Podcast Episode 17: Dramatis Personae of the Apocalypse

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Hi everyone, my name’s Catherine, and today for the Reckoning Press Podcast I’m going to be reading you the poem “Dramatis Personae of the Apocalypse”, which is a poem that appears in Reckoning 6, and it is by the author Avra Margariti.

This is a poem with particularly dark content, I don’t think Avra would argue with that—as you will see when we get to her bio, she is an author who works deeply in horror, and she has an entire collection of horror poetry which is now out from Weasel Press and is titled The Saint of Witches, and if you like what I’m about to read you, you should go check it out. I think one of the things that allows me to read this poem and not descend too far into the darkness (which is not my preferred location, because I’m kind of a scaredy-cat) is that it’s very cleverly structured to be understood as a self-contained short play, a tragedy: and that’s where we get the title, the dramatis personae or players of the play, who are going to take us into this content but then also let us go from it, when the action is over. And we can kind of imagine that the poem is, like, a short interlude: it’s really difficult stuff, but it’s also formal, stylized, there’s a sense that this is something—an entertainment, a frightening one—which is being set to the side of what we might call realism. So even for me, generally a non-horror-reader because I’m so good at freaking myself out without anybody else’s help, I can work with that: and I’m grateful for the vivid starkly lit scenes that Avra shows us here, their argument that in fact there are formal methods for talking about the things that frighten us.

I’m going to proceed to Avra’s bio and then I’ll read you the poem.

[Bio below.]

Dramatis Personae of the Apocalypse by Avra Margariti

Dramatis Personae of the Apocalypse

i. The Artist


Agrees blood doesn’t make for the best paint,

but humans will use worse through history,

whelk dye and highly toxic cinnabar,

the mollusks mourning their mass murder,

the painters’ lungs shriveled with poison for eternity.

The artist immortalizes sunsets and war-zones.

They name each stone canvas imperial purple,

vermilion, carmine, crimson,

but the truth is, they’re just red.

Everyone is red.


ii. The Poet


Roams battlefields in search of personal effects

harvested from those dead or dying,

for tragedy births the best poems.

Dog tags, torn or scorched photographs,

hand-carved bone figurines of a serene woman

who might have been peace, personified.

The poet takes his razor-edged pen

and scratches palimpsests of history

across his heaving chest.


iii. The Scientist


Tries to detect water in the dacryphiliac desert.

She dowses through endless expanses of cracked earth,

holding on to the forked wishbone

of some long-extinct animal, carving spirals in the sand.

Her feet blister and her skin melts off in rivulets

before her fossilized rod palpitates.

An absinthe-green lake, a promised oasis.

The desert floor opens wide to swallow her,

the trilobites and arthropods welcoming her home.


iv. The Teacher


Fails to convince his students of his prophetic visions.

Long before the first local conspiracy theory

or worldwide panicked broadcast,

he drew chalk figures across the blackboard,

interpretations of death and destruction

like geoglyphs or paleolithic cave art.

The teacher begged his students and their families

to gather provisions and build underground bunkers,

to save themselves any way they could.

But even then, he was too late.

Their creator had already sealed their fate,

painted in red pigment across the walls.