Monster

Lesley Saunders

monstrum: any occurrence out of the ordinary course of nature supposed to indicate the will of the gods, a marvel.

These back streets are an oven, I’m sweating like a fountain –
my master uses me on market days to tell fortunes.
I could tell yours, little pretty one, easy as winking –
look in the mirror, there’s a dainty face floating
above all those pots of kohl and cloves and otto of roses,
you look pleased with yourself and your daring marriage
(bales of shantung silks, tea crates, wickers of limes,
Indian tamarinds candied in jars all piling up on the quay
as we talk, your husband gulping iced sherbet,
shouting for a scented towel to mop his forehead, suddenly
daydreaming of his unborn black-eyed son). Oh and here’s me
peering over your shoulder, hollow-cheeked and hang-jawed,
ugly as sin you’ll tell your maid and my eyes are pale
like the devil’s. My mother wept when I was born. A female
as monstrous as me is a mirror of the world’s soul
says my master the philosopher – people see themselves
in me more truly than before, like puppets in the cosmic Eye.
Meanwhile he measures my pox-pitted skull, siphons my fluids,
calibrates the webs between my fingers, scribbles in a book he locks away.
I tell him stories, things I’ve heard. Not all your children
will take after your husband, they say. Unburden your troubles
little sister, all your pricking secrets – we’re the same age
though my skin’s as dry as a currant. I must earn my keep
and from now on you’ve to buy those nights of dreamless sleep.