Fortunes

 

Even the cookies get it right sometimes,
even the horoscopes, their homely tales
in search of characters. We all want love.
We all keep secrets. We all lie
in wait for one-size-fits-all words to fit
like skin. So it’s forgivable, this memory
of mine, of two girls singing down
the Bowery, incongruous and light
as clouds reflected in an oily gutter,
and how utterly we fell under the spell
of her, the gypsy woman calling out a name
we each heard as our own.
She drew us in
to darkness smelling of bread and liniment
and soap, deja vu aromas
every childhood loses. She sat us down
on shawl-draped chairs, promising
all the world for just five dollars. Oh,
how beautiful she was, her streaked gray hair
pinned up and wishing down like woodsmoke,
her ample breasts held tight in silky lace
by a giant cameo. She stroked our palms.
her deep gaze led us into our own lives
as if for the first time; her stories swelled
to fill the dark, to crowd like spirits
peering across an invisible divide.
The more space she spoke, the more she saw
which girl longed after art, how innocent
I was, and which girl’s appetite
for adventure had an edge
you could get cut on. Perhaps she read
the cues. Perhaps the truth becomes more true
in telling, as the gypsy told her chosen
listeners about false loves we’d take,
false starts, about the passage
of trust from one hand to another
like a currency that makes the spender rich.
“Give your heart not easily,” she said,
“but fully.”
All too soon the world
five dollars buys goes dark, and money
changes hands from mirrors of the future
back to skin. As she stood to tuck the bills
into her bosom, the cameo came loose,
her dress fell open in a storm of coins.
We all want happy endings
but what we get is memory, spilled down
through years and gathered up again
like a gypsy’s savings on the floor.

Judith Harway, Swimming in the Sky

 

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