Saturday 7 January 2023

Five Poems by Lauren Scharhag


Medusa Browses the Beauty Aisle


She enters the sliding doors, careful to avoid

her own gaze. They call it safety glass, but she has

no illusions of safety. She takes a plastic basket

and carries it on her arm as she browses. Her fellow

shoppers instinctively give her a wide berth,

wanting to skirt both their own devastation as well as

the site of one, even though she keeps her eyes

down. All those reflective surfaces. All those

security mirrors. Fluorescent lighting pitiless

and unblinking as the eyes of old gods. The crime

is always being too beautiful, or not beautiful

enough. Her shoulders drift with dandruff,

scaly lengths of serpentine slough. She considers

coal tar. She considers Selsun Blue. She considers

chamomile, rosemary, tea tree, jojoba. But nothing

with sea salt. Never sea salt. She considers

boar-bristle brushes, hair masks, headscarves,

coconut oil. She considers banana clips and headbands.

She walks right past the straightening irons but

selects a blow dryer with a diffuser attachment.

Her snakes wriggle happily, anticipating the warm

basks to come. She samples lotions, loads up

on bath bombs, on exfoliants, on nail polish and remover,

a mani-pedi set. She tries lipsticks in shades other

than the Blood of Mine Enemies, other than

Temple Virgin Pink or Asking for It Victim,

purple as a bruise. Or maybe she just sticks

to balms, wanting comfort, wanting softness

and self-care for its own sake, exempt

from gazes now, even her own. She goes

through self-checkout, laughing to herself

at the joke.



The Ghost Forest


Remember that winter night when these roads

were still back country roads a.k.a. the edge of oblivion

and off Route 291 we saw a light descend from the sky

into the woods temporarily turning trunks and branches

into a tangle of runes we turned the old Crown Vic around

to chase it got out I in my blue parka and you in your

belted black wool that always smelled faintly

of your cigarettes how we ran through naked oaks and ashes

over the frozen ground black walnut pods crunching

beneath our boots but we never caught up to it

the light that you breathlessly believed to be a UFO


We walked back to the car in the dark and later I realized

that if we’d been born a few centuries earlier we might have

believed we were seeing fairy lights and probably would have

run the other way for months afterwards I’d sit outside

on a naked patio chair praying to the stars for a revelation


Those roads have since been widened the forest cut down

and still I’m waiting though now I’m more likely to believe

that any flashes I chase through the wilderness are angels

or spirits or the white underbelly of my barn owl psychopomp

sent to lead me across the night fields and through the ghost forest

into the heart of light


Curse of the Spider Woman


She was one of Death’s darlings,

a bruised Southern beauty who grew up

catching blue crabs on Sapelo Sound

with a chicken wing on a string

and sculpting effigies out of river clay.

She is water, she is marsh, sufficient to contain

the profusion that arises at the junction of

earth   river   surf   sand   sun 

brown body   toes in the mud

She is bog, she is dune. See how

the humble dogfennel and white snakeroot

beg shelter of her, how she opens her coastal body

to robber fly and blue whale alike,

to lichen and bald cypress,

to cormorant and razorback, but especially

to the arachnids she always said

were her totem: orbweavers,

the golden silk and eastern parson,

the green lynx and jumping spiders,

and I believed her, my bedroom floor

littered in her wake with brown recluses.

She is tidepool. She is hurricane. She is

as deadly as the rising waters.

Pray that she never sculpts an effigy with your face.

She hated basements because she said

if you get underground the dead crowd in.

But she also said I should not fear the underworld

when it beckoned. Her hands knew how to caress

and heal and kill, her pockets full of sassafras,

her scarves of spider silk, armed with necrotic venom

and the driving rain, eyes dark as the river,

heart a grenade of vengeance. I always knew

she’d flee back to the sea, to where there are

no basements and she can keep the ghosts

where she can see them.


Snakes and Boxes

a cadralor


1. Geraniums

My abuela used an old plastic pitcher,

dipping arthritis-crooked fingers into the water,

sprinkling it gently over scarlet petals.

When she died, her urns had all been

sitting empty for some time. The house was sold.

It has since been remodelled. The new owners

took out the porch, the garden beds, the decorative trees,

my inheritance the scent of crushed geranium leaves

and cracked terracotta pots weeping black tears

as they hold up ghost bouquets.


2. Turtle Shell

My spirit animal returns, a turtle with a painted shell,

its blue-and-white design like azulejos or Moroccan tiles.

