Bowery Gothic
 

Night Song

by Geoffrey O’Brien

Through vale hall

the sea noise

bloweth forever

in utter darkness

 

—Just ask the lady

who stole the tape

 

so she could listen

without stirring

 

from her cabin

in the middle of the mountain

 
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The Visitor

by Geoffrey O’Brien

just past the fingertips

just where the voice stops

 

just above the skull dome

just behind the neck bone

 

just beyond eye range

just out of earshot

 

a bit too far to walk to

a bit too small to make out

 

much too wide to size up

much too loose to grab hold of

 

it has been hovering

for what seems like always

 

and has always

just zipped off

 
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The VIGIL

by Geoffrey O’Brien

After so many years

it comes to this—

 

To be standing

by the open door

 

in an icy wind

at midnight

 

waiting for the absent mother

to emerge

 

as a mad ghost

from the surrounding dark—

 

She must be out there

somewhere roaming around—

 

As I stifle the urge

to call toward the shadows

 

as if to someone

late getting home—

 
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House of the Moon

by Amelia Gorman

You thought this mountain cottage would be empty,

where the moss wraps the path from your fuming car.

Your breath gets thinner as you climb into the sky,

 

but one foot just keeps passing the other.

"Careful girl, the moon lives on that mountain," says a story,

"alone in a big house with her knives and her hunger."

 

Just as if you're the owner of little skin pins or a five-toothed key,

you wiggle your hand into the giant lock on the door.

Something eats your skeptic vandal fingers right away.

 

You say, "I'm sorry, I only came here looking for

a phone to call back home. You see, my

mother's awful worried. Sent me out to find my brother."

 

The moon motions you through her manor's crumbling entry,

guides you to her phone, she's kinder than before

but she looks at your other hand with a starving eye.

 

It's a dated lime green piece of circle and number

that you dial with your newfound human ivory.

The voice on the end reminds you, you were sent to find another.

 

Don't come back without him. Else your family

will throw you out into the winter,

trying to pick your old lock with your finger.

Or the moon will eat you slowly. So you stay.

 
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What is Patience Worth?

by Amelia Gorman

"Many moons ago I lived. Again I come. Patience Worth my name… The time for work is past. Let the tabby drowse and blink her wisdom to the firelog.”

—Patience Worth to Pearl Curran via Ouija Board, 1913

 

Without knowing what side of the river

you come from (maybe my own spindles,

dendrite and webs inside an endless skull),

I shiver in the winter of your words.

 

I imagine flapper hands, roaming across letters

that are too hard, fractured, not the treble

of your voice. In that serrated character

there is a second of doubt. Did she invent you

like Hildegard von Bingen and her lingua ignota?

 

I'm sure Aunt Blavatsky would say

'there is no time to look back, or under the table,

no time to show them the backs of your hands.'

Adding, 'hold the egg white in your mouth for hours

while you murmur through layers of cheese cloth'

that might really still be sloughed ghostskin.

 

And Mother Shipton would tell me

to weather the petrifying chill in the air

because it takes as long to learn to hear the dead

as it does for my body to turn to stone in her well.

Time is slender and dripping and growing

rough and rigid, holding in a gustless breath,

each letter passes like slow liquid, single file

through the planchette.

 

Leaving a lifetime of neurons to untangle in the end:

Your wicket things, shadows covered in bloom

and missives draped heavy with veils.

 

I wait angling at the delta, hoping to pull forth either patience or pearls.

 
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weather

by William Lessard

The night that became

night. We open the door

 

in the middle of our bed.

The door is candy corn tear.

 

The door is blue giant

ear. You go first. I follow.

 

The map says call ghosts.

You call with the side

 

of your hand. No ghosts.

You call. Not a ripple

 

in the curtain dark. I say

call with a different voice.

 

You cup your hand, call

as the girl that stands

 

behind your eyes. The girl

is ripped dress tacked

 

to a post. The girl is

blood wiped from the tip

 

of his favorite tie. I know

this girl. She thinks she's

 

hiding, but I catch her.

I've seen her often peering

 

out, sometimes with eyes bolted

to the jewels of foreign fingers.

 

Her voice is your lace curtain 

voice, speaking in gasoline flame.

 

All the ghosts know her. All the ghosts

know you. They appear as smoke

 

blown beneath a door. This is how

the night begins. Your voice, this tree.

 
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Melting Into Ether

by Tess Congo

That all his wives had disappeared like comets, 

evanescent beauties melting into ether. 

 

That he mourned briefly, donning black 

before replacing it with another crimson suit, 

another ceremony. 

 

What could we believe from the whispers?

His wives are the devil’s price for wealth;

he’s a blood drinker, and they his ambrosia;

the beard is his curse, blue as his wives dead;

they poison themselves, anything 

to escape him; he burns their bodies.

 

That his death was plotted a thousand times 

by smaller men; slice his throat, take 

the circle of keys at his belt, claim 

his castle and all the treasures within. 

 

That when Bluebeard returned again and again 

to our village on his ebony steed, we knew;

another one was dead. 

 

And finally, my sister and I were the last 

unwed women in the village. By then,

we had shifted our fabrics inside out to hide

the threads come undone. By then, our father 

had turned the doorway into a coffin

 

when he walked through it, his death

a choice he did or did not deserve, 

and our mother—fighting  

 

for the last crumbs for our table, wept

One of you must marry him.

