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Issue 34 • October 2019
edited by Brittany Hause

Table of Contents

Editor’s Introduction • TrickstersBrittany Hause

Sycophantam astrum • Rebecca Buchanan
Anansi Talk • Karyn De Freitas
Obelisk Posture • R. Mac Jones
Soul Feather • David C. Kopaska-Merkel
How to Trick a Trickster • Mary Soon Lee
The Vixen’s Spouse • Avra Margariti
The Fairest • Dawn Vogel
Beaver’s Tail • Brigit Truex
Magic Touch • Lisa Timpf
The Tortoise and the Hunter • O. S. S. Ifere
Old Coyote • Beth Cato
The Devil and the Cashier • Lachlan R.
To Love a Trickster • Gerri Leen
A Tricky Dance • Brishti Guha

Sycophantam astrum

In retrospect,
the first incident
was probably Glenn’s fireflies,
or maybe the music
that Apollo 10 heard
on the far side of the moon.

Apollo 13,

Then came the knocking
at the hatch of the
International Space Station,
and the transient lunar phenomena
that seemed to have no pattern or purpose,
just dancing lights of red and white and black.

In retrospect,
a witch or a shaman
should have been on every mission
from the beginning.

We know better now.

Hindsight, and all that.

Then came Lunar One. 
Airlocks kept opening
and computers kept crashing
and solar panels kept tearing,
sheared by sharp claws.

The crew gave them a binomen
Sycophantam astrum
a comforting ritual in and of itself.

But, secretly, in whispers to one another:
Gremlins, the Brit said.
Jinn, the Iranian said. 


Friends, if we’re polite, the Indian said
as she pulled on her suit
and walked out onto the lunar surface.

And there,
in the light of Earth and Sun,
she offered greeting: 
a song, flowers in a copper bowl,
and sweet water from the holy river
where she played as a child.
It glistened and boiled as she poured,
snatched away.

The pranks stopped,
but the red and white and black lights
came back, and the music.
Singing, too, and footprints
and wingprints and clawprints in the lunar dust.

When the time came,
the Ares One crew was well-prepared.

Knocking at the hatch,
whirling lights outside the windows,
laughter in the darkness.
The witch pulled out her drum,
danced and chanted,
left bowls of milk and honey,
chocolate and fresh oranges
at the first Martian shrine.

More shrines and offerings followed
as we moved past Mars,
through the asteroid belt,
past Jupiter and Saturn,
and further still
to the edge of the solar system.

Songs and drums ready,
we stare now out into the infinite dark,
wondering what tricks will be played upon us,
and what gifts we will have to offer up
to our mischievous friends,
as we move out among the stars.

—Rebecca Buchanan

Anansi Talk

From de air I came.

In de echo of laughter,
In de melody of de song you mother never wanted you to learn,
In de raucous scream of playing children,
In de breath of mischief and revelry I hide.

People know me by many name,
But my favourite is when dey call me Anansi.

My children,
And I have many children,
Dey have learned de best from me,
For I have seen everything.

I was dere when de earth a-tremble with de step of giant.
I was dere when de air burn hot hot with de rage of dragon.
I was dere in de time of de Warau, with dem tree-boat to cross de water dat could carry a hundred man.
I was dere when de ghost people came, bringing death to de land.
I was dere when de ghost people brought de earth people, tied together like animal.

My heart take to de earth people.
I cry for dem who come to do that hard toil.
It was I who adopt dem.
I couldn’t see dem suffer.

Dem is my people now.

Who else could make fun ah dem ghost people Massa and turn it into a party?
Who else could laugh in de face of torture?

Who could fly away in dem mind while dem body were tied to the earth?
Who could squeeze freedom out of iron and cane?

Only my children;
Only Anansi children.

I teach dem,
And I could teach you.
I can spin a web,
And I can spin a tale,
Either way you will be caught.

Ah boy!

De spider have more tale to tell dan de parrot have feather.
For each leg I could tell you a story.
I could tell you story to make you belly burst and you heart feel full.

Let me steal you sorrow, na?
Let me steal you worry.
Let me steal you anger.
Let me steal dem thought dat buzz round you head.

After all, what is one more fly to a spider?

