiger,
prove the guillotine was real,
threats, pleas, bargains,
all were dust,
as he roared himself further
and further into hysteria
and the sudden remembrance
that we were mere boys
stirred, that we knew little
of the workings of the world,
that we should turn and walk away
but could not.

What snapped us out of the deadlock
was not rushing him
and the inevitable injuries,
nor even his psychotic rage,
but her cry
hurling insults at us
least of all, to mind
our own fuckin’ business
and the palpable
shock it instilled in our bones,
the unexpected recoil,
the feeling that nothing
made sense anymore,
if it ever had.

A taxi pulled up on cue
and took them
and we signalled for it to stop,
cursed the driver for turning
a blind eye, took
the registration number
knowing there’s no-one we could
conceivably call
and knowing, without saying,
that we’d probably
just made it worse for her.

It gets you thinking
that the devil is not just
here among us,
but is in us,
in the moment of hesitation,
in the moment when the blood boils
or fails to,
in the moment of walking away
and just carrying on,
he’s here now
and god
is the greatest trick
he ever played on us.

So we got drunk,
we got drunk
but our hearts were not in it.
I went home after that,
the important thing was to forget.

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