 
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The White Jester

by Cathy McArthur

A jester appeared behind my mother’s door,

dressed in white

 

pointing at her and laughing.

She said my brother saw it too;

 

he was afraid.

A jester with an odd-shaped hat

 

in her doorway, motioning like a mime—

she didn’t understand what he said;

 

she had to wake up that morning.

Down the hall my brother, on cocaine,

 

waited for her social security check.

The fool in the dream with his laugh terrified her.

 

She had to wake up

to get rid of it.

 
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After Playing the Mother in Dead of Winter

by Katie Manning


Dead of Winter... puts 2-5 players in a small, weakened colony of survivors in a world where most of humanity is either dead or diseased, flesh-craving monsters.”

—Board Game Geek

 

My son and I push through a crowd of people. There’s not enough room for everyone on the helicopter ahead of us, and this is urgent. Suddenly, the ground rumbles, and we are standing on a plane. The plane gains speed and lifts into the air. It veers right and descends. My stomach sinks. We get off the plane in a large grassy field. Isolated bodies wander slowly around us. I tell my son to run with me, but when I turn and see his face—blackened eyes, hanging flesh too white across his cheek and mouth—I know it’s just too late. I pause for a second, but I don’t need to think. I kneel to the ground and put my arms out. He comes to me. His teeth sink into my shoulder. I hold him tight.

 
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King of Tokyo: Home Expansion

by Katie Manning


“In King of Tokyo, you play mutant monsters, gigantic robots, and strange aliens—all of whom are destroying Tokyo and whacking each other in order to become the one and only King of Tokyo.”

—Board Game Geek

 

Don’t let my face

fool you—its smile

cute as a baby bunny

in a pink robot suit.

 

I’ve got claws.

 

And you—

I can turn you so

suddenly from loved

spouse to villain lizard,

alien, or ape.

 

I can make you

my monster.

 

We wear each other

down, tear metal

arms and extra heads

away until we find

a human heart

or two, unleash

some better version

of ourselves.

 
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Eldritch Horror

by Katie Manning

“Across the globe, ancient evil is stirring. Now, you and your trusted circle of colleagues must travel around the world, working against all odds to hold back the approaching horror.”

—Board Game Geek

 

We hit the card

that makes us lose

half of everything:

half of our items,

spells, & clue tokens

tossed into the box.

I watch you decide

which spell to lose.

Your forehead wrinkles

remind me of our

newborn boys—

the lines easier to see

now that you’ve lost

all of your hair.

It’s been two months

since you lost half

of your testicles

and half of your

tumors. It’s been

seven weeks of

chemicals in your

blood. You roll

the dice to cast

the spell you

chose to keep.

You only need

one success.

 
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The Captive

by Ellen Huang

 

here    

            come                                                                                                  

                                      the                                                                                                   

                                                tendrils                                                            of thoughts     

                                                            again. touch them------and dreams dissolve.

            unnatural, keep out, ashes and masks

                                    doesn't the name taste bitter in your mouth? 

act natural? what is natural anymore?

                                    love is said loosely, i guarantee its mortality.

                                                            yet you insist on loving me.

                                    companions are but strangers with names.

yet i know i see you

                        it will never be enough.  yet you reach out for me alone.

 

                                                you will turn, you will betray,

                                                            torn to pieces from every side.

 

                        black ink dark storms invisible electricity

                                                i can tear you down to anything,

                                                                        phantoms seize me in imagination.   

                                                                                    aren't you afraid?

            the name is sweet on my lips.

                                                                                                aren't you afraid?

embrace. an embrace.

            aren't you a—?

be still.

 
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The In-Betweeners

by Lynn White

 

We are the In-Betweeners

gathered round the fire.

The flames will cleanse,

they said,

purify,

make you fit

to fly.

And you can watch

the ones below

flickering

dancing

flaring

alight,

a living fire

of the impure dead.

 

Gather round!

Listen to them

as they crackle

and scream.

It’s only hot enough here

to purify,

they said,

but it’s still too warm

much too warm

hot as hell it seems.

Only enough to purify,

they said

hell is hotter,

surely not.

 

So here we are,

the In-Betweeners

too warm

but still

not feeding the flames.

They say there’s a heaven

that the pure can reach

when they grow wings

and fly above the flames

but how can they?

It’s too warm

for wings

not to singe

not to frazzle

 

surely.

 

So gather round,

it’s here we’ll stay

too warm

but not in flames

and careful not to fall

below.

 
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JerK

by Penina Finger

 

Oh Death, I don’t like you today

and can’t abide by all that nonsense

about your birdlike grace,

swooping like a darkwinged owl

to snuff a breath and cradle souls away.

 

You’re a boor, rude and self-absorbed,

overdressed and loud—

abruptly pulling guests by their elbows from the room

as if yours are the most important needs.

You swing your boorish arms while you pretentiously quote poetry,

knocking people’s drinks from their hands.

 

I don’t buy the stories

that you’re cordial, but misunderstood,

“just doing your job,”

a guileless instrument of fate.

 

Unlike the folks you interrupt and shush,

you have nothing new or interesting to say.

It’s always the same,

and I had plans.

 
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Summer Branching

by Penina Finger

 

While I read a book on the couch last night,

a part of me went out into the cool dark and sat on the curb.

 
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