SEP TEPY (The First Time)1

Caitie Barrett

If we assume two things-one, that the best place to start is the beginning, and two, that the Heliopolitan Cosmogony is accurate-then we ought to start with an androgynous figure masturbating. That was how Atum created the universe, and it makes sense, after all; if one’s cosmogony relies upon a single creator deity, then what more ready way to do the job? So let’s start, then, with the mound of creation, a dark wet pile of earth emerging from the chaos waters. On top of this mound Atum has come into being and he is taking care of what he has to do.

[img_assist|nid=8597|title=Water Under the Bridge by Melissa Tevere © 2012|desc=|link=node|align=none|width=400|height=401]

First all the universe is contained inside one being, and then it’s splattered all over the place, like the mirror-glass mosaics of Isaiah Zagar. All over South Street, walls explode out at the sun in glittering fragments, and yet stay intact. Covered in reflections of the city and the sky as seen from every angle, the wall is revealed, after all, to contain both the city and the sky.

We’re all sitting in fractured, glittering Philadelphia smoking a hookah in Leila’s Café, and the smoke (apple mint, the tastiest of the flavors) provides a sort of glue sticking the fragments back together. How soft and curving that smoke is, like the women in the imagination of 19th-century Orientalists! But Sir Richard Burton2 would truly have been unable to contain his urge to create a universe if he had heard the conversation, which focused on Gina and her fiancé’s recent decision to become polyamorous. The hookah is certainly polyamorous, anyway, penetrating everyone’s mouths with equal abandon (except for mine; I put one of those disposable tips on the nozzle; Orientalist pastimes are no more likely to protect one from colds than is Communion wine). Gina’s friend Dave has taken her hand, while her fiancé’s brother chats with me. The café owner’s daughter, who wears tight jeans and a blue headscarf and has a California accent, seems equal parts happy and dismayed.

Gina doesn’t want to change her Facebook status to "Open Relationship" because she hasn’t told her sister yet. By the time you’re thirty, your Facebook wall becomes a mosaic of friends’ babies’ faces, small round eager things that blur, at thumbnail size, into soft ash-colored blobs like smoke rings, and then dissolve away again. At a distance these walls that Zagar treated, these sun-sharp multifaceted mirrors, are revealed as the compound eyes they are. The buildings must have always had such eyes, but it was only after Zagar made them visually explicit that we could tell. At what time will these insect-eyed creatures buzz away, up into the air, into the sun from which they came? At what hour will the city fly away from us?

Broken glass both inside and outside the museum: inside, where they broke into the vitrines, and outside, where they burned the cars and beat the protestors in Tahrir Square. The Cyclops eyes of news cameras have, more or less, closed by now. The compound fly-eye of the glass still stares open on the ground, though, constantly assaulted by the substance of the sun (the Greeks thought: we see objects because they constantly emit thin films that physically hit our eyes) and throwing that white sun-stuff back again.

No one does polyamory like gods, except perhaps for Muammar Qaddafi, whose "voluptuous Ukrainian nurse" has gone back to Kiev, while Ajdabiya burns. Even Jesus has his many brides, like Sister James and Sister Anthony at St. Anne’s Preschool, who used to read the same story to us every day, about a bat trying to escape from hunters. I don’t remember why the hunters wanted the bat anyway (how much meat could be on it?) but it was a very suspenseful story and always made the hour after snack time unnecessarily stressful.

[img_assist|nid=8620|title=Under Penn by Patrick Snook © 2012|desc=|link=node|align=left|width=350|height=525]Almost Easter, now. The river bank is burning with cherry blossoms, and it’s almost time to go back to St. Paul’s to share that yearly Middle Eastern meal. In Taposiris Magna they’re looking for Cleopatra VII’s tomb, even though they won’t find it there;the ancient sources are quite clear on the location of the Ptolemies’ mortuary complex in Alexandria. "Zowie" Hawass, as my parents call him, announced with great enthusiasm the project plans, in a video in which he calls his impending revelation of Cleopatra’s burial "the greatest discovery of all time." Entombed at her side they expect to find her Ukrainian nurse, Mark Antony.