—Karyn De Freitas

Obelisk Posture

Some dragonflies raise their ends
to the sun. They raise
thin abdomens
to point at the sun.
In the end,
it was simply a sun
who wanted worship,
that’s the sum
of so many stories
about gods,
but it burned
its worshipers:
none could stand
at attention or in adoration,
in length or form to match the desires
of the fire wanting down from sky.
Mammals, mollusks, myriapods
but not the dragonfly.
These days, some dragonflies raise
their ends to the sun.
They raise thin abdomens
to point at the sun,
rising in the guise of an obelisk,
seeming to make of themselves
monuments, performing
an obeisance,
in attempts to have the rays
touch less of them
straight on.
Because, though there are other tricky
insects, mammals possessed of wit
and tact, and fish that can swindle,
none had the sass of that dragonfly,
the first one, finding by chance
that when it raised its end
to the sun, less rays
landed on it
and it could hold
that pose on the hottest days,
and the sun loved it, called it
the most perfect worship,
standing at attention,
never guessing
this for a practical gesture,
nor suspecting that the sun
was really
being mooned
by this Odonata.

—R. Mac Jones

Soul Feather

His sleight of hand had served him well for years.
When life and death were balanced on the line,
He feared his heavy soul would fail the test,
So brought a ringer to slip on the scale:
A feather fashioned out of gold and lead
To hack Osiris’ tool for testing souls.
Don’t ask me how he fooled the bright-eyed god;
A trickster keeps some secrets after death.

The Field of Reeds had never known his like.
He slipped fine linens off of pharaohs’ backs,
Rare viands plucked from noble coral lips,
Stuffed palaces with stolen gold and gems,
Put smiles on queens, made fools of mighty kings;
He’d kept his wits, and needed nothing more.

—David C. Kopaska-Merkel

How to Trick a Trickster

Look for a loophole,
a ruse, a lure to wager
in place of your soul.

Offer the canals of Mars
or the moons of Venus
or the ice of stars.

Or venture such things
as Saturn’s mountains
and Mercury’s rings.

Pledge the sum of gold
that the universe owned
when it was one hour old.

And then to follow
add the women launched
by Project Apollo.

—Mary Soon Lee

The Vixen’s Spouse

There’s this pain behind my breast
like I’m missing someone I have no right to miss,
someone I shouldn’t remember.

I have encased myself in cement and steel,
a penthouse apartment—
a different kind of forest, harboring
domesticated 9-to-5 beasts.

If anyone asks, I’ll say, colorful cocktail in hand,
There’s no point in looking back.

Then why do I lie awake at night
feeling your nine tails brushing
against my naked form,
your fir scent and pine sap cleansing
the smog from my pores?

They say magic wives (rabbits, spiders,
and other tricksters)
come and go (mostly go)
and their spouses remain forever
waiting for beloveds they can’t quite recall
(not outside of boreal dreams).

But I left first, didn’t I? That much I know.

I sold the cabin and felled the trees.
I reinvented myself:
stylish asymmetrical bob, Chanel no. 5,
and that one pink velvet Gucci suit
that cost me nine thousand dollars.

I left before you could leave me.
Then why does it feel like I only tricked myself?

—Avra Margariti

The Fairest

They say it’s because of the apple
(always blaming women and apples),
but it’s not my fault.
I didn’t make any of them fight over it.
I only exposed the hatred in their hearts,
their inability to accept that there was anyone
who might outrank them
in any field.

And anyway,
you’re perfectly happy to use me
when it serves your purposes,
when you want a little discord
in the lives of those
who have something
you can never have
no matter how much you desire it.

You say strife, chaos, villainy;
I say mischief, disorder, creation.
It’s nothing more than
two sides of the same coin,
one with an eight-pointed star,
the other emblazoned with my visage,
proof that really
I’m the fairest.

—Dawn Vogel

Beaver’s Tail

Plump, fulsome, gravid clouds
were disappearing, emptied by fat finger-
twist hands of the Twin called Scourge,
called Malice, called Evil.

Deprived of their burden, barren
clouds drifted tattered, colorless. Wet
accumulated below as puddle,
pool, stream-never-before.
Plains gone. Valleys turned unwilling
lakes. Rivers widened, flared.

Fearing deluge, furred, feathered
Creatures gathered young and plotted.

Bear of brown robe, Awasos with her
shadowing Cub, measured pines
for their height. Feather-quivered
in old-sky blue, Tidesso the Jay fluttered,
mouth full of scold for the cowardly clouds,
drenching all to near-drown.
Featherless chicks were at risk.

What to do? Where to go?
Questions flew. Answers darted.
None stopped the flood. Torrents fell.
Water, falling, rising.

More creatures, more voices came.

Shrewd in his mask, Azeban
hollow-drummed a log, fluffed his ring-stripe tail.

Late, last came waddling, wet Tmakwa
of the Fabulous Tail, Beaver of Grand
Entrances. (These names Raccoon stored
in his heart for this new arrival: Least-
favored Braggart with precious furred tail
large as a gourd. Summer shade,
snow-cover, roof for them all).

