"Magdelene—The Seven Devils" by Marie Howe

"Magdelene—The Seven Devils" by Marie Howe


"Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven devils had been cast out" —Luke 8:2.

The first was that I was very busy.

The second — I was different from you: whatever happened to you could
not happen to me, not like that.

The third — I worried.

The fourth — envy, disguised as compassion.

The fifth was that I refused to consider the quality of life of the aphid,

The aphid disgusted me. But I couldn't stop thinking about it.

The mosquito too — its face. And the ant — its bifurcated body.

Ok the first was that I was so busy.

The second that I might make the wrong choice,

because I had decided to take that plane that day,

that flight, before noon, so as to arrive early

and, I shouldn't have wanted that.

The third was that if I walked past the certain place on the street

the house would blow up.

The fourth was that I was made of guts and blood with a thin layer

of skin lightly thrown over the whole thing.

The fifth was that the dead seemed more alive to me than the living

The sixth — if I touched my right arm I had to touch my left arm, and if I

touched the left arm a little harder than I'd first touched the right then I

had

to retouch the left and then touch the right again so it would be even.

The seventh — I knew I was breathing the expelled breath of everything that

was alive and I couldn't stand it,

I wanted a sieve, a mask, a, I hate this word — cheesecloth —

to breath through that would trap it — whatever was inside everyone else that

entered me when I breathed in

No. That was the first one.

The second was that I was so busy. I had no time. How had this happened?

How had our lives gotten like this?

The third was that I couldn't eat food if I really saw it — distinct, separate

from me in a bowl or on a plate.

Ok. The first was that I could never get to the end of the list.

The second was that the laundry was never finally done.

The third was that no one knew me, although they thought they did.

And that if people thought of me as little as I thought of them then what was

love?

The fourth was I didn't belong to anyone. I wouldn't allow myself to belong

to anyone.

The fifth was that I knew none of us could ever know what we didn't know.

The sixth was that I projected onto others what I myself was feeling.

The seventh was the way my mother looked when she was dying—her mouth wrenched into an O so as to take in as much air…
The sound she made — the gurgling sound — so loud we had to speak louder 
to hear each other over it.

And that I couldn't stop hearing it—years later—

grocery shopping, crossing the street —

No, not the sound — it was her body's hunger

finally evident.
—what our mother had hidden all her life.

For months I dreamt of knucklebones and roots,

the slabs of sidewalk pushed up like crooked teeth by what grew underneath.

The underneath —that was the first devil.
It was always with me.

And that I didn't think you — if I told you — would understand any of this —

Copyright © 2008 by Marie Howe. Used with the permission of the author.

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is the State Poet of New York and teaches writing at Sarah Lawrence College. She’s published three collections of poetry: What the Living Do, The Good Thief, and The Kingdom of Ordinary Time.