Bhatt, Sujata

India, (b. 1956)

Allium Moly and Odysseus

  1. First, there was Moly:
  2. Black was the stem,
  3. milky-white the flowers
  4. of this strong smelling, divine herb
  5. that Hermes found in the grass
  6. for Odysseus.
  7.  
  8. Only the gods had access to Moly.
  9.  
  10. But there is no Moly in Nature.
  11.  
  12. Should you care to look
  13. you’ll find allium moly:
  14. a daylight-green stem
  15. with sparks of yellow flowers—
  16.  
  17. Imagine Odysseus with allium moly:
  18.  
  19. There he stood
  20. in the doorway
  21. clutching this yellow-flowered herb
  22. hidden within his garments.
  23.  
  24. His thumbnail digging in
  25. almost crushing the last of his yellow
  26. garlic—and Circe
  27. had a bad cold,
  28. she couldn’t smell a thing—
  29. not even the pigs around her.
  30.  
  31. There he stood:
  32. impatient Odysseus
  33. counting his days on the island,
  34. wondering how long
  35. his garlic-fed luck
  36. would last—how long
  37. a little bit of allium moly
  38. can fight magic
  39. with more magic.
  40. How long before Circe
  41. recovers the power
  42. of her nose—and finally realizes
  43. why her spells have failed—

© Sujata Bhatt. The Stinking Rose. Manchester: Carcanet Press, (1995).

Editor’s Note:

“The root was black, while the flower was as white as milk; the gods call it Moly, Dangerous for a mortal man to pluck from the soil, but not for the deathless gods. All lies within their power”.

— Butler’s Homer

In The Odyssey, Hermes gave Odysseus this magic herb moly to protect him against the charms and magic spells that the sorceress Circe would try to cast on him if he went to her home to rescue his friends and shipmates, all of whom Circe’s magic had turned into swine.

There has been much controversy, since Homer’s time (c. 8th century BC), as to the ‘identification’ of Moly. Many philosophers, historians and authors have considered the herb’s concept, existence and usefulness.

But probably the moly of Homer grew on no earthly hill or valley, but sprung from a stock immortal and the imagination of Homer, where it can only be found on Circe’s island.

Allium moly is the genus and species name of a real perennial plant also known as Golden Garlic or the Lily Leek. This plant is an edible bulb with a very mild garlic flavor. It is used as a medicinal and ornamental plant. Allium moly is primarily found in Spain and Southern France, but also grows wild in parts of northeastern North Americc. t offers no protection against the charms of Circe.

About the Poet

Sujata Bhatt (b. 1956) is an Indian poet and a native speaker of Gujarati. Bhatt was born in Ahmedabad in Gujarat, India, and brought up in the city of Pune in Maharashtra until 1968, when she emigrated to the United States with her family.

Bhatt has an MFA from the University of Iowa, and for a time was writer-in-residence at the University of Victoria, Canada. More recently she was a visiting fellow at Dickinson College, Pennsylvania. She currently works as a freelance writer and has translated Gujarati poetry into English for the Penguin Anthology of Contemporary Indian Women Poets.

Her poems have appeared in various journals in the United Kingdom, Ireland, the United States, and Canada, and have been widely anthologized. Many of her poems have love and violence as themes, and explore issues such as racism and the interaction between Asian, European, and North American culture. The subject matter of her poetry has ranged from political strife to eroticism. [Adapted from Wikipedia, DES-11/10]

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