Steven Teref







Start a hole.  Enter unpainted and common.

Tunnel in red and timorous.  What will it reveal?

The tunnel is subject to what the eyes fill it with.


The air is warm and close, bright

with phosphorescent lichen.

Dirt and rock absorb your sweet breath.


Old made fresh through new eyes.

What appears to be white feathered wolves

huddle up ahead. They feed on what appears


to be caterpillars clinging to dangling roots,

snatch slow flies from the air, then scatter.

Follow them.







Earth gives way to descending rock.

Guided by lichen the tunnel widens

to a series of tombs and thorn temples.


A thronging mass of wolf-like ash keepers,

snake-like paper asps and aboriginal

mud-daubed come to greet you.


Cast in division,

you vie for the deepest shadows

grown in rocky recesses


where there’s no separate sound

for sacred.  How will you adapt?

What new year could bend you to their rituals?


Advance as far toward thorn temple as into

soothe region.  You are the tribute, a line

that reaches from thorn, west to.







Ash keepers shiver in spring-hover.

Thorn temples contain perfumed ashes,

urned in mud-daubed husks.


Your conversion happens there. 

Your misspent life is redeemed there.

You once said sometimes love is not enough.  


That sometimes brought you here.

The amount of pain a pan will hold.

The tunnel receives all


that have given up on scarring,

on breakage; when the corners get too tight,

dig.  This is why you are here: to witness.


There’s an ash keeper.  Grab it by the head.

It won’t hurt you.  It is beyond that now.

Wipe away with your thumbs


the whitish film that covers its eyes

like half-healed cankers.

Its shrunken eyes wander sightless.


What makes them tunnel through their winter,

to seek further hollows, further divisiveness?

Their westering will never reach east.







Emerge from your hiding. 

Mud-daubed can do no harm.

What flowers could you seek


in the overwintering of tunnels? 

What drill could end this?

You remember how rain


struck nocturnal wood

but that can’t happen here.

Dust litters the tunnels. 


How you wish you could

fill the tunnels with rain

and feel the comfort of wood.


Gaze into a tunnel, its black mouth.

Fill the opening with howl

and verge through shallow cope. 







Draped on ladders paper asps seem harmless.

You have doubts.  They are mal, can sting.

Do not look.  Their fierce looks.


You cannot chrysalis.

You cannot claw.

Sleep will not find you.


You have desired to be impaled

by falling stalactites.  You have desired

to throw yourself upon a stalagmite.


You cannot chrysalis.

You cannot cling.

Sleep will not overtake you.


Asps come emitting a crumbled

sound from their undulating stingers.  The slow

crinkle of their skin over rocks.







Notches on your arm mark what may be days.

What is a day?  A year?  A lifetime?

How long have you been crawling


around in tunnels?  You feed on larvae. 

Wax moths fan their wings

and guard the entrance to thorn temples,


their rituals, the illusion

of ascension.  Re-enforcing

how the sky lies, how ladders lead nowhere.


Wings stroke the minutes. 

Their distinctive buzz resonates

in the walls.  You chew through the wall.







You’re trapped in a storage room filled with detritus

of dead keepers, shedded larval skins, wax caps

Attracted by the scent, beetles and moths


wiggle from under the door.  Your bare feet

can’t crush them all.  Listen to the noise

from inside other rooms, of witnesses.


In the frenzy, you need to be removed. 

If not removed, you will melt and flow

down through the walls.  Stains


are never removed.  How could they be replaced?

Like wax moths, they persist for years.  The dead

attract beetles.  Keep moving and close up


your honey-head.  Enter through another hole

you found loosely caulked.  Your vain

attempts to prevent further stings.







You succumb to the honeyed venom

of asps rising from the vale.  They have come

to make a moist tent of your body.


Pinned down, you inspire a loose creation

that inhabits your lament.  Their mission

is to drag you to the river of remembering.


They are lured by your slur, hiss, and lust;

your softening tissue, the facile flow

from other mountings, the shrine


of your body serrated.  This venom

injects gradations of despair.  You are caught

between vesper and asp.


The lance’s barbed meaning hooks into you,

longs for your edges.  Barbs anchor into your flesh. 

You are an unlit altar


clawed by a deeper wound. 

Stained lace covers your abdomen.  Vesper through

your poisoned canal, between wounds. 


Asps sting your liar process, your lockout,

your silence and motel sanctuaries.  

Your vesper is unable to rip out through


wound’s resistance, against the firmness

of your flesh.  The comfort of strangers

haunts you even in death.  This is a realm


where even roaming fails you.

Where else would you go

without this place to be imagined by you?
















Steven Teref received his M.F.A. in poetry from Columbia College Chicago and his B.A. in English Writing from the University of Illinois at Chicago.  He has been an Editorial Assistant for Court Green and Asphalt.  His poetry and co-translations of the Serbian poet Novica Tadić have appeared in New American Writing, Parthenon West Review, Columbia Poetry Review and Action Yes, and are forthcoming in Black Clock, in addition to essays on Yugoslav poets in Companion to 20th Century World Poetry.  He currently teaches at Columbia College Chicago.


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