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The Antidote

Arsenika would like to thank the following people for their support on Patreon. You make this magazine possible!

Ranjan, Danisaur, Addison Smith

Jaime Mayer, Karen Anderson, Maria Haskins

Naomi C, S. M. Mack, Ren Jorgensen, Rose Lemberg, Margaret Wack, Erin Hartshorn, TJ Berry, Dave, Mellama

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two am

Driving down the highway
at two a.m.
     I felt my heart stop
          When I looked over and saw
               Pale yellow
                    So round and full
                         Sensuous and curvy
                              My lungs gasped
                                   in awe
                                   As she stayed by
                                   my side
                                        And a peace washed over
                                             My troubled
                                                  She dipped into a silky black
                                                       And dried herself out
                                                       the stars
                                                  Shimmering her pale yellowed
                                             And dripping it all
                                             over me
                                        I understood why
                                        The ocean waves crashed
                                        for her
                                   Because on that lonely highway
                              I crashed for her too.

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The Scarecrows’ Daughter

Our world was dying; that was the excuse anyways. A better life, Dad promised, and Mom followed. But we only traded one wasteland for another. I think I hated them for that. Not just being dramatic “I hate you” anger. Full on hate that lives in the bones. I suppose you never take it straight though. Like salt, you always mix hate with other things.

I ask them sometimes if it was worth it. They don’t answer, of course, but the wind blows through their desiccated bodies, whispers through their lips.

I feed Dad first, even if it’s not actually him that drinks, but the red earth under his feet. Dad’s easy. I never had to say goodbye to him, or see the anger and devastation in his eyes. I feed Mom after.

There’s shame there. A fresh well of it always waiting. This is a good thing, Mom said after my first period. A common miracle. One day you too will be a mother. Somehow, I don’t think this is what she had in mind. The blood’s not much, but it’s enough, so long as it comes every month. Around me, vermilion stalks sway in the breeze, their crimson husks covering hundreds of ruby ears.

But on the edge of the field, there’s a murder. A dozen crows perch along power lines, gazing into the rows and rows of red corn.

Wan’s inside the barn, preparing one of the pigs for roast. The pig hangs from a rope, its blood black against Wan’s skin.

“There’s more of them,” I say.

“More of what?” He sounds annoyed, throwing entrails onto the dry earth with a wet slap.

“The crows.”

He wipes his brow. “The more we thrive, the more they come.” He gestures to the dead pig. “They can’t get us. Not so long as you do your part.”

“I’ve done my part! I’ve done enough…”

“It’s not a one-time thing, Marie. Sacrifice is like forgiveness. You have to do it every day.” He turns from me like that answers all. After all the years we’ve lived together—slept together—still he plays the stranger. He keeps his back to me, focusing on the blade as he cuts.

I’ve grown older, I know. There are only so many more months I can feed the soil, and so many more the soil can feed us. Wan knows this too, though he pretends not to notice.

He doesn’t touch me anymore. When I reach for him, he turns away. “Early morning,” he says. The only time he’s willing is when I’m on my period. A fetish, I thought. But now I wonder.

I was sixteen when he came. He was tall and lean, his skin red as this earth, hair raven-dark. He was danger cloaked in mystery, with eyes full of fire and age. He asked for hospitality, and though we had little enough to feed ourselves, Dad obliged.

Wanderer he called himself.

He said he could make corn grow, explained that where the earth is hard, water’s not enough. The soil requires a hardier draft. Only blood would suffice.

“And where do we get the blood?” Dad asked. Stupid question, in hindsight. That was before Dad’s accident. Before the first stalk rose around his ankles. Before Mom grabbed the rifle for vengeance and I stood in her way.

“Why do we need scarecrows?” I asked as Wan set the first post. “We don’t even have crows.”

“Child, there are crows everywhere things birth and grow and shed their seeds. Where there is life, there is they.”

From one stalk spread one hundred, and we’ve lived plentifully ever since. But one day, the moon will turn her gaze from me. The soil will go unwatered. And then what? Will we find a new way? Or will I too gaze down on him while the wind blows through me? This life he’s given is an ellipsis, counting periods until the end.

These thoughts keep me up. Keep me anxious and turning.

One night I put pig’s blood down between my legs, and tell him the moon came early, as it does sometimes on this world. He’s quick to take me, and quicker to finish. Afterwards he rolls over and withdraws a bowl. “Save the red,” he says. “Don’t let it waste.”

