Three Poems by Abigail Dembo


The man who lives in the shack
in the woods is the planter of weeds.
He wears a fisherman’s hat
and carries a burlap satchel.
When he steals chickens, he puts them in this satchel.
When he steals eggs, he puts them in the hat.
His heart is flies on a rotten apple.
His ethics are the eyes of a dead sheep.
He keeps a sharpened spoon in his back pocket.
Sticks it in a man’s soul and takes its wallet.
His ears are filled with thistle. 
Boils a brick for his dinner.
His mother was a grackle.
His father had pointed teeth.
He bent the cross on the church steeple.
His reflection made water bitter.
He could leave guilty fingerprints
on the bottom of a river.
He glares at people from the knots in trees.
He thins the moon by starving it.
His mind has a judge drowning in it.
His conscience bleated, so he killed it.
He invented humming to trick us.

The Lesson

Some people have lots of sugar—
white sugar, brown sugar—
they filter it through animal bones.
They heat it until it turns to charcoal.
So they survive the winter.
So they do not starve, they melt it, dilute it
with water, flavor it with tarragon,
to lure hummingbirds into a wicker basket
hanging over . . . oh heavens! Sweet,
damned people, eating cooked hummingbird
with mustard. Grinding mustard seeds with stones.
Picking the meat from between their teeth.
Using the stones to smooth their feet.
Beautiful, sweet people with smooth feet,
dancing on the tips of their shiny toes,
in a convention with bright marble floors.
The musicians are kept outdoors.
They play resentful fiddles.
The beautiful, damned, sweet people
dance the apologia.  

Of Success

From five thousand matches
I built Notre-Dame cathedral.
From the agony of ants carrying the bodies
Of their dead I made the death shroud.

I made the hole that is six feet deep.
From the failures of translation of ancient texts,
I made a tower of incense.

The incense makes the earth smell fresh, in spite of all this.
A ghost is in the smoke. The smoke is at the bottom of the earth.
The earth is wet with it. Underneath the earth I have laid crossroads
So the lost can find one another. Can they help? No, they are lost.
Nothing happens in the way they think.
They hug and then lead one another astray.

Abigail Dembo lives in Berkeley, California. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in The Threepenny Review, Oxford Magazine, EPOCH, Laurel Review, RHINO, and other places.