Edited by Brett Rutherford

Poetry by Barbara A. Holland,
Shirley Powell,
Claudia Dobkins-Dikinis &
Brett Rutherford

Drawings by Scott Randall Kerr

Published by Grim Reaper Books, 1975
Copyright 1975, 1998 by Grim Reaper Books
New E-Book Version Copyright 2005 by The Poet's Press
All Rights Reserved

The Poet's Press
2209 Murray Avenue #3/ Pittsburgh PA 15217-2338


The poems in this book were folded into a huge two-volume anthology, titled Tales of Terror: The Supernatural Poem Since 1800.

See The Poet's Press catalog for availability in print and PDF.


This HTML collection represents about 90% of the text in the original printed book.



 Preface -- From the original 1975 edition.

 Apples of Sodom and Gomorrah > -- Barbara A. Holland. A blood-curdling poem of jealousy, as a witch murders her rival's babies. "Three have already been extinguished -- one more means nothing..."

 Resurrection of the Devil > -- Claudia Dobkins-Dikinis. Rosemary wasn't the devil's only mistress...

 Legions of Bats > -- Shirley Powell. A masterpiece of atmosphere, letting you enter into the dark world of night-flyers.

 Madwoman > --Shirley Powell. Explore her psyche, if you dare...

 Fête > -- Brett Rutherford. A passionate neo-Romantic poem of love, revenge and magic. "I am Love's Anti-Christ..."

 Huldra > -- Barbara A. Holland. Based on Norwegian folklore.

 Horror Story > -- Claudia Dobkins-Dikinis.

 The Collectors > -- Brett Rutherford. Based on the images in several paintings by Belgian surrealist René Magritte.

 Imagined Dinner at Barbara Holland's >. -- Claudia Dobkins-Dikinis. No one ever saw the inside of Barbara Holland's Greenwhich Village apartment--at least no one who lived to tell. Here, her friend Claudia speculates about dinner chez Holland...

 Take Flight to Montreal! > -- Barbara A. Holland. Barbara learns that BR has installed a Lovecraftian watchdog to protect his Sixth Avenue loft...

 The Sorcerer's Complaint > -- Brett Rutherford. BR gets back at Barbara with a little weather magic...

 A Message > -- Shirley Powell

 Getting Thicker > -- Shirley Powell. Shirley wrote several poems about people being shut in, trapped, or consumed by their own houses. This is a splendid piece of horror--or paranoia...

 Sweet Revenge Does Have Its Rewards > -- Claudia Dobkins-Dikinis. Or, how to get even with old boyfriends or bosses...

 Counselor for the Dead > -- Claudia Dobkins-Dikinis.

 Voice > - Claudia Dobkins-Dikinis.

 Black Sabbath > -- Barbara A. Holland. This is, perhaps, the 20th Century's most terrifying poem...

 A Literary Revival > -- Brett Rutherford. In Ray Bradbury's dystopian vision, Fahrenheit 451, futuristic fireman invade people's homes to burn their books. This poem was inspired by Bradbury's terrifying book, and takes place in the bleak geometries of Cooper Square at St. Mark's Place in New York.

 The American Goat Woman > - Shirley Powell. A tale from the Great Plains...

 Under the Bed > -- Shirley Powell. Don't read this little prose poem in bed...

 May Eve > -- Brett Rutherford. A small-town graveyard where a strange secret society gathers annually on Walpurgis Night.

 By Moonlight, Surely, They'll Dance > -- Brett Rutherford. A pioneer graveyard where skeletons dance, and make love...



A tradition in American poetry that has seldom been credited is the fascination with magic and the supernatural which has imbued the writings of many Romantics since Edgar Allan Poe. We have come a long way since Poe. The conventions of Poe's day -- fixed metre and obligatory rhyme -- have been transcended by the vaster capabilities of the modern style. Today's poet may deal with the same subject matter that obsessed Poe, but there the similarity ceases, Poe, for all his marvelous euphony, lived and died a part of the literary tradition of Anglo-American poetry. This tradition, dating back to the transformation of English writing by the Italian Renaissance, has imposed on its adherents many rules that have limited form, style and content for generations of poets. American writers before, and the bulk of academic writers since, Walt Whitman, have all been part of a tradition whose end is the printed page >.

The writers in this book are part of another, older movement: the oral tradition in poetry. Like the cants of ancient magicians and not-so-ancient classical writers, their works are meant to be read aloud, to be heard by audiences. Properly performed, they are acted rather than read. Incorporating the freedom imparted to all writers since Whitman's "barbarous yawp," these poets are adding new dimensions to the genre of the horror or supernatural poem.

