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Lea Marshall

Dark Matter

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They moved in a pack
crossing the ashen field
eight legs, like a ragged
pair of horses.
Pieces fell away as they ran
– a black sleeve,
chicken bones, book pages
sifted, fluttered
sank into darkened
ground. They did not
stop. They did not
cry out but moved on
bent over the torn earth
under shreds of smoke
distant fires
did not cry out
but you could see them
for breath you could see
their eyes roll back,
you hoped it was working
you hoped they could
forget the vanished –
a cicada's call,
traffic, sleeping
leaves, warm
even anger.
But when their feet
sank into pits soft
as snow except
where bones had fetched
up one against another
into drifts of calcium
one of them glanced up
up through the cracked
wind up at the spiked black
sky, up, and over the bones
they stopped
swayed, as wheat does
swayed, slowed.
Their throats were bare.

Letter to a Deposed Dictator from a Young Correspondent

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Dear General,

I was sorry to hear that a hailstorm
ruined your last outing. I hope that you
will be able to walk out again while the mimosa
trees still bloom in your garden. Thank you
for asking about Sadie. She grows so fast
and yesterday she knocked over my glass
jewelry box with her tail. It didn't break,
and the turquoise necklace you sent is safe.

In school right now I am studying
algebra, which feels to me like decoding
secret messages. Do you like math?

On Saturday Mama taught me to bake bread
and I'd like to send you some if you think
they will let me. I remember that day I finally
got to meet you after all our letters. We sat
outside under your fig tree, and you told me
how much you love to eat fresh bread with honey.
You asked why I first wrote to you,
and I'm still not sure. But in the photo I saw
you looked so happy, holding your son's thin hand,
with your dog sitting near.

The weather here has been strange too –
we saw a green tornado race over the fields
yesterday, but heard of no damage. I hope
it's not too dark now where you are.

Notes on the Dictator as a Young Man

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He carried his shoulders like a burden
or a weapon. No one refused him. No one
really spoke to him at all until long
after the morning he woke with his arms

each replaced by a single, huge feather
green as the bay under a silver sky. Barbs
scraped his sides, caught on the sheets,
sharply rustling. Scent of coffee. His head

twitched round, and shearing the books,
glasses, lamp from the side table, he
shouldered past the curtains, stumbled
to the balcony and the sun. Gazed at the sea

blinking, as his spine fell into place and he lifted
two fucking feathers, what good what good
are these for shooting a gun or flying
an airplane, or even writing a letter. A continent

away his mother turned in her sleep, dreamt
of ceaseless running. She never dreamed of flight
which is why at the moment of coup, palm
trees crushed out front, plaster falling, his gun

at the President's temple, he paused at the parrot's
emerald wing opening, then without thinking fired.

From the Deposed Dictator to his Young Correspondent

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The rains have come. From
my table I hear water pouring
off the eaves beyond the locked
cypress doors. Two lizards scuffle
in the corner by a dead mouse.
They have taken all my pens but one.

My cook used the beautiful bread
you sent to make a pudding.
But I saved some first, devoured
it with honey and my last cup
of port, and smiled at your small
floured hands kneading, growing

deft. Your letter about the play
put me in mind of Harlequin
and his tattered dancing, all in red
and black. Have you seen him?
I don't believe that he comes
from hell, though some do.

But in the night I imagine him
standing in sand, watching my ship
founder off shore. The sailors row
towards him amidst screaming gulls.
His torn hat loops, then scuds away
as he turns a slow cartwheel,
dreaming of his wayward Columbine.

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