A fortune told in slow and
inconstant epiphanies is a
purgatory of its own, the
thousand searching questions
like the cold hand of the
doctor as she probes your
innards, grasping tender spots,
pressing down too hard on
surfaces hidden by clothing
in normal circumstance.
I looked longingly back over
my shoulder, the gleaming
boardwalk, the passers by
in their summer clothes,
the quick flashes of rollerskaters
with their shirts billowing
behind like little reversed
sails on their own motion-made
breeze, the ocean rolling gently
to a halt on the beach.
I looked back to the life before these
searching questions, this awful
inquisition that came before the
throwing of the bones, that
carnival life I’d thought would
last so long in ever-shining summer,
for now I know well that the telling
would go badly for me—no good
thing is so long in doubt or so
grimly mulled over.
The gypsy’s eyes flashed then,
incandescent insects under that
rainbow-hued bandanna, her
teeth stained black from whatever
that was she chewed, with the
oversweet smell like slow, sick
dying when she breathed out.
“I roll de bones for you now,” and
her voice was baleful, because she’d
picked it up, those loose tails of deep
blackness, the ink stains showing on
the denser tissues of my guts now
that the strange lights had been shined
The bones were teeth, some with
roots still attached and tool marks
on their worn, brown sides, some
broken off, as if hammers had been
used to chip them from dead men
lying in a trench somewhere, shot
from kneeling position and kicked
into the slow-filling, muddy water
below with their murdered brothers.
Dead men’s teeth bounced and
tumbled across the tawdry, worn
velvet of the gypsy’s table, and
when they came to rest, even a
fool could see that they’d dropped
in the shape of a six.
She didn’t cackle at me, and I always
wondered why, since that shrill and
damning laughter still comes to mind,
though never crossing her lips.
“Six, the Iron City…it is where you go
when you finish with de sinful life you
lead,” she spoke. “I speak of Dis, as we
know it from Dante.”
I didn’t breath, but only nodded as if
I’d known, as if it all made good sense
in the scheme of the universe as I knew
Dis. Yes, I knew it well, the
admonition to abandon all
hope had been scrawled in
indelible block letters on my
high school locker.
Dis, the realm of the head-taker,
the ever-building city of iron
that was razed and ruined whenever
the slightest hint of beauty
began to show.
I would labor ceaselessly in
the unremitting hail of iron
filings on the wind, building
corroded steel structures that
would be torn asunder upon
I would go to my rest in a field
of burning graves, tortured
by all those things I hadn’t done,
all the devils accepted and
I would suffer the torn flesh and
recrimination along with all those
who denied the man-made edifice
of god, who found themselves too
unafraid of sin to leave it be and
walk between the narrow boundaries.
I would be forever be bereft of
peace and satisfaction, of that
quiet pasture beyond the tribulations
Just like now.
I shrugged and asked her how
I could tell the difference between
this loved life and that next one,
how should I draw that line between
this world and the one to come, that
Iron City upon an endless plain?
What clever and stealthy hand would
come out of the night for me, taking
me where all my friends and cherished
enemies will already dwell, letting me
chip away at the endless and foolish
pursuit I’ve already accepted as my
What diabolical imp waits for me, I
ask, so tricky like a thief who takes
only inconsequentials—the change from
a dinner out, an earring from a girlfriend
moved out of state, a crumpled coupon
Let me know him, and leave something
better on the nightstand than that,
a tip, if such things are accepted, for
the trade between one Iron City and
the next, and that exhalation when
no more vengeful eyes lay upon me
for crimes unbound by any law I
recognize as my own.
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