The protagonists in Poe are mostly passive -- bereaved lovers, onlookers, victims. Except for the vengeful Montresor, they are seldom the active agents of the gloom or horror they canvas. The fiction of Lovecraft comes to mind, too: his isolate men struggling against the ultimate terror -- and always losing. (Indeed, some of Lovecraft's tales could aptly be titled The Thing In the Final Paragraph!)

Is all supernatural writing this melancholy? Not for these oral poets. They've added a new twist. Their protagonists are seldom the passive victims of supernatural agencies -- they are as often as not the initiators of terror. Many of the poems in this book have a common bond -- the poet's exploration of his own potentials of power. The fantasies in this book cover the range of human emotion, but often from the magician's viewpoint.

The resultant poems are first-person narratives that are spine-chilling: the deranged woman who strangles her rival's babies; the magician who kidnaps his reluctant lover; the branded woman whose flight from Satanic worshippers makes her an outcast, to all eyes the very witch she refused to become. With the power that these poets so freely incant, comes another quality, too easily missed by the reader who thinks all such literature morbid and unhealthy. The quality is wit. There is a smile behind many of these barbed poems -- the writers are having fun acting out their fantasies. The poets' valediction, then, is to have fun reading this book of strangulations, abductions, rapes, cannibalistic acts, vampirisms, and transformations.

--Brett Rutherford New York, NY, 1975



by Barbara A. Holland


I have her name
here in my fist to riddle
with my nails.
I have the hair,
which I extracted from the teeth
of a comb I stole.
I have her footsteps,
embodied in mud, that I shook
from her shoes one day.
I have the parings
of her nails which I swept
from her bedroom floor.
I was her houseguest
and ate my food unsalted
that my efficiency
might not be impaired.

Now I shall take all her identity
rolled in a bit of rag,
and I shall make her
a tree like those which gasped salts
from the soil of Sodom and Gomorrah,
for their fruit are leather bladders,
vesicles which have no core,
no substance and no seed,
which loose a puff of dust, when once
you break their casings open.
Such shall she be;
so shall she bear.
Her children shall drop
and fall from her,
wind in a husk of rind.


Her children shall be born perfect,
but two weeks after birth,
each one shall die,
strangled in the amorphous hours,
before the sun rises upon her arid acres.
Her children are not hers;
they are mine, as he is,
and always shall be mine. Therefore,
her children have been usurped.
I should have borne them,
but his seed has been misplaced.
Thus I shall take from her
that which was never hers.
The Autumn of my anger closes in,
scorching the edges of the meadow, calling
a yellow challenge from the heart
of a stand of hemlock,
and I would strangle her,
herding my drift of clouds
into her windpipe. I would send flights
of arrow headed geese
into her gullet. She shall have no
success. One by one the offspring
he has sired shall fall
curled, brown and brittle
on the grass.
And as for me? I shall be delivered
of a diabolus, for now a maple blaze
exfoliates within my womb. Acorns
of hatred spatter from my eyelids
upon her rooftop, making a sound
of half-crazed footfalls
of horned and shriveled imps.

They will not let her sleep.
Their lidless eyes will watch her,
lying beside my lover pressed
into a cast-iron stupor,
will watch my arms elongate
through the window until my hands
have touched her baby's throat.
Three have already been extinguished,
one more means nothing.
Since these four are not mine,
they have no right to be.

They will tell her to be prepared,
to hold a silver knife
in readiness, to slash at my wrists,
to search the markets daily
for a women with a bandaged arm,
but my blood does not flow
when I command it to hold back,
my arms shall be bare
and whole. She will not find me.
But I shall come again
upon her next delivery.
My shadow arms and hands will flow
through keyholes.

I have her name,
a handful of mouse-brown hair,
her toenail clippings,
even a loosened, spewed-out filling.
I am a scavenger
with a special use for gold.



by Claudia Dobkins-Dikinis

for Aubrey Beardsley

They have made me bear this child
like the others before me
who lay cursed and dead
in boxes suffocated beneath the earth.
They have filled their bodies with drugs
and incisions both vile and murderous
and left them to die,

because of him, the black haired one,
with the sweet tongue talking between
my thighs, his hands, velvet cushions
beckoning me to lay on the bed where
they pushed needles into my arms filling
me with poison.

I lay by that bowl next to the roses
where I am locked in this bed. My thigh
is a swollen mass of veins and tissues
feeding that hideous child that I tried
to miscarry at the stairs, on the terrace.

Each time I move, the roses scream
and extend their thorns to prick my face,
my empty breasts that they have drained
of milk.