I give them water. I don’t know why. Water makes crops grow back home. Water is life—real life, not this imposter we’ve been playing at. Maybe it does nothing. But Mom and Dad look so thirsty, dried out by the sun.

“I’m sorry,” I tell them. “I miss you…”

My things are packed, light as they are. A few clothes, a few seeds. Some questions and some hopes. I go to say goodbye without saying “goodbye,” but he’s tilling soil, annoyed that I interrupt.

“There’s more of them.”

“Dammit with the crows, Marie. They can’t get in.”

“They need to eat too. That’s the way of it. That’s the balance.”

“What’re you talking about?”

“Life and death. Suffering and joy. One without the other is barren. You taught me that.”

“You’re talkin’ nonsense.”

I leave him to his work. I watch and wait, until the crows begin to circle. They’re testing the borders, the magic or mischief that’s kept them out. The air is full of their cawing, like a death rattle, a cough. Wan looks up in shock as shadows dance and dive around him, pecking at cloth and skin. He swats them off, but they keep coming.

Ahead, the road is littered with carmine soil, looking like a swath of rusted iron. I glance back just once to those left behind. Their abandoned posts glare through rustling stalks. Perhaps the crows took them too. But maybe hidden amongst the rows are bodies shambling, searching for vengeance or more peaceful rest.

My belly rumbles and aches. The common miracle, I wonder. I rub it gently—the new life ahead, the question mark following the ellipsis.

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The Metaphysics of a Wine, in Theory and Practice

whereas many more presumptuous
theories suggest an interpretive dance
in five deliberate movements (Marling &
Batmanglij 2017) or else a general physical
denial of body through writhing-as-dance
under strobe-lit dark1,
the newly discovered academic consensus is that
multidimensional transcendent astral travel
is only possible through

the dancehall take me
to Heaven last night
and I wish I coulda stay

the adequate performance of gyratory sublimity
is capable of euphoric states, restoration of
stamina, and treatment of anxieties,
but at supercritical depths
a wine has the potential to bestow
near-preternatural consciousness to the
recipient (Ziggy Rankin 2004)

I wish it thought me
worthy to linger in
the light of the gates
I wish the seraph in
the purple skirt or
the archangel-boy in the tight jeans
found nobility enough in me
for the night to never cease

because in that night
God’s name in her native language
was on my hips
tempting my echo of its swaying syllabisms
never illegible
but forever unpronounceable

critical-level performance of the rite
has apocalyptic properties—
that is, both provably destructive
and with great potential to induce

the music did hit me
and your body did catch me
and somewhere in the centre
of those competing gravities
was the cosmos in its own waistline motion
lover, your bumper bring meh back
to the first time meh mudda
call meh name…

at a terminal velocity, surviving
subjects have documented a shared
awakening, with potential to span miles
of air or sea2, lingering within the senses
as stored rhapsodic biodata, an open-circuit
physical ecstasy and a redundant
rotational climax

under closed eyes
the shadow of the world does turn bright
hot on the faces of the next world war
and warm on the hands that halt it
I done sail across the black in this wine
take large swallows from the swirling nebula of it
lust as its nucleus
opens my eyes to star-birth, star-death,
the warmth of your hot celestial body3

this euphoric quality is known to be
intensely addictive at even average
potentials, especially for men. It should however be
noted that excessive wining
can be destructive to the recipient (Machel
Montano 2012), even inducing animalistic
transformations in male recipients
(Anslem Douglas 1998). Also, coercion or other
non-consensual gyratory communions
are discouraged, not only for their
lack of energy potential, but their
ability to harm performers,
severing their connection to the
enthusiasmos; the power of the
ritual is placed firmly in the waist
of the oracle (Patrice Roberts 2014, Alison Hinds 2005)

if I could stay drowning in the syrup-sugary-smooth
sway of your silhouette ’til sunrise
God knows I would die against your body
but the Holy Spirit does only give you
the Pentecost that you could handle
so you step away with a wink
to join your crew for drinks
gates to abounding knowledge closed again

until some soca
draws them golden open
for someone luckier than

1. see every single American teen or new adult drama film since the 1980s
2. evidence of distance-resistant wining effects have been well documented in Japan; see ‘Japanese Wine’ (Minmi 2008), ‘Kanpai Wine’ (Barbie Japan 2009), ‘Wine For Me’ (Rudebwoy Face 2009)
3. a peculiar star rich in copper with an orbit too fast and fierce for a rock like me to not erode in its power

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Sealskinned, Crowned

I pour myself in
full and thick
like the syrup left from poaching pears
rich with cinnamon
star anise in my hair.

