Gathering dust on the wall of my hideaway writing room I came across a fragment of a Caravaggio painting of the head of Medusa. Underneath this was a short-line piece I wrote more than a decade ago. In reading it again I was shot through with the pain I felt as a fifteen year old schoolgirl being bawled at an bullied by boys in my school, who nicknamed me Medusa because of my wild uncombed mop of hair.
I can understand now that writing this painful piece brought some kind of delayed resolution. But even today I can see from these lines that the scars of the hurt are still there.
Bullying, Medusa and a Lesson in Classics.
In our classics lesson we learn that
Μέδουσα means guardian, protectress –
a child of strange parents. People saw her
as a monster with living,
writhing snakes for a top-knot.
The boys turn their gaze on me. One says
‘Just take a look at that lass, mate
And turn to stone. That Perseus guy -
didn’t he take her head for a weapon?
Didn’t he give it to the wise Athena –
To decorate her shield?’
His words freeze my face. Another boy says
‘What’s wrong with you, lass?Got your
jam-rags on?’ Fear fuelled by the words
of these clever sons of pitmen
crawls through my veins like fifty snakes -
lying there for some years, writhing.
These boys win high marks for their classics homework -
their pages shimmer with the spirit of Perseus and his mates
as they kept a weather eye out for red ribbons
on the spiked horizon, wary of being waylaid
by the sweet songs of sirens, only to find themselves
shipwrecked through enchantment.
As the years roll on our lives change
and we take our true places in a changed world.
I begin to think that, to call me Medusa,
perhaps these lads feared my tangled Afro hair
Perhaps they felt an ancient fear
at meeting my agonised, stony gaze
across the classroom..