The bowl sits attentive to the knife
and leaks images of my empty belly
my sleeping eggs wound dead in their sacs.

My womb has been ripped and stitched
in my thigh where it beats, bleeds and
nourishes the demon multiplying in my bone.

I have not seen my midwife's face
but I have seen her hands, gnarled
and knotted as they pick up the pen
and write at the table. She feeds the
roses my milk and they purr, guarding the knife.

I go mad with the sun;
I am blindfolded and fed a nameless raw meat;
I feel someone's breath oozing on me
as the black
haired one has his pleasure in my thigh.

Soon this child will be cut from me
as I stand holding the brace,
shrieking as my misguided brain
directs me to lay down with my legs
opened as a woman.

After this, I will be left to die.
They will wrap the child in swaddling
clothes and feed it roses.



by Shirley Powell

Legions of bats
    stiff draperies of wings
         hung on the walls
         their shadows behind them
    under them
         stone corridors
         in the grip of the river
         a fortress of night,
         around couches of air
         damp with mammalian sleep
then the host
         the fluttering army
         spreading worn crusted wings
into sky
    netting the moon
         in webbed fingers
         their branches
crying their cryless cries
         echoing over the cliffs
         and the canyons
into pastures, and plummeting     like
              splashes of night
         falling on drowsing cattle
         cutting, lapping
                                  from necks of the beasts
         dumb under moon
         trickles of blood
                                 dark on their wrink-
                                 ling hides
the winged ones rising
         doing slow dances in air
         sending their silent trills
         over stone still river
flying away from the moon
         to their stations
         their shadows
keeping their hours, their days
         blood bubbles cleansing
         their hard little teeth.



by Shirley Powell

I, Mabel, hear the years buzz
         Someone said what happened to Mabel
         whose mother burned houses
         and someone answered they took her away
         one afternoon. She said her room was fur
         and would kill her with its great wings

I hear the years buzz
         In the hall there were owls
         and cranes with necks like esses
         webbed feet of frogs     that were men
         that suddenly were men
         I locked my door
         there were rabbits     many     weaving
               long circles
               round my room
         I ran to the window
         nuns walked near the convent
         I called and called
         after awhile men who were tall
         broke open the door
         that the dark green snails
         had sealed firm
         I was carried   bandaged in blankets
         unable to do more than wink
         down a long stair
         heads sat on the banisters

Now, I sit in a chair
         painting white pictures
         nobody sees them but me
         safer so
I have gilded my arms with a pigeon's blood
and my captors are animal lovers

Sometimes I think of the nuns
         they never come here



by Brett Rutherford


A thousand stars will blaze and sing tonight.
The livid day has blown before itself
all clouds to leave this sepulcher of sky
a barren bowl of paranoiac suns.
Come I this eve into my mirthless wood,
this colonnade of grey-striped masts,
to celebrate some lisping, rhymèd love?
I am Love's Antichrist — my barbed-wire heart
has never beat in time with another's!

Though it is June, I crave the bite of ice.
I send the Leveler, wind fanged by North
to sink its hoarfrost tooth into the world,
crisping the maple red, browning the oak.
I cannot pass tonight where green things hope.
I banish Persephone's corn bounties.
No leaf that has the glint of chlorophyll
can last a moment in my chilling gusts.
Precede me, airborne, wasting Nothingness,
lay for my feet a carpet sere and gray,
a trail of ash from my Hadean robe,
dust of the murdered summers I've renounced.

My eye sees all in inverse images:
the near is far, the far away my toy.
Each chink of sky leaps like a broken pane
from where it hangs suspended on a branch,
or like a painted sliver where the trees
thrust down to meet horizon — it is these stars,
my witnesses, who hover near, while elms,
by web-line weaving architecture thrust
fade to infinity, night's palette mad.

I close my cloak about my throat, hold tight
the leaden box I bear. The curve of earth
blinks out the last scant gleam of the village,
save one blanched clapboard church, desanctified,
which grinds against Pleiades as they rise.
Its steeple breath exhales the lidless bats,
purblind, carnivorous doves of my court.
Fly up and out, and with your leather wings
make me an arbor black with rabid pride.

Along my way, an abandoned boneyard
lifts limestone paws and graven platitudes
against me. I laugh at hallowed places,
defying their passive, limp corruption.
My eyes spit fire. The unkempt grass explodes.
The crosses singe, the solemn obelisks
crack and shatter, the marble angels fall.
No crucifix or holy sign can stay
what I would call and consummate tonight.

