Jason Schneiderman
Blood Libel

“My throte is kut unto my nekke boon,”

Seyde this child, “and as by wey of kynde

I sholde have dyed, ye, longe tyme agon.”

            -Chaucer, The Prioress’s Tale, 1399


Drynke ye alle herof; this is my blood of the newe testament,

which schal be sched for many, in to remissioun of synnes

            -Matthew 26:28, The Wycliffe Bible, 1395


For roughly three years in our brand new century,

at a business called Ambrosia (the food of the gods

or a marshmallow salad depending on whom you ask),

older people feeling sluggish could be infused

with the blood of young people, for the low, low price

of eight thousand dollars a liter. There was one center

in Florida, one in California, and as you might expect,

one more to open in New York, before the FDA

shut them down. Shortly after the first syringe was invented,

in 1659, the first blood transfusion took place, the blood

of a healthy lamb injected into the circulatory system

of a man with a fever, and after that went well,

more lamb blood was injected into more humans,

until some of those humans began dying, and a widow

sued for her husband’s death, leading to the outlawing

of the practice, at least in France, at least until

the early 1900s, when the discovery of blood types

allowed for blood transfusions between humans to be safely

carried out. Everyone I know is obsessed with blood,

metaphorically speaking, with ancestry, with what

has been passed down, getting DNA tests to tell them

where their genetic ancestors had lived in the 1300’s,

and I am twice traitor to my blood, an adoptee taking

residence in a community to which I have no “blood ties”

and a childless man, letting my bloodline stop with me,

the decadent hero of my own little novel, cultivating art

at the future’s expense. In Kafka stories, the young protagonist

often dies or withers just as his father finds new vitality,

and I think too much about Gregor Samsa’s blood,

and what it turns into when he becomes ungeziefer,

typically translated as “vermin,” though commonly understood

as “bug.” Kafka died in 1924, sparing him the horrors

of the Holocaust, though Terezin was in his home town

of Prague, the model concentration camp pulled straight

from his stories, shown to the Red Cross by the Nazis

to prove their humanity, when they too were obsessed

with blood, shouting slogans, like “Blood and Soil.”

Kafka’s blood was Jewish, like mine, or not like mine,

who knows, though sometimes I imagine the famously wan

and depressed young Kafka donating his blood

to some aging tech billionaire, which in my imagined story,

makes the tech billionaire lethargic and despondent,

unable to do much beyond see the inherent absurdity

in his fortune, in his tech, in his life. If I were a novelist,

I’d know what happens next, but I’m a poet, so that’s

as far as I can see. At Harvard, young mice and old mice

are having their bloodstreams linked for study.

It’s called parabiosis, and while the research looks promising

for the old mice, no one seems too concerned about

the young mice, as long as they don’t die. Jews are forbidden

the consumption of blood, required to drain the carcasses

they plan to eat, to salt the meat, to draw out the blood.

Jews are forbidden to eat any part of a living animal.

In Eastern Europe, the Jews we met used only clear alcohol

for kiddush: schnapps or vodka, avoiding wine, to avoid

the accusation of using blood in their rituals, an accusation

that seems to have originated in twelfth century England,

but has been surprisingly durable, spreading outward,

morphing, surviving many ages of reason, and surfacing

most recently as “Frazzeldrip,” a conspiracy theory

in which drinking blood and mutilating children is standard

left wing practice, which is why it has become standard

right wing practice to show up with guns where these children

are believed to be. In The Canterbury Tales, “The Prioress’s Tale”

recounts a child being ritualistically murdered by Jews,

but when the Jews throw the boy’s body into the privy,

his corpse sings a hymn that allows his body to be found.

My throat is cut down to the neck bone, said this child,

and by way of man, I should have died. I shouldn’t be surprised

anymore, that people believe such outlandish stories,

especially when those stories are covered with blood.

I get so angry that I live in an age of unreason, but all ages

are ages of unreason. I get so angry when I think of how little

we are doing to escape the danger we all know we’re in.

Below my screen, I see my aging hands, the skin beginning

to show the tendons and blood vessels that move as I type.

The Red Cross stopped taking my blood the very first time

I made love to a man, and I’m much too old for anyone

in Silicon Valley to pay for my blood anymore,

which is to say that no one wants my blood now

unless maybe poetry itself is a kind of a parabiosis.

Maybe I’ve already begun bleeding into you, and you

are metabolizing me now, my blood in your blood,

my flesh in your flesh. There is a painting from the

Spanish inquisition that depicts a family of Jews

torturing the wafer, Christ’s body, in private,

and a trickle of blood flows from the wafer, so slight the Jews

don’t see that it has run a thread thin river out the door,

alerting the inquisitors to come and put the Jewish family

to death. What is it Christ says? The Christ

I am said to have killed? The Christ I don’t believe in?

Drink you all hereof; this is my blood of the new testament,

which shall be shed for many, into remission of sins.

I am no Christ. I am no martyr. My blood is not magic

or redemptive or salvific. My blood is my blood, and yes,

of course, my blood does sing, though not to call out

for violence or revenge. The human heart knows just one tune,

an iambic thumping in time to the breath, the restless blood

traversing our bodies at incredible speed, and if you put

your ear to my chest, you will feel the gentle pulsing

of my beating heart, and you will hear the only song

my heart can sing, because inside us all, is a beautiful noise,

a beautiful human noise.



Found In Volume 50, No. 06
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Jason Schneiderman
About the Author

Jason Schneiderman is the author of four collections of poetry, most recently Hold Me Tight (Red Hen Press, 2020); he edited the anthology Queer: A Reader for Writers (Oxford UP, 2016). He is an Associate Professor of English at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, City University of New York, and teaches in the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College.