I made her a bed with cushions and throws
but she refused and slept in my bones.
My skin, too tight for both my sighs and hers
so she filled it with rot, making it home.

—Al-Mutanabbi, d. 965 CE

She loves me till my body fades away.
Kissing-with-fever paints my veins in smoke.
My sickness is a mistress come to stay.

Today are wind-dried stalks like copper hay;
yesterday all the leaves were on the oak.
She loves me till my body fades away.

Caressing me with sweats, she starts to flay,
then stabs with final poison, like a joke.
My sickness is a mistress come to stay.

Now I, her wasted victim—zealous prey,
see-through with lust, I faintly start to choke.
She loves me till my body fades away,

then beds me with her fester-rot-decay,
covering skin and bone just like a cloak.
My sickness is a mistress come to stay.

Yet I do feel worse when she doesn’t stay
and takes from me her kindly fatal stroke.
Please, love me till my body fades away.
O sickness, be my mistress. Come to stay.



Kevin Blankinship is a professor of Arabic at Brigham Young University. His essays and poetry have appeared in The Atlantic, The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement, The Millions, Gingerbread House, Blue Unicorn, and more. Follow him on Twitter @AmericanMaghreb.

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5 Responses

  1. Mike Bryant

    This is a very well crafted villanelle. This unusual conceit reminds me of my mother-in-law who has been enjoying a succession of illnesses her entire life. In fact, we joke that her tombstone will read, “I told you I was sick!”

    • Jeff Eardley

      Mike, the famous quote “I told you I was ill” comes from the gravestone of English comedian Spike Milligan. I think he had the last laugh as it is inscribed in Gaelic.

  2. Sally Cook

    Speaking as one who can hear color, this well made poem is a striking example of personification. Congratulations !

  3. Margaret Coats

    Well-executed, if I dare say so! An excellent array of different images to paint the picture, including those three-word hyphenations, “kissing-with-fever” and “fester-rot-decay.” I tripped over the rhythm in line 16, and think it might be better stressing both “feel” and “worse,” as in “Yet worse I feel when she cuts short her stay.” Other than that, it reads quite smoothly, effectively leading up to the stopping-rhythm of two separate sentences in the final line.


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