Do you suspect me? Would even your fortress
of intuition guard against this?
My tentacles of ink reach out for you.
You send a moon, and in its sickly glare
the smoking earth rears up two night monsters--
four horns unfolding red and gigantic,
blood wet and throbbing as they block my way.
Horns become ears, I recognize the heads
of guardian owls, elm-high and screeching
as they snap their beaks, their eyes all-seeing.
I pass in silence through their talon clutch
for they are but conjured--and I am real.

Would you cast dreams against my greater force?
Hurl Elmo's fire against my juggernaut?
Ah, soon, comes my reward for nights denied;
for all the days I circled your dwelling,
outcast while others consumed your beauty;
for those half-loved because some hint of you
haunted an eye or a cheekbone, revenge,
my calm last gift for your squandered passion.

I cough a cloud and let it blot the moon
so that no distant star may hear and mock
the oath that is sworn in forbidden copse.
Here! now even fireflies are dimming out,
now ravens avert their ebony orbs,
now sputter and die, ye will o' the wisp!,
Not even a random thought can penetrate
this furry arbor of my wretchedness.

Open the box,
be sure the sacred objects are counted.
Be sure the unspeakable ointments gleam
in the krater-shaped Plutonian cup.
Lay out the black and scarlet vestments now,
set forth another cup with water drawn
blind from a mountain spring in midnight oaths,
scoop graveyard earth burned free of worms and roots
into the center of the Pentagram,
light the black candle now,
step from the arbor and bid you come:

Hear me, ye formless, boundless nameless ones,
Ye captive essences of fire and air,
by this dread Ring and Stone which all obey
I conjure Ye to take the form I dream.
Give me NOCTURNE, bat-winged and silver-reined
(the beast whom once I saw lust-seeking Pan
ride round the earth in an hour's passing!).

I shall not move, yet on his back my will
shall leap these mountains, beat over cities,
hell-ride the hard Atlantic sea-line,
then swoop, then scan the forest
then fall with unrelenting speed
onto your lawn.

Touch not the door which has been daubed in blood
against my coming and going. Sing out
your piercing call to the shuttered window,
where the cat, whom I have collared a slave
of my impulse, will beckon you to look
at the flat fanged face of my messenger.
In an instant, you are borne away,
your scream to no avail, your bedclothes ripped
as you graze the upper treetops, held firm
in ten claws beneath the throbbing wing beats.

I am waiting for you,
for the sound of descending wings,
waiting for the years denied me
to curl into a wrinkled ball
that some hot maelstrom draws
into its belly.
I am dancing the death of romance.
Dizzily, you rise from your abduction.
You do not know me yet in this darkness.

I take your hand. You speak my name
in anger and astonishment. Your touch
is just as I imagined it, frail and terrified.
Your eyes would plead your innocence, your lips
would say that none but I have tasted them.
I would believe you for the sake of those eyes,
had I not left humanity behind.
Your arms invite my dissolution, death
in one touch of your supple shoulders,
but I dare to finish what I began.

Come, love, come stand by me,
let me anoint thy fevered brow,
kneel amid knives and Pentagram,
bowing your head for blow or blood's baptism,
and thus, and thus,
with what still trembles in the cup,
with earth, with fire,
with midnight waters I place to your lips,
with ivory rings I now produce
from soulless lead and velvet lairs

as all the bats take mawkish flight,
as leaves drift down upon your hair,
as stars seal our troth
with burning glaze
I do
thee wed.



by Barbara A. Holland

She is Swedish, and one of those,
you know. Big. Green eyes and red hair,
all clinging velvet and ropes
of beads in the front, with cold
and cleanly chiseled features.
Real Nordic beauty
with a chalk complexion
--and no back at all.

None. All coming at you, dead ahead,
and steaming down on you,
with nothing whatsoever
to back it up. In front, solid, but hollow;
a shell of half a woman is what she is,
and I ought to know
because one evening I got behind her.

It was at this party,
you understand; the one for the author,
newly arrived (who lost the address
and never did). She must have been tired
that night or careless. She almost
never lets it happen.

Always back to the wall.
Back to a crowd of other backs.
Back to the fireplace. Back to the upholstery
of chair or sofa. So no one ever
gets behind her to check the rumor.

But this evening
she had been standing in a corner,
trying to make the stem of a sweating
martini glass behave between the thumb
and fingers of a cotton glove,
and while concentrating
on her problem, she moved a few steps
forward and outward. I immediately
squeezed in behind her,
And what I saw:

--Well, nothing. Or rather,
everything: you, the tall clock ahead of me,
my own red gown in the mirror. If I stared
until my eyeballs heated, I could just
make out the finest thread lines
of a drawing on the air: head, neck, torso,
and long, full skirt. I tell you,
not only does she have no back,
but the back of her front,
as seen from behind,
between her shoulders, is transparent.



by Claudia Dobkins-Dikinis

Everyday it works; the fruit
lipped moon of October opening
its jaws licking midnight.

