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despair

face me Ozymandias
open your stone eyes
this world has changed
brought low by time
everything is hungry
everything
and the world swallows
lizard fears
that cling to old rocks
being ground down
to sand
flowing out into sandy seas
taking with it all of time
even despair

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Galaxyfire

Pale hands beckon like open flame
foxfire on your lips
leads me deeper into your swamp
like folk tales of buried treasure
that I want to make true.

Your eyes cloud over
St. Elmo’s fire on your lips
and its thunder rumbles in my chest.
I count the seconds in between.
Are you moving towards me
or farther away?

Galaxyfire made of one hundred
million embers firefly eyes
abyss in your lips
my god—it’s full of

deep sea creatures
green glowing lures
and I’m sinking—
                         willing.

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The Story of Cyclops

1. cutting a pear
2. the storm petrel does not land until it dies
3. I was a stegosaurus once
3. I floated on a gold sea under a black sky
3. I leaned on the metal heater and shivered, feeling body heat escape through my open collar, while I waited to be picked up from school
4. crows at dawn, power lines buzzing in the mist
5. tinnitus
6. I failed my frog dissection
7. the eyes of the pig, the detective said, would have popped like grapes
8. grapes
9. grapes
10. imagine Cyclops and his single eye
10.5. tearing up
10.75. at his daughter’s ballet recital
10.875. he suspects she is nothing like him
10.9375. they will always argue once she grows up
10.96875. he will ultimately disappoint her
9. Cyclops drinks to forget
8. he drinks crushed pig eyes
7. sweet things often come from ugly pain
6. he himself was an ugly child
5. a stegosaurus, with a brain in its tail (this is a myth, but so is he)
4. taking live things apart to see how they worked
3. the past is foggy for Cyclops
2. he loves his daughter, he loves his friends, he loves his country and the pear’s sweet juice
1. so why does he feel monstrous?

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Black Summer

On the longest day of the year
we wait for nightfall, slouching on
your grandmother’s porch, pack
of cigarettes balanced on the arm
of your plastic lawn chair.
We smoke and watch the cars
streak by on the highway,
the supersonic whine of
engines drowning out the rattle
of insects hiding in the tall
grasses. You push your long
black hair, sticky with sweat, off
the back of your neck, and I
pretend not to notice the leonine
grace of your movements, your
long guitarist’s fingers cinching
it like a belt, cigarette dangling,
eyes closed against the heat
and the oily cloud of progress’s
exhaust.

When night comes we’ll move
under cover of darkness to the
field behind your grandmother’s
house. We’ll look for the star
burning like a chancel lamp.
On the shortest night of the year,
we’ll say our prayers in smoke-
shrouded voices the way your
grandmother taught us, even
though we were not the girls
tradition required, but boys, now
men.

For now we sit in the heat,
just out of the sunlight,
watching the blur of heavy
machinery on the road.
I steal the cigarette out of
your hand, pretend that it’s a
kiss.

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Manifest Destiny

I am the place where
hooves join dirt
where fur and flesh
meet and cut apart

I was with Sacagawea
when she died
young and fevered
on the old Missouri bend,
still dreaming
of Louis & Clark’s
mapping folly
of undone secrets
and untread roaming.

In 1810 I rode west along the rails
pounding stakes and carving tunnels
like John Henry,
laying the future down as I went
ley lines etched upon the earth
a treasure map to success, excess, and ruin.

Between Fort Laramie and Soda Springs
I spent six years inside a young man’s skull
refuged in the tatter-shade of wagon canvas,
his body picked clean by carrion crew
bleached white death in the glamor of the sun.

Black Hill bounties and typhoid fever
and all along The Trail of Tears we left
like breadcrumbs
teeth and feet and bones a-plenty
fire to fuel the extinction hunger;
yet I survived the genocide
and settled east and easy
playing joker guns
in old west shows,
folding cards with bullets
strewn drunk and loose.

