In these stanzas, our narrator, Mr. Sayeed, recalls the time he spent in a Turkmenistan prison, under a sentence of death — and eulogizes his mother’s love.
They Say Love Lost is Madness Found
‘Believe me, I’m not afraid to die!
I only fear the news arriving
to mother. For soon I was surviving
in jail on bread of wormy rye
and barley soup and pegs of whiskey;
and when my mother heard of this, she
sent the warden an urgent letter.
Her son, she wrote, is not like others.
“Barley gives him gas. It’s better
to feed him cabbage soup,” my mother
insisted. “And whole meal bread to keep
his bowels loose,” she wrote, “and when he sleeps
at night he likes to sniff a little
pillow moistened with his spittle.”’
‘O mother! My Empress Rose!’ Sayeed
exclaimed. ‘Our dreams each night are synched
together, or more like video-linked
— or more than that: A video-feed,
as palpable as when, years younger,
your founts of love assuaged my hunger.
What phone, what screen, what Microsoft
device as yet to be invented
could ever produce the soothing waft
of mustard seed and tangy, fermented
cheese that once my mother’s clothes
infused – and now, in dreams, my nose?’
For a moment, our orator stopped.
Then finding the story’s thread he’d dropped:
‘My mother, a widowed maid, and furrier,
and skilled equestrian, hearing the news
her only son was sentenced to lose
his life, was swept by such a fury, her
screams were even more fierce and tireless
than when that mother of Euryalus,
in Virgil’s song, was told her son
was fed to dogs. Or when Jocasta’s
abandoned son became the one
she married! O God! They say love lost is
madness found! This proverb fits
most aptly for mothers, isn’t it?