The blood apples wink from
the dressing table bobbing
like new heads.

Before a wall of mirrors
the lady stands choosing
her reflection,

first skinny then fat.
She peels her image,
rolls it into a ball,

then stuffs it in her gown.
At the witching hour
she will stand,

slap on her latex face,
then go to greet her guests
and talk of unmasking.




by Brett Rutherford

after a painting by Magritte


I know it was our father's house,
But prudence says he wouldn't mind
Your packing up his legacies, a trunk
Or two of city clothes, a photograph,
Perhaps, of what had been a neighborhood,
Where now the sea laps barren beach
Behind your yard. Do you enjoy the thought
That apple trees you climbed as a boy
Are now the hanging place of cuttlefish?
Do you expect that whatever it is
That gobbles houses by night
And hauls the sidewalk off in chunks
Will spare your little edifice?
I don't worry so much
About the lobsters, big as cows,
That made off with the Belgian clock,
The marble mantelpiece, or the horn
That I left in the attic; their taste
Is too baroque to warrant another visit.
But I will prove, if I must
With photographs and measurement
That the oblong rock once half a mile
At sea will soon adorn the lawns,
Then, with a nudge, the stairs;
Next day it will bulge into the parlor;
And probably within a fortnight
Sweep you a mile up the beach
To that stack of abandoned houses
Where it has already assembled
What's left of the town.



by Claudia Dobkins-Dikinis


So that is how you do it.
I thought you had a kitchen.
That's an awfully strange spoon
and an overly-large pot for a dinner,
isn't it?

I'd rather you put it on the stove,
the fire on the rug could catch the curtains.
Curious you aren't burned when you touch it.

Where is the wood that keeps it going?
Here are the onions. Do you always jab
them with your nails?

I've never seen anyone add paper.
Does it do something for the broth?
What are we having?

           birdhouse stew?
           sautéed ironing boards?

Maybe you'll teach me how to chop up pencils
with my hair. I didn't know you could do that.
It seems to grow longer as you jump through
your whirling dervish dance.

I think you've burned the bread,
or is that the loaf of erasers you baked?

When it is cool and tender, will we eat it with the poems?




by Barbara A. Holland

Do you know what that tentacle,
now weaving itself
through the slats of your fire escape,
has done for the front of your building?

(It has not adorned it!)

that when the citrus slant
of early sunlight
illuminates it from underneath,
    when lifted,
and catches the pallor
of its suckers wide-eyed,

cabs slew broadside
to the traffic and squad cars
settle single file
across the street?

I suppose
that whatever pours it
like a viscid dripping
from one of your open casements
was installed in your fourth floor loft
to frighten burglars,

you could have encouraged
whatever it is
to hoist its excess yardage
even if you balked
at arranging its removal
or an adequate explanation.

You had better
plan on a long
    and immediate
vacation in Montreal.



by Brett Rutherford


for Barbara Holland 

No use deceiving her:
she spies the nightshade in my herbal;
skulks by when my illegal pet
happens to dangle a tangible limb
out and down the fire escape, three floors;
swift-toed, she lifts the carpet up,
reads last night's chalked-in Pentagram;
turns in a fire alarm in jest
when my more musty conjurations
won't clear the chimney tops and gasp
out every window of my loft.
She's obstinate, turns up her furs
against the cloud that hovers there
on my command, that black
and personal drizzle that hounds
her Monday walks.





by Shirley Powell

Fish lying close to the bank
are your eyes on me?

You swim away
but I have seen death
in your flat stare.

Then frenzied you
reappear jump quiver twitch
twitch twitch
at my feet.

Before the light withdrew
before the water gave you up
before the stab inside you turned to

I was the last thing
that you saw.

What did you come to tell me?
And if I got the message,
how should I answer?



by Shirley Powell

I think the walls are getting thicker
I don't hear people making love of mornings
any more

I thought if the telephone rang more often
the electromagnet might revitalize
the air in here

Maybe I'll begin drinking and then I won't
there were thinner walls once
even windows

I dream of doors but have forgotten
how they look
I almost (in my dream) remember
I wake up almost remembering

Today I will walk through a wall
breathing may not be possible
I practice
not breathing

It seems to me the walls are breathing now
I am lost in the walls like a rat scratching
Maybe you'll hear me after midnight
maybe you will make a window
or a door



by Claudia Dobkins-Dikinis

If by chance you find sticks of dynamite
           strategically placed
in your bathroom window with a long fuse
           winding its way
down 11th Street, through the park,
           to my window where
my delicate fingers are poised with insipid
           matches, then I
think it is safe to assume that I plan revenge.

