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Ben Debus

Three Studies of F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu

Fifth Study of F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu:

A Bedroom Scene


The Count growls from the stomach, skulks along

the wall of Hutter’s room, his step as tense

as air inside a bell which shakes to gong

between the curve and falling clapper. Dense

as the carillon afterwards, the crickets

beneath our hero’s pillow scrape their wings

together, chirp out song until he’s sick

and sits up in the bed – then Orlok swings

around like love, and pops his finger-joints,

his hands like two bouquets of clacking knives.

And Hutter wonders how such deadly points

can brush the hair so gently from his eyes.

But by the morning, Hutter’s such a bore,

and Orlok’s barge moves from the foggy shore.



Sixth Study of F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu:

Orlok Arrives in the Town of Wismar


When a barge emerges from a shore-side’s fog,

its cargo boxed-up loess enough to sow

a crop of dahlias, fill a thousand clogs,

no crew aboard to guide the prow, and no

one in the town awake to see, the church-

bells clanging three, the hour between the last

day and the next, when time is like a lurching

hull in a shallows, none to tie it fast

against the dock, the trouble grows by squares:

by dawn, there’s one who’s died; by dusk, there’s two

who lope along the roofs. The next night glares

its lamps on four. Some say the plague, some flu –

but like a fanned ember, now dun, now bright,

the Nosferatu proteans through light.



Seventh Study of F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu:

Orlok’s Last Supper


The Nosferatu proteans through light –

his hand becomes the shadow it projects

and casts a clawing up a wall, pools tight

to fist the lowing thump in Ellen’s chest.

She grabs her breast. He slides into her room

as if his body’d slipstreamed up its shade,

now solid, clacking nails which stretch to blooms

of thorn, which smooth along her body’s shape.

He crooks to gorge, and glows, an X-ray’s forms,

a flail of back-lit clearness in the dark.

No one beats upon the door; there is no storm

that settles as the morning wakes the larks.

A sudden lens-tint dawn, and that is all –

the Nosferatu, swathed in sun, dissolves.

Ben Debus is a recent graduate of Indiana University's MFA program.  His poetry has appeared in Subtropics, and he has placed third and first, respectively, in the Academy of American Poets/Vera Meyer Strube Poetry Prize.  He currently resides in Chicago with his fiancee, poet Cate Whetzel, and works at a law office.

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