My skin feels odd now
misshapen from disuse
stretched and constricted
all at the same time:
a snakeskin left too long in the grass.

Still: it is time
I weave garlands of feathers
a spray of galah pink
the red-blue of a rosella.
I crown my skin with
a single tail-feather
dusk brown  kingfisher.

I have made a home here
up in the Dry
among the sway of the leaves
and rain of falling gum blossoms.

I stitch up my skin
with roughened shell shard splinters
down my sternum
until I am myself again
(my old self
but crowned with birds).

I slip into the sea
with a wave roar
and am flooded, familiar.
And until the next time
when the skies call
bright and hard
and I long for the whispers between
the trees,
I will leave feathers on the ocean
and star anise on the sand.

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Poison-Pen Letters

When the world around us is dark, it’s difficult to find the motivation to produce art. Yet art is one of the things that sustains us through hard times—art can fight back, offer us a moment of calm, connect people across places and time… With that in mind, I’m proud to present Issue 2 of Arsenika, which offers work that’s both challenging and magical, that shines in spite of—or perhaps because of—the difficult times we live in.

Hamilton Perez’s “The Scarecrows’ Daughter” offers an desolate picture of power and control, of blood magic and the choices we make. “Only the Trees” by Marina Berlin echoes those themes while illuminating the delicacy of life and personal relationships. “two am” by Kiara E. Bell offers a moment of beauty, a glimpse at the ethereal in something otherwise ordinary.

“Homebrew Wine Recipes for Favourable Effects, from the Regrettable Life of Mrs Poulman” by Matt Dovey makes use of a creative format to tell a life’s tale with a happy ending, while Brandon O’Brien’s “The Metaphysics of a Wine, in Theory and Practice” contrasts two modes of approaching intimacy. Finally, Hester J. Rook’s “Sealskinned, Crowned” is a luscious, sensory delight that captures a vivid scene.

I hope you’ll find something within these pages that resonates with you and helps you keep going when things get tough. As always, we appreciate your continued support, and we’re glad to have you here.

S. Qiouyi Lu's signature
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Only the Trees

A storm blew down
the tree your bones
nourished, through the
roots. They cleaned
you from the dirt and
tore you away from
where I left you, lying
peaceful, reborn an
older creature, my
heart with you, a
piece of tissue and
blood, keeping you

(You and I met on the
edges of a teacup, fragile
and empty. Like two
wolves yearning to be
human again. Breath
is a luxury for some, like
diamonds. You don’t
miss it until the water
rises and you realize
you’re the only one
still alive.)

Nothing about us is
sacred, or heavenly,
you told me, the third
time you died and I
watched your eyes
flutter, your wings
spasm, your fingers
stutter, as the world got
darker, the sun mourning
you with me, unable
to rise.

Every time you asked
for the noose, or the
rope, or the knife, or
my hands on your
throat, I remembered
your other lover, whose
body was yours, like
mine is, with scars
for each piece he
gave up to keep you
tethered and lucid
and here.

(You should know,
he and I picked your
tree together. This
time, I wanted your
bones to prop up
a rose garden, but
he wanted a cactus
patch. We settled
on less beauty, less
pain, something more
solid, mundane and
ordinary, like the
sort of person you
always aspired
to be.)

Watching the news, as
they dig out what’s left
of you, I can’t help but
think that only the trees
truly know how much
we did for this world,
you and me and your
lover. How much air we
pushed out of our
lungs every minute,
hour by hour, year by
year, no matter the
hardship, until finally
finally, finally, you’d
decided we’d given

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Homebrew Wine Recipes for Favourable Effects, from the Regrettable Life of Mrs Poulman

Dandelion Wine, To Capture the Eye of A Gentleman

5 gill of twinkling dew from the petals of roses, tulips, peonies &c. as available in early Spring. The more admirable the flower, the greater the effect. Only to be collected on a clear morning when the sun shines down, for it is that glimmering essence you require to capture the eye of dashing Mr Poulman as he passes your market stall on a Saturday, and who sends his footman instead to purchase your jams and preserves when you are so anxious for a moment of his time directly.