In those years,
half a hundred
claimed to be me
or Buffalo Bill
or Wild Bill Hickok
or Calamity Jane

And again we lived
upon the silver screen
in faded jeans and
Head them off at the pass!
Indians coming ’round the bend!
We got wagons to burn

and Dance, boy! Dance!

and in Larry and James and Cormac and Louis
in Leone and Ford and Peckinpah
and in the roaming endless desert sunsets
that you can find here still
in the far and lonesome West.

And if you listen close,
you can still hear my very voice
when the sun crashes down upon the plain
in a red-orange riot that sends the day away singing
and draws the night over the earth
in a shroud of star studded death,
hear my whisper and heed my words:

I am the West
and I am the East
I am blood slicked gold
and the haze of the sun
I am death and misadventure
and I have secrets still

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You Are Here

in velvet grasp of eternal night
a building wrapped in strips of glass, light
slicing bravely through starless dark
so utterly alone, fragile before shadows.

but inside, inside! red carpets, golden lamps
warming the grain of rich wood; the air drunken wild
with the breath of infinity patiently blowing
in crisp recycled breeze—bold-printed notices
announcing a seminar, always tomorrow at noon,
plush chairs turned forward in soft expectation
goodie bags lined up by the podium waiting for you
who came here yesterday but yesterday
means nothing; it must have been hours since
you slipped through those doors and yet the sky
still holds no kiss of dawn and every exit
tunnels back on itself till you forget
what you were looking for

you should not be this calm, not least when
the guest list holds only deadnames of the people
you and everyone you know could have been
and the chocolate in the goodie bags
are matryoshka-wrapped in infinite
plastic cupping your pools
of frustrated longing

in the halls of desk-cramped offices outside
every worker is your first celebrity crush
in dizzying iterations of achingly handsome
men and women whispering in covert urgency
tension vibrating through the impossible crowd
of twinned bodies; supervisors
lean by the door, hands sketching
divergent courses of lives
eyebrows raised in judgement
at all versions of you;

the young man in shirtsleeves mopping marble floors
beneath the crystalline light of atrium glass
does not look at you. you dare not call to him,
lest he turn around and you recognise yourself
and break the flimsy illusion of normalcy
you chant in a desperate mantra of denial
searching for the lifts, a sign, a door
a map saying ‘You Are Here’

the banner outside the seminar room
says ‘Welcome’.

you fall into a chair
weeping into softness
morphing anonymous
shedding memories on the carpet.

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Electra

I’m so glad
you killed her—
my doe-eyed sister
who could not read or dance or carry a worthwhile conversation,
who had no might despite her name
but powered a thousand ships with her blood.
Before this I felt nothing for you—
runaway father, warmonger father,
one of thousands of such fathers,
until you deemed my sister worthy of winds and sea
and rid me of her.
You became heroic father, beloved father.

I owed you a life.
For that I must repay you.
So when Mother killed you
(always loved Iphigenia, did she)
and sent off my weak-willed brother,
I promised I would be your daughter
for the first and final time.

The hand behind Orestes’ sword
was never Apollo’s but
mine.
Sophocles and Euripides and Aeschylus could write of my love, my justice,
my revenge
but I had nothing to avenge.
Electra, simply,
pays her debts.

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Secrets / / Reflections

I never understood the feeling in my stomach
When witches and monsters came
On the TV. For years I thought
They made me afraid,
But that feeling below my heart
Was different from the one I felt when
The gnarled hands of the tree scraped
Across my dark bedroom door.

When I went to college I fell in love
With a girl who did not love me. I shut
Every offensive part of me away, desperate
To be soft and beautiful for her, to hide
My hard edges and the skeletons
In my closet.

When she finally left, the bottle in the
Back of my throat uncorked,
And the anger and the fear that I’d
Hidden away all swarmed to the
Surface, a maelstrom of demons
Desperate for the light after a decade
Kept hidden in the darkness.

I met a witch on the edge of town,
A cliché in a run-down camper with
A light-up fluorescent sign advertising
FORTUNES TOLD. In her eyes I saw myself
Reflected, and when I asked her to
Tell me my future, she took my hand and smiled
And said we’d have to figure it out together.

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The Antidote

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

Arsenika
Alexandra Erin

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Dave, Katharine Mills, Erin Hartshorn, Nila Fhiosagam