Elizabeth Taylor’s grave is in Glendale, California, and Richard Burton (the Orientalist) and Richard Burton (Mark Antony) can meet up, if they like, to share a hookah in St. Paul’s Café. If you lose your one true love, says the traditional Scottish song, you will surely find another, / Where the wild mountain thyme / grows around the blooming heather. The Egyptian gods are famous, of course, for their numerous forms. Semele asked to see the true form of god; and so she did. It was fire.

And as for Dionysus: he was born in blood, of course. Ah, well, who wasn’t? With him it was merely a bit more obvious, torn from his father’s raw thigh. I suppose we all feel somewhat out of place in all the substitute wombs we find.

Dionysus the wine god: and don’t those Sufi poets praise god constantly by invoking drunkenness? Indeed, the linkage of intoxication and religious ecstasy would appear to be cross-cultural; has there ever been a society that eschewed intoxicants? None that I’ve found yet, and I’ve been looking for a while. If it isn’t liquor, it’s tobacco, or herbal substances, or God knows what. Beloved, Beloved, you surpass all wine.

One could square the circle if Mary were to be the one to destroy the body of her son, to rip it up, the way Agave does. But she doesn’t do so-no. Wine in the cup, and that is blood; bread for flesh, like sparagmos. I never drank that wine, not even at my first communion. My mom was afraid that I would catch a cold from the other children, and after all, wasn’t she right? I could have done. The mother knew better than the priest; but, after all, that’s always true. It was true of Mary, wasn’t it? And of Agave, too.

It seems like it must be nice to be a polyamorist. But then again, it also seems rather unpleasant. As for me, my Beloved is mine, and I am my Beloved’s. Pass me more of that burning, iron-tasting wine. They say that Californian wines exceed the French; in fact, the Judgment of Paris3 decided it. Does that then make the United States equivalent to Aphrodite? I like it, I like it; everyone’s Beloved, why, the sacred whore. I like it, I like it. But all the same, it isn’t fully true.

The old country laborer, passing me in Alexandria, grinned and asked, "How much?" I gave him the finger, only afterwards realizing that the gesture might not transfer cross-culturally; perhaps he was thinking, "Only one pound? Wallahi, what a deal!" But what’s to be done? Many pretty girls in Cairo wear sparkly veils that only half-hide their hair. Most of my boyfriends prefer to wear a veil of words: each syllable glittering, like mirrored tesserae. Sometimes you see yourself in them, and sometimes you see the whole design. Sometimes you see both at once, but that’s a rarity, much to be cherished, like simultaneous orgasm.

The first question I got at my interview for the Cornell professorship was, "How does your work engage with Edward Saïd?" In Luxor I was looking for a birthday present for my dad when I came upon a stuffed goldfish, modeled after the main character in Finding Nemo, which played Arabic pop songs when you pushed its stomach. Of course I bought it; as the man at the souvenir shop said when I tried to bargain down the price, "But it’s Nemo!"

Running along the Schuylkill River’s mirrored glass in spring, you pass numerous geese with half-grown babies. In a New Kingdom love poem from Papyrus Harris 500, migratory birds appear as images of the soul. A girl goes hunting for birds down by the river, and accidentally catches her own soul. As for me, I don’t want to make them angry; when they have young they are notoriously mean. The baby souls ripple the water, swimming carefully in line. Drops of flying water, each a tiny little magnifying glass-when I was a small child I thought I was the first person who had ever noticed the magnifying effect of water drops. Glittering river, mirror water, Zagar’s walls dissolved-well, good then, keep on at it, little fuzzy souls.


1Sep Tepy: "the first time" (Hieroglyphic Egyptian). In Egyptian religious texts, sep tepy refers particularly to the moment of the creation of the universe.
2Richard Francis Burton (1821-1890): British explorer, captain in the East India Company, and translator of various Arabic and Sanskrit texts, including the Kama Sutra and The Perfumed Garden of the Shaykh Nefzawi.
3A wine competition held in Paris in 1976, at which Californian wines swept all categories.