All the dandelions from your garden, collected on a warm April afternoon, that you may appear wherever Mr Poulman looks and thus be ever in his thoughts. You only require the flowerheads for now, but dry the roots out and keep them safe.

Heat the dew to boiling point till it bubbles with desire, then pour over the dandelion flowers. When cooled, rack into a demijohn with 3 pounds of sugar and the usual ingredients i.e. a squeeze of lemon, a mug of black tea, a teaspoon of yeast.

When primary fermentation has completed and the must has cleared, rack into bottles with a further tablespoon of sugar each. This imparts a sparkle and fizz that will be reflected in your eyes when you drink it one morning, anticipating his patronage at your stall.

Ready almost as fast as new love moves, only four months or so, allowing it to be drunk before summer’s end. This wine is sweet and strong and lively, as you should be when he walks over at last and strikes up a conversation, perhaps even inviting you to attend his estate with a delivery.

Elderberry Wine, To Deepen Love and Turn Courtship to Marriage

5 gill of water from a deep, clear lake, ideally one in the grounds of his family estate, symbolic of the great pool of love you will share in life.

A quart of elderberries. These must be removed fully from the stalks, as any trace will impart a bitter flavour to the resulting wine and thus unto the marriage. This requires a great deal of patience, and is instructive: if you find yourself unable or unwilling to complete the task with the necessary attention to detail, reconsider whether you are truly ready for married life.

Put the elderberries into the water and bring to simmering point. Float the dandelion roots dried in early spring in the water, to turn the initial attraction of the dandelion wine into deep roots of love. Remove from the heat after twenty minutes and strain into a demijohn with three pounds of sugar: this will make the wine strong enough for him to overcome his family’s objections to a common girl. Add the lemon, tea and yeast as usual.

Takes nine months to come into its full dizzying flavour. Share privately with your swain over a week of evenings to bring you together, looking out over the moors at sunset and sharing private jokes.

Brambleberry Wine, To Overcome the Bitterness of Betrayal

5 gill of water from the river by your mother’s home. Draw the water after a downpour as heavy as your tears, when the river is at its fiercest and seeks to pull you under. Collect with an old and loyal friend, who will catch you if you fall.

Three pounds of brambleberries picked from deep within the bush. Pick only the ripest, blackest berries, the ones that leave kisses like blood on your fingers, the ones that hide in the shadows of leaves, behind spiders’ webs you will tangle and destroy in your fury and haste. Your arms will be scratched and thorns will bury themselves in your flesh. Leave them there; they will be a welcome distraction in these torrid times.

Heat the water to a furious boil and pour it over the brambleberries, as scorn was poured on you, the dutiful yet cuckqueaned wife.

Add the yeast, black tea and more bitter lemon juice than usual. Leave it to stew for a week, occasionally stirring to bring everything up again when it seems settled. After this time, strain out the brambleberries, those final glories of summer now drained of sweetness and life, and pour the must into a demijohn on two pounds of sugar.

Ready in six months. Deep and rich and red, like your anger.

Rhubarb Wine, To Find Peace with Oneself and One’s Life

5 gill of water drawn from a deep well, as you will draw on all your years and experiences.

Collect two pounds of spring’s earliest rhubarb, pushing through the muck of soil in defiance of the chill that still clings to the air on waking. Cut away the poisonous leaves, and as you do so cut away your own poisonous thoughts; ultimately they do not harm the targets of your ire but only sicken you. If he has forgotten you, perhaps it is for the best.

Heat the water to boiling and pour gently over the rhubarb, taking care not to splash yourself; you have been hurt enough, and must learn, at last, to care for yourself first and above all else.

Add the yeast and black tea; you do not need the lemon now. Leave for a week before you strain into a demijohn onto two pounds of sugar.

Ready in six months, in time for late summer evenings that lend themselves to contemplation and smiles. Drops clear like the clarity of hindsight, and leaves one clear-headed in the morning, and for all the years after, too.

Best when drunk with that old friend, with whom you have spent so much time of late; and if you laugh overmuch at her jokes with this wine, then perhaps she, too, is laughing overmuch at yours. Perhaps your late mother’s house is set back far enough from the village that no-one will question two ladies living together.

Perhaps you deserve happiness, real happiness, at last.