Or should you awake with a start and hear
           helicopters buzzing
on your roof with guerillas parachuting in
           combat boots that
begin chiseling, hammering their way into
           your bedroom
screaming "Arriba!" then I think it is safe
           to assume that I
plan revenge.

If the Hell's Angels take to riding around the block for
24-hour stretches with me perched nude
           on the handlebars
wearing an Indian headdress shrieking
           "Attack! Attack!"
then I think it is safe to assume that I
           plan revenge.

Or perhaps in your sleep you'll awake with
           a sudden wince and
go crawling, strangling to the sink groping
           for your last drink
and you see me in a vision dressed in black,
           white haired,
waving dead bleeding chickens, it will do no
           good to call the
police, for you see, love, vengeful activity
           has this way of
keeping me off the streets.



by Claudia Dobkins-Dikinis

The dead have difficulties.
Each spring no alternatives.
Rebirth for those who must hatch
out of boxes is maddening, to say the least.

This dependency on worms and minerals
for the recycling of bones and other
extraneous material may explain why
the dead remain so passive.

They never become actively involved
in decomposition. Again, I might add,
the living never realize which lily
is, in fact, Aunt Ida on Easter morning!

Mushrooms in Autumn remain inscrutable
We cannot discern Uncle Ralph's golf
hat from Father Counihan's penis.

I would at this time, suggest
a more viable means of resurrection.
Let us begin gardens of displaced
arms and legs with appropriate taggings.

Too, the committee suggests a garden
of heads to be located in the downtown
business district. With proper care the
eyes will be bright and will provide
good company for old people.



by Claudia Dobkins-Dikinis

It is pleasant enough here,
I have the window and the wall outside.
I have only to look down and see the rubbish,
that will keep me busy:

there's a milk container
and a discarded mattress, look at the
           pee stains.
Too, on the fire escape, someone's
           laundry has fallen:
blue pants, a shirt, a printed scarf.

But that is not all,
there are winter trees bare as chicken bones
and animals: the wild cats chase rodents,
hang their souls on the wall.

At sunset the flood lights blink on
like individual migraines.
Across the way the people draw the curtains
shutting me out.

I am looking from someone's head.
She has lent me her eyes. Should I itch
I borrow her fingers. If I pull the blinds
everything is different.

The wall recedes now, it is dark.
I listen for footsteps thinking
there is something I should do.



by Barbara A. Holland

Thou shalt not suffer
a witch to live.
Thou shalt not suffer a witch,
or witches are dangerous
merely in their existence.
Four hundred years ago
you burned us at the stake.
Now in this steel
stitched century, you freeze us.


How often have I been aware
of you; your comings
and your goings to that great bare rock,
but until the night
when I saw the pack
of you, a vine-snarl
of writhing limbs
and naked bodies,
coiling about one another,
slithering over one another in the
grey-wet light of Candle Mass,
until I saw some of you,
beard-clogged with wine,
bloated with overeating,
greasy mouthed, foul fingered,
until I saw you drinking
the reeking blood of a baby
who was born by accident,
until I saw you stumbling
and fawning before that goat-headed
one, to whom you pledged me
on pain of strangulation,

I had not summed up fully
the implications of the whispers
in my hair that made sleep
a horror for me, when whining,
creeping voices, like tiny hands,
clutched at my fear
receptors, saying that I knew
that in my loneliness
the silences carried your footfalls
on ridgepoles, on spruce treetops,
that I had seen the rush
of brooms blow wide
the mottled dust-mice from the sky.
I swear I did not see them,
but on clear, still nights
a sudden wind would blow my candle
out, and send a rattling skeleton
of chalk cold bones
down my cringing spine,
harp fingering bones,
plucking a fleshless music
from my vertebrae.

It was you,
not I, who set me here.
It was you who stripped me and stretched
me supine as priestess-victim for the
hollow Black-Mass throng,
and it was you
who gave me in marriage
to the Black Master,
setting the death-white wedding ring
upon my finger, peeling a circlet
of skin from it
at knuckle top,
and it was one of you,
who administered those vows
which I must not remember.

