the horror zine



Norbert Hirschhorn is a public health physician, commended by President Bill Clinton as an “American Health Hero,” and proud to follow in the tradition of physician-poets.  He lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He has published six collections, the most recent a bilingual Arabic-English co-translation with Syrian physician-poet Fouad M. Fouad, Once Upon a Time in Aleppo, of the latter’s poems (Hippocrates Press).

See his website:


Dusty lanes, flies, beggars and touts,
colored costumes, smells of henna and sweat,
mournful sounds of an oud from an upper floor—

our group of friends on holiday
in a postcard North African town,
indulging orientalist reveries.

Everyone off to the souk to shop but me,
to drink over-sweet tea at carpet stalls, breathe
in spices—cumin, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom—

haggle over pennies, though we stay
at a posh hotel. My task: to trek
into Old Town, bring back lunch for all—

my hotel room key on a pewtered
crescent ring firmly in hand

At a food stall I order couscous,
tajine, salads, fruits—go to the cashier
and pay; yet on reflection, maybe

not enough, so—leaving my package,
I return, but now the stall is far away,
through a maze of alleys; I have to run,

barefoot, over cobble-stones. Too late! Shut tight.
Breathless, back to the till, but what I’ve bought
is gone, and no one seems to know or care.

I shamble back to the hotel, search for my room,
but the sections all shuffled, 13-somethings
next to 5-somethings,9-somethings out of sequence—

a cleaner tries to help—it’s just been refurbished, Sidi,
yes, a mess, try the front desk. There, a clutch of shebabs
in tight jeans and tees, smoking, grinning,

all pretty funny—hee, silly old tourist,
can’t speak the language, lost—send me
to a back office where a kindly man

retrieves floor plans from a stack of dusty folios
and after near-sighted perusal says sadly:
9-11-something-something—despite the key in my hand—

doesn’t exist, not since.


He came under false pretenses
And left under false colors.

I suspected him to be false
When his pants revealed a false bottom.

He spoke in a falsetto,
Always telling falsehoods.

I tried to keep him with money,
A false economy. Between us, a false start.

When he left at false dawn,
He promised to return. False alarm.

The worst part was when he left
His false teeth behind.


We sat by the fireplace one Halloween
trying to scare ourselves with out-of-body
tales and ghost stories.

My neighbor in the Victorian said its builder
was a retired whaler with a stump for a leg,
and on stormy nights he hears a thump,

thump on the back stairs. Another told
how she once felt a tearing, a ripping,
across her belly, like when you peel

an infected scab away from flesh,
that screeching pain; and later the phone
rang, her son, stabbed in a park—

alive! thank God. My turn came around.
I said how dull I felt. I had nothing
of that sort to tell, but I lied....

Two days after my mother died, I saw her
at the foot of my bed in perfect silhouette.
I remember how my voice came out too small,

too high—“Ma? Ma?”—and it said nothing,
nothing. It just stood there. And hated me.