Caitie Barrett is a classical archaeologist and Egyptologist. Her poems have been published in Pressed Wafer Foldems, Can We Have Our Ball Back, Palimpsest, and The Gamut; she was also a finalist in the first annual Bow and Arrow Poetry Contest. She lives in Ithaca, NY and works as an Assistant Professor of Classics at Cornell University.

Advice from an Opossum

Noel Sloboda

Ignore your brothers and sisters
until you secure your place
in the pouch. Then grow up quickly.

Once you step out on your own,
devour everything in your path,
from acorns to carrion. Revel

in delicacies to be discovered
in garbage cans. Sleep all day.
Develop the wiry muscles

in your pink, prehensile tail:
seeing the world upside down
is sometimes inspiring. Scavenge

country roads, but beware
white lights cascading across
the blacktop. If they approach,

bare all fifty of your teeth.
If that fails to stop them, perform
an Elvis: bask in the glow

as you bloat and stiffen; secrete
a horrible smell; hold
perfectly still; and dream

of swallowing the moon.

Noel Sloboda is the author of the poetry collection Shell Games (sunnyoutside, 2008) as well
as the forthcoming Our Rarer Monsters.
He has also authored a book about Edith Wharton and Gertrude Stein. Sloboda
teaches at Penn State York and frequently works as a dramaturg for the
Harrisburg Shakespeare Company.

Tambourine

John David Muth

An open hand
Pops
The shallow drum,
While flocks
Of metal songbirds
Fly frightened
Into the sky.
John David Muth was born and raised in the central NJ
area and has been an academic advisor at Rutgers University for eleven years.
He started writing poetry in high school, a little over twenty years ago. Being
a great lover of music, especially classical, much of his poetry attempts to
describe the sounds that musical instruments make when they are playing.  He likes to give these playing instruments
animal or human behaviors.

Gardener

Katy Diana

A stony man
fiddled green
in the swallow’s fire.

As air slipsighed,
bent his knee nowhere
and flew.

Katy Diana is a poet and freelancer living in
Philadelphia. Her work has been published in
The Pennsylvania Gazette, Phlare, Mastodon
Dentist
, All Things Girl, Ursinus
Magazine,
and The Lantern.
She was the 2006 recipient of the Dolman Prize for Creative Writing and the
Fall 2004 winner of
The Lantern Poetry Prize while she
attended Ursinus College.  She currently works in medical publishing for
Lippincott Williams & Wilkins/Wolters Kluwer Health.

In Winter

Laura Gido Taddei

Winter is here and I ache.
The embers shift, grow faint.

The trees are covered
waiting in layers of white.

The shovel leans against the house
calls you to step outside
to lift and lift the grayness that grew so great

the sky so wide and so knowing

could no longer resist, let go
spilled itself over the walkways and roads
calling you to work
digging up paths and clearing windshields
so the people can know where to go.

But I am here and I ache.

Why not leave
the people to their own, let them
freeze if they must.

Come inside and be with me
where we can sink
and rise and become

leaves that tumble on a river
the ones that made it through
the mean Winter thaw.


Laura Gido Taddei studied French and Italian at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, the Université de Paris VII, and the Scuola Per Stranieri in Siena, Italy. Her poetry has appeared in the Schuylkill Valley Journal. She has four kids, a husband, and two cats. She lives and works in the suburbs of Philadelphia.

Time and All Its Nothing

Phylinda Moore

spread like a string along a pathway
empty silence is nothing of time
time is the space between fingers

body pressing bed, distant smack of wood
careful wandering in and out of rooms
rest desire

one breath follows another
careful resonance
careful
flowers on branches bobbing just past the window

Phylinda lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She
has also lived in Oklahoma, Washington D.C., Malaysia, and New Orleans. Print
and online publications include: Fuselit, The Rambler, Poor Mojo’s Almanac(k),
Miller’s Pond Poetry Magazine, Anemone Sidecar, and Midwest Literary Magazine. She
earned her MFA from Rosemont College. For more poetry, visit her website phylindamoore.com

THE KOANS for Miriam Sagan

Devon Miller-Duggan

They’ve asked her riddles (they’re not riddles) about
the first color that bent into light and
how many fingers wiggled the first hand.

She’s taken her Desert Faith, and headed up once again
into the mountains that are Buddha’s lap.

