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FOUR POEMS

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By Sam Magavern

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The Montréal Review, November 2022

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Sisyphus (Oil, Canvas, 31 x 31) by Anatoly Shumkin. Rakov Gallery

THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE

How many stupid days I wasted!
Trying to turn the dull, old stones
into gold.  When all around me

were blithering idiots who knew
how to transmute hard, little seeds
into magnificent pink blossoms;

worm spittle into elegant sarongs;
shabby, used words into songs.

 

La Peche Miraculeuse (c. 2004, Bronze), by Jean-Michel Folon

DAEDALUS

It’s possible to build
a fish instead of
the usual routine
of catching it out
of the dark sea . . .

I did it!  In the cunning
silence of my exile
I made this glittering
thing, painstakingly
layering scale
upon shining scale with
no tools but needle
and thread (and my
labyrinthine brilliant
head).

I made a perfect fish.
But it is cold, dead.

 

Natalia Osipova in the ballet Medusa (2019) by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. Photograph: Andrej Uspenski (Sotheby's)

MEDUSA’S HEAD

The snakes slithered and spit.
They were truly hideous,
signing the air with a scrawling,
sprawling, slick script,
hissing their sibilant, sibylline
syllables.

But when Perseus severed her
head, when she was finally dead,
out of her gushing neck

sprang the winged, white horse,
Pegasus.   How could beauty
be born from something so evil
and revolting?  Our ink is what
monsters bled.

 

Phenomenon, (acrilic, canvas, 2020) by Airo Sergey. Rakov Gallery

THE EARTH WORM

Pink and slimy, how
you struggle as you
wriggle through dirt.

The Ancient Scholiast
defines you as
a defiler of corpses and
minion of Hades.

But I know you toil too
for Father Zeus,
introducing air –
tiny bits of heaven –
into the black soil.

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Sam Magavern is a writer and public interest lawyer, currently teaching at the University at Buffalo Law School.  He is the author of Primo Levi's Universe. He has written in a wide variety of genres – poetry, fiction, film, scholarly essays, and comic books – and published in many of the leading literary magazines, including Poetry, The Antioch Review, and The Paris Review.

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