What if? Furred night-thief-of-stealth pondered.
Might points be made? Could he be the lessoner?

A plea squeaked from Raccoon’s mouth,
for some brave hero, one clever
to outwit corrupt Twin,
sweep sodden clouds safely away.

Azeban-words rang in the forest, slithered
the soaked Circle, up to the ears of his
intended-dupe, hunched dry under fluffed fur-brella:
“All puzzled we are,” cried Raccoon,
“all stumped for water-salvation.”

At last, small breaks in the rain. All dashed away,
scattering splatters beneath dank lowering skies.

Tmakwa murmured and mused his way home,
a forested pool. He mouthed a word,
swelled his cheeks: one, then the other.
Slowed, paused at each arbor, spoke
secreted pleas. From each tree, a nod.

A hope. A plan. Work began.

Bite. Chew. Gnaw. One by one—
down, white birch, dripping gold.
Over, grey ash, trail your spear-point leaves.

Paddled and pushed, timber wove limbs
as fence, wall, dam;
stoppered the tumult that fed ponds,
flooded valleys and rivers. Once surge,
now trickle, now seep. Tattered clouds
wrung dry. No plink, no splat. No sound
but wind.

Then, sudden, without a single cloud, thunder.

Fury-faced Twin sloshed down hillsides,
emptied streams with his huge feet. At last—
the culprit creek-bed, plugged with felled trees.

Which clever architect? One name
came to mind. Tmakwa! rang out.

Mosquito-mimic Tidesso swooped and dove,
raucous, righteous. Tallest pine offered branches
as Awasos and Cub clambered up.
Trunk-tunneled, Azeban peered out,
claiming innocence as shield.

Beaver-mouth fell open, branches fell out.
He dashed, not fast enough.
Three strides, one thumping pound
on his wonderous tail—the giant’s huge foot.
That fur-plushed, following-thing, squashed flat!

Gone with one swipe: sleek, shiny fur.
In its place: trail-worn, old moccasin sole.

Quick now above: arm-waving shadow-loom!
Tmakwa the Wise dove for his deep-hidden lodge.
Preyless Twin vented his rage. Kicked rivers aside.
Boulder-pitted fields. Scored flint-sided mountains.

Defeated, outsmarted, he clattered away
over the horizon, a chittering speck,
railing, flailing skyward.

At last, overhead, no more rainclouds
to wrest or wring. Only sunlight,
saucy stars. An old pottery moon.

See tiny Tidesso-copies flutter, new winged.
Branch by branch, Cub and her mother
ground themselves. Raccoon-eyed
Azeban blinks in brightness,
near blinded—shimmers sparking from Beaver.

New-minted teeth, fist-big and gold,
paired mirrors shining.

Reward for my labors, Tmakwa declares.

“And this” (the words thwack-punctuated),
“this” (with his deflated new tail).
Proud as ever, off he swims, calling,
“Aren’t I just fine?”


—Brigit Truex

Magic Touch

Located on Granville Street in Halifax,
Domenic’s Sporting Goods
doesn’t look like much, from the front,
but once you get inside
it’s bigger than you expected.
That’s just one aspect of its charm.
There are others,
one being that the proprietor hails
from the third system past Alpha Centauri.
Dom’s clients are special.
Their seeing-eye putts rattle unerringly into the cup.
Their tennis shots zoom across the net
with laser accuracy. They can launch a baseball
near into orbit, given the right bat.
They’re careful how often they do it.
Talent’s the gas that makes the engine run—
in the hands of a beer league hack,
one of Dom’s enchanted hockey sticks
is just a lifeless twig.
“How much?” the athletes ask,
reaching for their credit cards
when they come to pick up their order.
When he tells them, “A year of your life,”
their faces morph, just for a shocked second.
Then they laugh.
“No, really,” they say.
And Dom picks a dollar figure
that sounds reasonable.
They pay both ways,
whether they acknowledge it
or not.
Some, who come to suspect
Dom wasn’t joking after all
don’t come back.
But he knows enough of them
will return
to keep him in business.
Success can be addictive.