And now I am here,
in dark of woods, an exile
mid juniper and fern,
living on lambs tails
and huckleberries,
stewing reindeer moss
and ginseng,
cowering in caves,
walled in by fallen trees,
quick-felled by lightning,
guarded by gouts
of mud against the wind,
setting a watch
against snake and spider,
a dispenser of potions,
of herbs, narcotics,
of the unchanging lore
set down in the books I read
once in the winter
firelight of my cottage.

Now rings and amulets
send through my nerves impulses
from their owners'
personalities, as on the surfaces
of rain barrels and ponds,
I see the faces of the dead.
The tornado-voiced pine tree
roars through my understanding
and fills out words of portent,
of prophecy, of hidden knowledge.

And for my tithe,
give my core to cold,
as my raw-boned Master holds me,
filling me length-full
of marrow snow, here on this high,
treeless, earth-bare
altar to moon-scoured emptiness,

I am the offering
to the denial of love,
world old, my flesh age cast away
for the joy of a ring dance,
(forbidden) which beat
in the fire that used to bring
goblins to the walls
of my cottage.
I grow hard and wind-bitten.
If I extend my hand,
fear grasps the fingers
of him who takes it. Terror
trips the feet that enter
my door, and my hunger for warmth
is a fist clenched upon fright
at the pit of my brain.
I reach out
and my hand snaps
at rain-lash, holds nothing
is wet and is clean.
on this height with this book
and the type
which goes blank as my eyes
run from each word to each line,
which erases itself
as each page is leafed over,
with this deluge of light,
hot on my shoulders,
in front of those eyes
out in that void,
before this microphone,
as ever when I was casting
spells to the crows,
as ever when I was cooking
tripe on the hearth

I am removed
from the world rush, an exile
in floodlight,
at lectern
alone in my voice,
alone on the stage
alone in this cupful of space
and time, naked
to thought and unspoken phrase,
unprotected from wish forms
and still alone.

Thou shalt not suffer
a witch to live.
Thou shalt not suffer a witch,
for witches are dangerous
merely in their existence.
Four hundred years ago
you burned us at the stake.
Now in this steel
stitched century, you freeze us



by Brett Rutherford

from the world of "Fahrenheit 451"


At dawn the line had already formed.
Some tattered businessmen, still decked in serge
had joined the crowd, and it swelled
with their recollections until the word
was passed that the soup was on Fifth
and this was another, peculiar, line.
Some drunks, and a churchless priest
in a collar the hue of tobacco stain,
came by and grunted to learn
it was books we were waiting for.
Books. The fragile embalming of trees,
the stretch of skin, the metal tattoo
of words, of the making of words
there was no end. I remembered the glow
of the sun on new-book sheets,
when poems still glittered wet,
black holes in the page you might fall into,
remembered the gentle lions of the press
charging on herds of manuscripts.
The feedings of folders, the smell of glue,
the pages nestled under boards,
the bloom of gaudy jacketing.
And for the true initiate, a plunge
into the catacombs of used book stores.
Now only the rich keep books
on shelves where they belong,
while we, less fortunate, must pick
our way through the crumbled stones
to the square, to this line
where a hundred carts of books
are to be given us, who wait,
who thrust our gloveless hands
into pockets not pockets anymore
but mouths back into air.
The line moves, I see each man receive
a corded bunch of books, glance nervously
about, then wend his way home.
Here's mine: my hands shake as I read
the titles, two Bibles,
A Dickens--Pickwick, no less--
some minor poets from before the war,
an old Ukrainian glossary,
and, god! in French, a Dumas tale!
In my shed, in the shadow of Empire State
where only its dead eyes can see,
I read, and secretly weep
as each page curls listlessly away
into the fire that warms my hands.



by Shirley Powell

She was old, and she lived with goats. People called her goat woman. She lived off goat milk. She made head cheeses, and spun goat hair into yarn and wove the yarn into cloth.

In the part of the day when the sun grew flat upon the earth, she took out her goatskin pouch with its bones and smooth stones, feathers of eagles, teeth of raccoons, claws of bobcats that prowled round her cabin at night. She cast them as dice into a circle she'd outlined in dirt at the back of her house, so that the last rays of the sun winked on them red, binding them close with long shadows.

By night she'd be far into a trance, the wings of great birds cooling the fevers that all day grew thick in her head. Her way was the laying of ghosts who cried out to her on those nights when she walked over prairies to bury chicken's eyes, or to pour day-old blood onto rocks in the shine of the great molten moon.

She quieted spirits that jerked inside tombs, that moaned in the summer's sweet air, that bled on her doorsteps, that carved sleep out of the hours of night so that her eyes hung deeper and deeper in flesh that seemed burning.

