I read the cards myself, you know,
but not often these days, and no longer
for anyone else. I have to be
“in the mood,” and it seems
I’m only in that mood these days
when I am utterly alone.
You want to know, are they
parlor trick or font of wisdom?
Fool, who says one thing can’t be both?
If you hold them one way
they shine, another way they blind.
Put it this way: the map
is not the territory
but now and then
the map is where
you have to make camp.
I was taught to read the cards
by a woman who could not read the cards.
It took me one spread to learn this.
Staring into the pattern I felt it:
a mansion rising on the table before me
and my best possibility dwelling within.
My hand itched for the door to that life
even as my mentor droned on about
paths not taken, choices to be made,
a trip over water I should not take.
It wasn’t long before
I was sitting in bars cold reading for strangers
in exchange for drinks;
sitting in living rooms cold reading for strangers
in exchange for cash;
sitting in kitchens hot reading for a stranger,
hoping for sex.
Sitting in bedrooms reading for myself,
imagining myself as a stranger.
If you think,
they fail you. The point
is to go with the story
no matter where it goes.
That’s why I’m here, I guess.
Nowadays it’s more often
penny-ante poker in a basement.
I surely miss
the Hermit, the Star,
and the Sun. But when
the Jack Of Hearts
shows up in my hand,
I remember how good
he used to look
when he called himself
the Knight Of Cups.
I remember how good
that used to feel.
Yes, I’ve been over water
a few times in my life.
Once upon a time in Venice
I almost bought a new deck
just for old times’s sake,
but the woman in the shop
and shook her head
when I pointed
and I walked out before
anything odd could happen,
but I lived happily ever after anyway,
They tell you
your first deck
should be a gift.
Mine was. I still have it.
All the others
were my own choices
and they’re all gone.
I should end, I suppose,
with predictions. So:
two countries will go to war
and one will win. Two lovers
will meet, part, spend their days
recasting what happened
until in retrospect they can say
the signs were clear. An old man
will die, and so will a young one,
and a child and a dog and a tree.
Someone’s going to act a Fool
while being utterly certain and alone
on a path they devote themselves to walking,
and a deck of ancient cards will be collected up
and rewrapped in silk
while congratulations and mystic chatter
echo all around.