Moroccan tiles were created because Islamic tradition forbids painting the human form.

Only God can fashion such. This leaves artists with abstract designs to work with,

which is fitting since only the abstract can express the inexpressible,

approximate the puzzle box of existence. My turtle’s face is oddly human.

Am I being told to create or not to create? Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Today I might be a turtle, tomorrow a mink. Today, I swim. Tomorrow, I might

bask or burrow. These blue veins, through which my blood runs hot and cold,

pumping through my heart which is today human, tomorrow something else.


3. The Dybbuk Box

A blue-skinned demon comes howling from an antique wine cabinet, the perfect

anti-tabernacle. They say dybbuk boxes are entirely fictional, that somebody

made it up to sell flea market finds on eBay. They say all sorts of things aren’t real that are,

and only a demon can slay a demon. So I summon one to duke it out with this dybbuk.

You can see how these things get out of hand. Solomon waited till after his demons

built him a temple to repent, after he collected 1,000 women and 666 talents of gold

per year. Kenophobia is the fear of empty spaces, but I think it’s really fear

of the unseen presence. What fills the Holy of Holies, what do we pour into our voids?

Solomon’s spirits have been looking for work ever since, and fortunately for them,

there’s always an opening.


4. Baron Samedi

O, rapacious one, I compose these devotionals to you, sovereign of the graveyard,

presider at crossroads, a ribald chorus formed of my most inventive profanities,

of my bluest jokes. I bring you offerings of old keys and faded poker chips,

of habaneros, of peanuts and coffee black as the Underworld. I’m just your type,

mixed blooded, border walker, booty for days. We’ll meet up at a dive bar

some Saturday night. I know where to find you, your celebration of the Eucharist

all cigar smoke and rum steeped in 21 peppers, too hot for mortals to handle,

raunchy songs on the jukebox. Who wanna go first? I had them pushing daffodils.

Lord of toxins, fill my mouth with X. I’ll wear my tight jeans. You get the door.

This one-night stand’s forever.


5. Laid to Rest

I say goodbye to my past selves. I burn the bar napkins upon which I’ve written their numbers,

turn these jeans into cutoffs. As I take up the shovel, I pray to St. Martin de Porres, Please,

let these hands hold out just long enough to finish. I am a nut cracked open, scraped of meat,

shed skin, ash. Possession is a haunted body, a demon straddling this contraption

like a mechanical bull rider. The sacrament’s just spook bread, host and holy ghost,

just as I am bull and rider, spiritual switch-hitter. I buck. I drink fire. I am a tabernacle

begging to be filled. Eventually, I will scratch my way out of this bone box. We bury

to unbury. We are subsumed to resume. Sprinkle the earth with blood-red blooms. God is

a kid spray-painting cocks on tombs. The silence of the grave is a lie. You can hear the party

going on in the room next door, your lover’s voice asking, Baby, was it good for you?




The spirit guide said We will start with the root chakra, which is red. He said Imagine each point opens like a flower. The snake lies, coiled, sleeping. This is how we wake it up. In the beginning, there was blood, and we dug. We dug to bury and we dug to plant, interring corpses and placenta to show our connection to the land. Birth and death provide compost for the cardinal flowers and the scarlet beebalm. After divorce and remarriage, my mother envisioned a rose garden for her new home and new life, but the ground was red clay, no good for roses. We dug anyway, in that patch of yard that garnered the most sun. We laid in fresh topsoil and fertilizer mix. The roots took, the thorny stems grew and sprawled, but few blossoms appeared. I don’t remember a single bouquet that season. I remember only going out to water the prickly lot and finding a tiny cricket frog, no bigger than a dime, perched on a leaf. When you are an open wound, might as well sow something in the furrows and pits. My root is a rose in nutrient poor soil, good for sheltering the odd amphibian. The year after that, we stuck to humble sedum and begonias, and set out water pans for peepers and toads.

Lauren Scharhag (she/her) is a writer of fiction and poetry, and a senior editor at Gleam. She is extensively published in literary venues around the world. Recent honors include the SFFP Speculative Poetry Contest (Honorable Mention), the Stephen A. DiBiase Poetry Contest (Finalist), and the Seamus Burns Creative Writing Prize (Winner). Her work has also received multiple Best of the Net, Pushcart Prize, and Rhysling Award nominations, as well as a Grindsploitation Festival nomination for best song. Her latest poetry collection, Moonlight and Monsters, is forthcoming from Gnashing Teeth Press. She lives in Kansas City, MO.


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