You walked? It hurt?
(He knows about her hip.)

I walked. My people like a walk.
The hip’s been better, though.

How strong before you were born?

Trees.

What sound does a tree make, laughing?

You knew about my hip, but not about
the scholar who recorded conversations among trees?

Two crows on a branch.

My big pine died of drought.
Tell me your conditions.
I raised a child who learned
to speak old languages. Who longed to herd sheep
on a mountain like a piece of night that broke off and crashed down.

She says she fed the apricot tree by hand with grey-water.
She lays a handful of fruits at his feet.

Devon Miller-Duggan has had poems in Rattle, Shenandoah, Margie,
Christianity and Literature, The
Indiana Review
, Harpur Palate, The
Hollins Critic
and a longish list of really little magazines.  She’s won an Academy of American Poets Prize,
a fellowship from the Delaware Division of the Arts, an editor’s prize in Margie, and been nominated for a
Pushcart Prize.  She teaches for the
Department of English at the University of Delaware.  Her first book, Pinning the Bird to the Wall appeared from Tres Chicas Books in
November 2008.

Waterlogged

Alexandra Gold

We were throwing books in the river my Grandmother and I
in New Hampshire off a wooden bridge not quite Monet’s
surrounded by neighbors, hunters, schoolteachers
that girl from English class in high school Alicia though
I hadn’t seen her since graduation four years ago

I tossed in Kerouac’s On the Road and the irony wasn’t lost
as it floated raft-like downstream – the only book I could never
finish because it was about travel and everyone drove in circles
She threw in 1984 maybe it was Fahrenheit 451 – something
with a number at any rate something political and as
we watched them gather around stone or drift onward like lily pads
the woman on my right a Hemingway caster confessed

I hope someone is there collecting them on the other side before trout
Originally from Jupiter,
Florida, Alexandra Gold has been living in Philadelphia for several years as a
student at the University of Pennsylvania where she is currently pursuing a
Master’s degree in English Literature. Her poem “Water, Communion” previously
appeared in the Winter 2009/2010 Issue of Philadelphia Stories, leading her to
believe there is truly, as they say, “something in the water.”

Want of Fire

Grant Clauser

If this rain
in the forest,
then a full moon
for keening dogs.
If love,
then a dark room
fighting against firelight.
If warmth from the fire,
If wood smoke,
then time,
the patience it takes to grow a whole tree.
If dogs, curled on a rug
in front of the andirons,
then love in a forest
bathed in moonlight.
If this forest
and you listening
for trees to fall,
then me shivering in the rain
for want of fire.

Grant Clauser lives in Hatfield, PA where he works as a
magazine and website editor. Poems have appeared in a variety of journals
including Painted Bride Quarterly, Schuylkill Valley Journal, The Literary Review,
Apiary and the Cortland Review. He was the 2010 Montgomery County Poet
Laureate. This fall he’ll be teaching a class on nature writing at Musehouse in
Chestnut Hill.

Vanish

Jonathon Todd

A formal apology for silence,
the emerging memory of places and scents,
Every gesture,
departing footsteps,
the fog of four a.m.
A pas de trois with a celestial gaze
to the bark of familiarity.
A place full of objects,
full of disorganized sequences.
A place with a great empty table,
full of wine and insects.
And all the cards vanish,
and the numbers structure the faces,
and the ace is a burning clock,
and the joker is seeking god,
and the king has no kingdom,
and the queen weeps in fear of:
bugs,
spilled milk,
emptiness,
hair,
contact and empathy,
ovaries,
sunlight moving up dirt roads,
of coming home,
coming home.

And the ink bleeds to ash.
Everyone knows the deck is stacked,
so we smoke cigarettes and make love in the woods…
come to breath and bath in absence.

A great list, ordered sentences, summer heat,
the milky thought of repetition, blinding the eye of god.

Jonathon Todd is a poet and musician from Philadelphia currently living in NYC. He blends a love of language and performance with an ideal to “say a hard thing in a simple way,” as Bukowski once said. His work has been featured in Shakefist Magazine, Lower East Side Review, and Apiary Online among others. You can read more on his blog:  http://jonathontodd.blogspot.com