Madame Sosostris the Clarivoyante
If you see dear Mrs. Equitone,
Tell her I must bring the horoscope myself:
One must be so careful these days.
— “The Burial of the Dead”
Come inside, I will tell your future.
But in case it turns out you don’t have one,
I will take my payment up front, thank you.
And none of those worthless Deustchmarks.
Pardon my sniffles, pay no mind
if I cough up phlegm: my sinuses
do not affect my prophecies.
Anyway, the Romans set great store
by sifting bodily fluids for omens.
Do not ask me my sources.
Here you will find no books: only this deck
which tells every story, every possible
fate. It is my puppet. I choose whom to elate
and whom to rattle. Zum beispiel,
I can make a man impotent
by hiding The Hanged Man. I tell
every third one he will die in a year,
a reasonable wager. War.
Influenza. The ancient wrathful Furies
flux unto the grave. My clientele are only
characters in my story,
and share the resentment
of all characters. Why should I have mercy
on their simpering eyes, their shaking knees,
when the state jails gypsies like me every day
in archipelagos of work camps?
You would never pay to hear
what I really want to say: curses
are common as houseflies these days
and death a blessing. But not for me. I have
nearly as many passports as there are
cards in this pack, all of them
as smiling-faked and brightly painted.
Dangerous Heaven: Stetson
There I saw one I knew, and stopped him, crying: “Stetson!
“You who were with me in the ships at Mylae!
“That corpse you planted last year in your garden,
“Has it begun to sprout? . . .”
— “The Burial of the Dead”
Raving poet, do you want me arrested?
Do you want to see me on the gallows, swinging?
Yes, I have killed, and the body is safe
where I can piss every day from my back porch
on the cornflowers sprouting from his rat-like eyes.
Every killing is in self-defense
even when no self is evidenced.
I might have to kill the poet too,
with his waggling tongue and false bravado.
But you can’t kill a madman any more
than an angel; or you go mad.
I still expect to reach that dangerous heaven
whose lure has tempted so many to sin
in order to have something to confess.
Her brain allows one half-formed thought to pass . . .
— “The Fire Sermon”
Try typing carbon copies
for eight hours a day
without breaking these long nails,
while men leer dictation, use me
as a mirror they can cloud with their breaths.
Walking home, the fog feels cleaner.
I get myself back in pieces.
Cruddy coldwater flat
steals my whole paycheck. Place
where I can play my favorite record,
slowly see myself again
in my own mirror, that perverse
I am almost there
when he walks in, his stare suggesting
You are not just anyone. He
unknots his tie. Its red silk vies
with his late-blooming acne.
Some junior sales
executive, but when I am nude
he feels powerful.
I know it would not look like much
to anybody watching. Anyway
it’s over fast, no matter
my best intentions to prolong
these grunts and strains, this
anchoring after the long daily float
out of my body. And I see how
impossible it would be
to stroll with him by the river
or even tarry a moment longer here
You cannot share real time
with lovers who are strangers
If some old man, penis
shrunk to a clit, breasts
pendant, noses out
the dimestore perfume
at my knees and ears, the sweat
under my bra straps, the smell of sex
between my legs — I don’t care.
I can fix my hair, face
another day in the market,
humming to myself.
The Third Who Walks Beside You
Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded . . .
— “What the Thunder Said”
I am the third who walks beside you.
Faceless in my brown hooded cloak.
I am the acolyte of souls,
a fragrance on a censer’s toss . . .
World without end.
I grew in you like a fat green heart,
my claws digging hard.
I danced with you when you were
I scratched the first mark on your soul.
I carry the body
memory of your loves,
These pieces will not yield to fit.
I am outside creation.
I will dance with you again
when you are old
and I am out of mercy.
The most intuitive of your lovers
glimpses me at your side.
Watches me winnow
rot from you. Every day
more of you excised.
He is too weak to stop me.
Marry a brute
who will spare you the indignity
of a man too nervous to beat back
my passing shadow,
fuck away the traces of decay.
Can you breed wheat from gravel,
turn the winds
or patch the damaged sky?
World that will end,
its hour foretold,
consumed and ravaged
like your once-lovely
I shall not return
to sift your rubble
for bodies of stars,
Have you wondered
why prophets never
I am the third who walks beside you,
to my Immortalism
you have yielded
your small ember.