Darlene Quaife


Z is for Gypsy


I started eating words when I was a child. The first I tasted were ARBEIT MACHT FREI. At the time everything was food for thought, bad tasting and good. Then I had ZUGANG shoved down my throat, upon arriving, before the distraction of numbers. I choked; they laughed. I spit out their words; they laughed harder. I had not been showered, not been registered. They ran their fingers through my hair. It would be stored, EFFEKTENKAMMER. I'd get it back, they said, when I left the camp. I went on to eat numbers; long after I stopped fingering the scar on the inside of my arm. It was much later and only came about because eating words in my new life limited me to birthday cake. I got into numbers by accident. They came on a baby Guoda from Safeways, Dutch numbers, close enough. The more I ate, the more completely the numbers on the inside of my arm faded. Now, in order to read my scar, I must do it with my fingertips, like Braille. Except for the Z. What I know is . . . I disgorged all the words I ever swallowed, blotting them up with paper. I see again the sign over the main entrance to Auschwitz #1, WORK WILL SET YOU FREE. The barracks for newcomers who still thought of themselves as free. The storehouse where I worked sorting hair by colour.


Zugang: access, intake, recruitment, acquisition

Effektenkammer: securities chamber


Published in Calendric, filling Station Publications Society





~Mermaids sing but they don't cry~


The tears of an ugly mermaid are an aphrodisiac. He beat it with a stick to make it cry more. The heat was enough. Penned in behind the hut, out of water, the tears flowed not to lubricate love but to protect the eyes. Blinded by tears so not to be blinded by light. Especially the refection of the tin cup held against first one eye then the other. The metal hot. The precious liquid evaporating so there would never be enough to satisfy. In the name of passion he beat it some more. He was mistaken to think that pain would produce anything more than grunts. He associated these sounds with his wife and took them as a good omen. Over the years he had had a lot of success with a good, stout rod. The tears he deposited in small blue bottles with tight cork stoppers. He stored them in a tin box under the floorboards not far from where they slept on their mat. It was the coolest place or so he decided. But of course the tin box of treasure was close by, aphrodisiac to his fantasies. He had never tasted tears. Now there was no need. He was passed wanting anymore children. They either died or forgot to send money from their jobs in the city. The tears were for other men. It was better to have the mermaid. Beached right outside his door, it was a gift from from the gods. That's how he took it.



Sirenia: an order of aquatic herbivorous placental mammals having forelimbs modified as paddles and a horizontally flattened tail, this order contains only the dugong and manatees.


Published in absinthe Magazine


Read More Published Poems


"Afternoon Epiphany" in Branching Out



"A/Wake" in Black Apple (note typo in published poem Wake VII: better=batter)