The Red Door

A dark fairy tale told in poems

by Shawn C. Harris

$14.95

This item will be released on September 5, 2022.
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About this book

The story starts at a Jewish funeral.

fist after fist fills with cool damp earth

It travels to Israel:

at ben-gurion airport
here she comes hauling her baggage
rendered clumsy by her burden
beneath that smooth brown skin
that halo of thick coarse hair
the plantation and the shtetl
live in blood and memory

her passport names her
tirzah persephone horowitz
after an aunt on her dad’s side
who died so young in the camps
and her mother’s favorite greek myth
but to call her tirzah is too much
like uncovering her nakedness
like speaking aloud the holy name

and the holy city of Tzfat…

i am a city of song
plucked strings of a lyre
loud brassy klezmer
throbbing techno beats
shoes clop-clopping on cobblestone
tires screeching on the asphalt river
winding round my peak

It features monsters…

terry loves monsters
loved them since her first pimples and pubes
sneaking dracula under the covers
wondering what it would be like
to feel a vampire’s fangs on her neck
to taste human blood in her mouth
to transform into wolf or bat or mist
but dracula always dies
staked and beheaded by good christian men
because magic and mystery must not survive

And it ends…

No. That would be telling.

Contents

book one: bereishit (in a beginning)
(א) kaddish 4
(ב) klippot (empty shells) 6
(ג) arrival 7
(ד) tzfat 8
(ה) days 9
(ו) the red door 11
(ז) rose 12
(ח) she loves monsters 13
(ט) monster 14
(‘) haunting 15

book two: yetzer hara (the evil inclination)
(יא) the city of two faces 16
(יב) monsters everywhere 17
(יג) prowl 18
(יד) midnight’s children 20
(טו) a small token 21
(טז) kiss 22
(יז) the better to know you with 24
(יח) names 25
(יט) scar 26
(כ) dreams 27
(כא) beware beware 29

book three: sitra achra (the other side) 
(כב) the palace 31
(כג) gifts 32
(כד) silver candlesticks 33
(כה) why why not 34
(כו) fragile 35
(כז) home 36
(כח) bloody kisses 37
(כט) agony and ecstasy 38
(ל) warning 39
(לא) the red door opens 40
(לב) akeidah 41
(לג) hineini 42

book four: galut (exile) 
(לד) awakening 43
(לה) changes 44
(לו) red dreams 45
(לז) medusa 46
(לח) breathe 47
(לט) the visit 48
(מ) chrysalis 49
(מא) déjà vu 50
(מב) monster’s lullaby 51
(מג) four answers 52
(מד) reawakening 54

book five: teshuvah (return) 
(מה) a wedding 55
(מו) unanswered 56
(מז) kiddushin 58
(מח) nightmare 59
(מט) song of tirzah 60
(נ) metamorphosis 61
(נא) forgetting 62
(נב) bittersweet 63
(נג) a mother’s lament 64
(נד) come and see 65

(א) kaddish

flurry of fat feathery snowflakes
falling onto half-frozen soil
cushioned in the womb of the earth
dad slumbers in his pine box bed
until the world to come

we are but dust and ashes v’imru amen

mourners clad in black gather round
the open mouth of dad’s resting place
rabbi spins a sermon to soothe
sharp edges left behind by loss
fist after fist fills with cool damp earth
black dirt splays across pale wood
in the ground under their feet
the dead whisper secrets from beyond

we are but dust and ashes v’imru amen

a mother and three children
two sons and a daughter
missing a dad
pieces of him spread all over them
oldest son’s brow and jaw
younger son’s nose and ears
daughter’s sterling silver star of david
dull golden gleam of the widow’s wedding ring
one day they will all dwell here
in their own wooden houses

we are but dust and ashes v’imru amen

they sit shiva in mom and dad’s house
it’s just mom’s house now
in the kitchen a potluck banquet of comfort food
greetings and condolences
from aunts uncles cousins friends
trickle into the daughter’s ears
she sees empty sockets where eyes should be
from their mouths worms and moths spill out
arms that hug are gleaming white bones of skeletons
lips that smile are macabre grins of bleached skulls

we are but dust and ashes v’imru amen

(ב) klippot (empty shells)

black ants marching one by one
across an orange peel
oblivious and brief
one by one puny bodies march
toward the gap in the cement
disappearing into the abyss
the peel left behind
an empty shell of a world

earthlings live toil die eyes shut tight
eat sleep work fuck buy pray
more more more faster faster faster
killing time killing themselves killing each other
the nothingness inside them grows
until they return to the dust
of their hollow world
such is life they say
smiles brittle as eggshells

two women lie nude in bed
share the remains of a rolled cigarette
what’s going on
behind those dreamy eyes of yours
asks she with the dirty blond nest of hair
what’s her name again
she crowned with a halo of thick coarse hair
searches the expanding darkness of her pupils
seeking soul sparks stardust something
but those eyes are vacant as a doll’s
all smooth surface containing nothing
another empty shell

empty shells, she says
everything is empty shells

(ג) arrival

at ben-gurion airport
here she comes hauling her baggage
rendered clumsy by her burden
beneath that smooth brown skin
that halo of thick coarse hair
the plantation and the shtetl
live in blood and memory

her passport names her
tirzah persephone horowitz
after an aunt on her dad’s side
who died so young in the camps
and her mother’s favorite greek myth
but to call her tirzah is too much
like uncovering her nakedness
like speaking aloud the holy name

what shall we call her
to keep secret those pieces of herself
she keeps separate and sacred
shall we call her terry
terry sounds nice
sweet simple syllables
fit like a tailored garment
concealing her mysteries

Advance Praise

The Red Door is a finely observed, uniquely voiced collection that maps the dangerous terrain between brokenness and rebirth, which is dripping with blood, lit by prayer, and redolent with mystery.

Gwydion Suilebhan, author of Cracked and Abstract Nude

The Red Door, like its poet author Shawn C. Harris, transcends genres and identities. It is an exploration in crossing worlds. It brings together poetry and story telling, imagery and life events, spirit and body, the real and the fantastic, Jewish past and Jewish present, to spin one tale.

Einat Wilf, author of My Israel, Our Generation and Telling Our Story

The Red Door is the slit of light between two darknesses, not merely sampling Biblical verses and liturgical choruses (though it does that, too: “we are but dust and ashes v’imru amen”) but adding new installments to the stories of antiquity. A sinister narrative is posed behind a lush canopy of poems, meshing the Jerusalem of Temple times with the Jerusalem of today with the uncertain prophecies that bounce around the backs of our heads as each of us wonders, am I the only one who hears this? No, Harris’s poems whisper back. No, you are not.”

Matthue Roth, author of Never Mind the Goldbergs and My First Kafka