—Lisa Timpf

The Tortoise and the Hunter

A day’s labour, a day’s work
For only a little tortoise in a trap
So small, with little flesh, good for just a bowl of soup

Free me, free me and you’ll never hunger again
The prey spoke, the hunter stilled

Magical beasts and wish-granting spirits
These the hunter knew existed
But wishes could be twisted

And some power could be gained
Even from a bowl of soup

Free me, free me and you’ll never grow old
The prey spoke, the hunter pondered

Power that could be devoured was weak
And with a reward in the place of a wish
A safe choice could be made

Free me, free me and you’ll never worry again
The prey spoke, the hunter agreed

The tortoise smiled as it was lifted from the trap
A smile filled with shiny human teeth

A sudden movement, a flash of light
The hunter slipped and fell and hit his head
Never again to worry or age or hunger

—O. S. S. Ifere

Old Coyote

old Coyote
I see you at my gate
that hunger in your eyes
you’re here to make mischief
maybe grab a cat or two

old Coyote
my grandma told the old tales
I’m wise to your mean tricks
and most importantly of all
my cats are always kept inside

you come for them
old Coyote
I don’t give a damn if you’re a god
I got a shotgun and good aim
you leave me and mine alone

—Beth Cato

The Devil and the Cashier

The Devil likes to patronize Vin’s Vinyl
Where his cape drags through the dust

He pretends to examine the old records
Hoping the customers will notice him
Leaning against the racks just so

On slow days he will clear his throat
And gesture to the giant poster
Of Led Zeppelin sitting on a car hood

“I gave them their talent” he lies
“In exchange for their immortal souls”

“Sure you did” says the cashier
Not looking up from his copy of Inked

“I even wrote some of their songs"
“‘Immigrant Song’ is my best work”

“All right” says the cashier “I get it”

The Devil waits for the cashier
To respond further to his claims
When he doesn’t, the Devil sulks
And slinks quietly from the store

—Lachlan R.

To Love a Trickster

She sits outside the cave
His giant lover
Watching me as I
Catch the venom before
It falls into my husband’s eyes

He’s mine too

Sharing him with her has followed me
In glances and pitying smiles
“There she goes
The stupid one
The one who was tricked”

You were never tricked

She’s right: I never was
I knew what Loki was
How he was—and wasn’t
I wanted him anyway
Even if I had to share him

Come away—he doesn’t deserve you

No, he doesn’t
But I hear his cries
No matter how far this iron hag
And I run, no matter how deep
The cave that we hide in

But for a time, we find peace

No, we don’t
We find momentary escape
In frantic kisses and touches
In the oblivion that pleasure brings
Until his cries pierce the veil

Hasn’t he taken enough from us?

Our children
Our beautiful, hideous children
Our lives—for here we sit
I with my bowl
Her with her wisdom so bitterly won

He doesn’t deserve us
    We knew who he was
Dump the bowl, make him burn
    We loved how he made us feel
Leave him to his fate
    Even lost in each other, we miss him
So that’s it? We’re cursed to love a trickster?
    Yes, to the bitter end

—Gerri Leen

A Tricky Dance

The ash demon meditates upon the river bank.
Bhasmasur by name, he invokes Shiva in prayer—
Shiva, the lord of destruction, the refuge of outcasts everywhere.
Easily pleased, he soon appears in front of his demonic devotee.

“Grant me immortality, lord,” the demon begs. “No, that would violate
The known laws of the universe. Seek some other boon,” the lord replies.

Bhasmasur sighs and says, “Then at least
Give me the power to burn man or beast
To cinders, the moment my hand’s on his head.
No matter who it is, he should wind up dead!”

“So be it,” pronounces the lord. As he does, he notices a wicked glimmer
In the ash demon’s eyes. “Let me see
If your boon really works,” he says with glee.
He advances towards Shiva with outstretched hand.
The lord flees him, shielding his head best he can.

Lord Vishnu sees Shiva’s plight. He can’t flee forever—he needs help,
He thinks—and transforms into Mohini, a gorgeous beauty, who places herself
Right in the middle of the route Bhasmasur’s taking.

The ash demon stops in his tracks,
Forgets chasing gods, and scans his brain for lines
That could impress beautiful girls.

“Let’s get together! What do you say?” he finally manages.

Mohini smiles and flutters thick eyelashes.
“I don’t know about that. My passion is dance—
So if you want to be my man, you must show me
What you can do on the dance floor!”

“I can’t do much as yet,” the ash demon confessed.
“But if you teach me, I’ll try! I’ll become the best dancer in town
If you give me the chance—I won’t let you down!”

“Excellent, then,” beams Mohini. “Just watch me—
And copy every single one of my dance moves.”

Besotted, Bhasmasur agrees. She dances—experimentally, so does he.
This is fun, the demon thinks. Who knew? After a few moves, he gains in confidence,
Twirls and spins around, waving his arms. “Watch and learn,” Mohini says as she
Puts her hand on her head. He does the same,
And burns to cinders. “One god saved, enough for the day,” says Mohini—

She stops dancing.

—Brishti Guha