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From ‘Hob’s Labor’.


Hob and his ghostly victims debate.

MY HANDS DEVOID bereft astray I went
Down in the mouth and found myself
A knoll to fume atop and stew.
Nobody home and kiss goodbye
Lay thick as glue upon this yawning hummock’s summit
And there lay my leaden brain
Spotless as a drowned man’s eye.
What is to b–
I’ll have a word with you, cruel Hob
and me
and me

Chime in, bells;
cut in on dismal Hob, all you hearty knives
what a think you’re stuck in, neck-deep Hob!
we have him right where we want him.
thick as a thief’s been caught wet-handed
Wait! I’m no hostage yet, but I’m still host
To you, my pretty parasites,
And to all hijackers and intruding ghosts
Say welcome. No men tell dead tales, and yours I guess
Are alive indeed, though not so much you.
why should we be dead if there is you to murder, Hob
But you wriggle merely as the sound of fish,
A meager set of gasps, nowhere dense,
Starved of any risk or possibility.
we’ll swarm so close
we’ll throttle the ear
as fills the pale wind
some cemetery sail

Yet in all these invasions I see much to ignore,
In short, too dainty a pollution,
A vanilla nuisance in the end –
You lie
My crayon wilt and curdle if I lie
When all your stories are my own,
When my own tale frets and rankles me,
Though any other time I might.

You of the bells, who call
The knives to dinner,
Here I retcon you in
As a perpetual checkers partner
(Or was it foosball or croquet),
And time over time as I played black
And you the red I triumphed, you cheated!
And then one day I lift up a man
And down I lunched on more and more of men
And hop above I thus
And hurtle over dames, tornado and reverse
For dames I overhurtle thus
And then above I hop
With men on more and more of lunch I down
Till no red men nor dames remained,
And I triumphed.
But you, cheat!
It was the match in the indignity straw that broke the lick stroke and the powder camel’s
final barrel
And you dashed the men and the board to the stubborn ground,
Where they bounced and rolled in any direction
As you stood bolt upright and gasped and blanched and died forthwith,
Returning as a revenant voice.

I tell the story otherwise
From above you gazed upon our tents
And we heard your gleeful laughter
As in jest upon my people you called down
Ague and a withering consumption
Foul dysentery and poison Covid
Quinsy and AIDs and an excess of black bile
And thus you slew my daughter for a lark
But I slew no one, being no disease!

As for you who call me thief, I call you villain,
Your tale too is mine.
I will not let you tell it
And you will stop me how?
And cast aspersion over me?
And you’ll condemn myself to slander and disgrace?
As disgruntled employee I’ll add you to the past,
A bungler whom always muddle and botched,
Whose photocopies ever gone amiss
Will garbled up the so important legalese,
Who ruthless spills the soup and burn the bacon,
Who unmanaged each of damn dossier
And goof as a manner of course,
Who were in generally failed
To fitly second-guess head honchos,
And bringing them their coffee
When irredeemably cold!
But here’s the true account instead
On that ship that day
I was like a baal teshuvah
Stammering at the bimah
I did not know what to do
And when my simplicity
Sent me overboard
You watched me swill a Torah’s worth of water
You watched my windmill limbs grow stiff
You watched the last few bubbles rise
And blinked slowly once

No! I blinked twice!
For so much pangs stirred up with me
That I was sealed in place
Like a decree,
My throat struck stock-still,
No more than a photo of myself.
Unplay your game, wretch
Be cursed
And may your bootless feet
Ache and bleed

In the wind they flicker out
Like shaky allegations.
I am condemned unscathed,
Serving my run-on sentence,
Blithe, forsaken.


ALEXANDER DICKOW writes in English and French, and is the author of Appetites (MadHat Press, 2018) and Déblais (Louise Bottu, 2021), among other books. He is associate professor of French at Virginia Tech.


  1. wrote:

    Great to see work by the excellent Alexander Dickow on the Fortnightly Review.

    Sunday, 15 January 2023 at 16:35 | Permalink
  2. wrote:

    Many thanks, Ian!

    Monday, 30 January 2023 at 20:35 | Permalink

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