The Gate of Horn by Megan Arkenberg

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The Gate of Horn by Megan Arkenberg
Illustration by Sue Babcock
When I slept, those rare nights when I did sleep,
he carried me to fantastic cities
where the nights were carousels of wine
and colored light, and the cathedrals
had spires of red ice. He showed me ships
with masts of bone and sails of tattered skin
that sailed to countries unimaginable, where death
was an import and corruption a delicacy. 
We walked in the shadows of ancient walls
that gleamed like hot iron when the moon was new.

I saw orchards where the golden apple trees
had grafted boughs of silver, and the juice was thick
and bitter as he licked it from my fingers. I saw
graveyards where the unmarked stones marched
one red hill after another, rotten and listing
like the teeth of an ancient dragon. His hand traced
the top of each rounded tablet, each finger
leaving a wet trail like dew.

And some nights, the rarest nights, he brought me
to a little garret room so high above the city
that the windows showed nothing but stars,
and we lay across a tattered quilt that was a map
of impossible countries, clinging to one another.
Those nights his weight was heavy enough
to make me real: shaping me, incubating me,
filing me into something, even if it were only
for the night. Even if the dreams were never true.


Editor’s Note: The gates of horn and ivory are a literary image used to distinguish true dreams (corresponding to factual occurrences) from false. The phrase originated in the Greek language, in which the word for “horn” is similar to that for “fulfil” and the word for “ivory” is similar to that for “deceive”. On the basis of that play on words, true dreams are spoken of as coming through the gates of horn, false dreams as coming through those of ivory. (Wikipedia)

BIO: Megan Arkenberg’s work has appeared in over fifty magazines and anthologies, including Lightspeed, Asimov’s, Shimmer, and Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year. She has edited the fantasy e-zine Mirror Dance since 2008 and was recently the nonfiction editor for Queers Destroy Horror!, a special issue of Nightmare Magazine. She currently lives in Northern California, where she is pursuing a Ph.D. in English literature. Visit her online at