She could not remember the day she had come there. She'd tended the goats all her life. In the path that led nowhere but up and down hills into prairies and at length into mountains were places she'd lain with the goats, with the great black puck that mounted her as the sun mounted mountains.

Strange demons she birthed, and strangled them all. She used up their bodies to appease the dead spirits that spoke to her while she walked dreamless, striding through little towns, the goat herd behind her.

The living stayed still behind doors till she was well gone from their walls, and the stench of her out of their nostrils. Such a one cannot die, they would say; for hadn't their grandparents told of the ancient goatwoman whose cabin they'd burned? She had come then with curses she hurled into all of their faces as she passed by. She had caused a dam to break then which flooded the valley, destroying many. All of them knew how the animals fled at her coming; how the wild goats she commanded could never be caught, and would attack any lonely wanderer who walked out on the prairie.

She was old, the goatwoman. She laid many ghosts, for her potions had power. She has passed from that country, those times, taking all the goats with her, some say into caves by the froth of the sea. In the shine of the moon, on the edges of winter, the rocks still turn rusty. The wailing of those who are dead turns into stillness and waiting.




by Shirley Powell

There was a place under the bed where the floor grew darker. He could put his foot into it, and not touch bottom. It was cold beyond cold. 

Once he went in up to his hip. There was a sound like wings, and claws tore at his thigh. He pulled himself out, and he was greatly afraid.

Before he could stop her, his cat ran under the bed and disappeared. He could hear her for hours, crying somewhere under the floor.

Cursing, he tore at the floorboards, but the dark place got bigger. He decided to burn down the room and destroy the dark place.

He poured gasoline and stood at the door, trying to light a match. There was a wind in the room that blew the door closed, and the match wouldn't light.

Like sands in an hourglass, everything in the room began moving toward the dark place. He hung onto the windowsill for a long time . . .



by Brett Rutherford


I stalked the yews of that old hill
which townsmen shun but for the final sleep,
alone, I thought, until I saw the gleam
of wind-whipped torches at the ridge.
I stopped amongst the green-black pines
which lean imperiled by the bog,
to watch the silent phantoms, all in white,
their street shoes and their trousers showing
as the wind, betraying, made them men.

They bore a box of unstained pine
upon a tattered velvet pall.
The wind--it should have borne their sighs
or words, but carried none--the crack
of torch wood and the brush of cloth
were all I heard. Before a vault,
a mausoleum with its name effaced,
they lay their burden on the ground.

To hear what rites they might pronounce,
what curious dead they so interred,
I crept across the stone-toothed lawn
to but a yard from they pried
the locks from off the rusted door.
A groan of hinge. I saw the black
unwindowed room which swallowed them,
a room whose floor was an open gate
into the limestone hill, where torches,
twelve in all, receded, until the black,
black silence deceived me. Had I dreamt this?
Would I wake at dawn in cemetery grass
alone as ever in this neglected spot?

But here, the open door. I stepped
up to the verge. I dared not cross
this threshold into ultimate knowing.
I heard them, then. They were not
mute as they had been. They sang —
not words I knew — it was a chant,
rising and falling to a hideous drone —
I heard a hammer blow,
a rending of nails out of wood,
and then what echoed from the cave below,
that nameless Feast until the dawn!




by Brett Rutherford


Lean back against this gravestone.
John will not mind, so long
as ye utter your quiet thoughts.
Tell him, as I have, of stars,
how tonight the huge Dipper
bows to the lake; of houses
where none stood a hundred
years ago, those firm lights
gleaming on the west shore;
he'll weep not if you tell him
a man can still paddle north,
lose sight of the lake behind
and consider the infinite;
tell him too that Jeanette,
whom his loveless hand forgets,
lies still beside him and waits.


Come here with whatever beauty
the world offers, with his or her
kiss roll sweetly in this grass,
inflamed by her surrender, held
fast in his arms as he enfolds you,
go naked, starry proud, erect,
spill love's libations on this earth,
remind these hungered dead of their
spring, let the seed
of your youth go wormlike to their
joyless lips and wombs


Come alone, when September cools
and warns this ground of sleep,
mark for these old, old lovers
how the wall has collapsed,
how conjunct earth and waves
have worn away the hillside;
tell them, not long now
till they love, falling free
of their tombs to the lulling shore,
how their lipless skulls shall kiss
and by moonlight, surely, they'll dance.
How they'll hide in the new grass
and watch the surly majesty of youth
repeating their ancient caresses —
not long, o pioneers!



This page reviewed and updated November 2019.




Version 2.0 Updated November 10, 2019

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