Christina Frei

Their twisted forms
jump from the walls of
Notre-Dame cathedral
as if on springs,

jack-in-the box
monsters, the stuff of
nightmares. They thrive
on fear, eat their young

and defecate limestone.
They screech and howl
as if in pain,
and when it rains

they vomit water,
letting it stream
onto passersby,
a joke by their creator.

Dragons, boars,
evil dwarves, demons,
all beaks and horns,
like the illustrations

from the gothic volumes
in my grandfather’s
cigar-fogged study
where he composed
his Sunday sermons
and kept dead flies
in a blue vase on his desk.
He had a bad temper

which taught me
how horrifying
human faces can appear
when angered.

On a trip to Paris in the 80s
my boyfriend and I
stayed in a dingy
back-alley hostel

with blood-stained sheets,
near the Gare du Nord.
We followed the Seine
to Notre-Dame cathedral,

reveled in the candle-lit
atmosphere of decay,
took polaroids
of the chimera Victor Pyanet

conceived in 1864,
like a mad scientist,
from blocks of granite.
Like evil workmen

perched on scaffolding,
they are all silent hoots
and cat-calls.
Women shouldn’t
pay attention to this
kind of flattery; it
could get them into trouble.
One, it seemed,

was devouring its young:
a grotesque, I was told,
which unlike
gargoyles, were not

used to shunt water,
but existed solely
to induce terror,
to bode ill; guilt purged

from the inner
sanctum, ridding itself
of something unnamable,
unwanted, unloved.

Gargoyle: from the French
Gargouille = throat.
Grotesque = ghastly,
not quite human.

CHRISTINA FREI grew up in Nova Scotia, Canada, and has been living as an ex-pat with her family since 2001, both in Senegal and the Netherlands. Her poetry has been published in Red River Review, Turbulence Magazine, Bareback, Apple Valley Review, the Inflectionist Review, Kansas City Voices and Sterling Magazine. She is currently nominated for a 2015 Pushcart prize, Best of the Net 2013, and a Best New Poets award.

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