Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2018  Vol. 17 No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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Major Arcana: How My Father Got to Reno

The Fool
Father of second and third chances,
you are no homemaker.

The basement is damp with mildew
and mosquitoes thrash

through the open door, bite our legs
when we try to sleep.

The yard is overgrown and wasps
saw rings around their paper hives.

Winter mornings, you take out the trash
and boil a pot of water—

leave our house to hack
through strips of thin black ice.

My mother is not coming back
for you—by now it’s clear she’s gone.

But the sun is still rising over us.
You watch your step out the door.


The High Priestess
You stay downstairs when we play chess:
folding laundry, calling out your moves,

never once looking at your position.
I sit at your rosewood board

in the seat where, nightly, you sit
to take your meals or watch TV.

Summer chokes your potted plants;
daylight clings like sweat.

When you win, you show me
how I could have forced your hand—

how, like Bobby Fischer as a boy,
I could have sacrificed more

if only I knew what to give up,
what was standing in my way.


The Empress
Eight years younger than you,
bad divorce and no kids.

She smiles when she speaks
and stocks our kitchen with fruit—

strawberries, grapes, pomegranates—
all bright and sweet.

She’s from the opposite coast
and sleeps at our house each night.

When you look at her
your eyes are blind as stars.


The Emperor
You do not punish me
when I start fires in the yard,

when I get high across the street
in the cemetery-dark.

You thaw chicken and shuck corn,
wrap a thick forearm

around her neck and shoulders,
tough muscles braided like rope.

I watch West Coast baseball, scrub
grass stains and mud off my Nikes.

I watch you: pulling her into your hip
like she’ll grow around you—

shoots lifting through black soil,
corkscrewing, rooting down.


The Hierophant
Between heaven and earth, snowfall.
We wake in the dark

and dress in flannel, lamb’s wool.
Winter feels deepest now

though soon the cold will break—
soon it will be warm enough

for rain to shower the harbor
and soften the earth, for gutters

to overflow, spill back into the street.
The days will grow long enough

for me to stay outside
with the neighborhood boys—

biking to the corner store
to buy soda and smoke cigarillos—

long enough for me to leave the house
the two of you fill.


The Lovers
Early summer. The champagne
is bright and dry. No honeymoon,

but you move into a Cambridge loft
with steep steps and ivy

draped off the brick face;
tall windows that frame the Charles’s

trick of light, bank and run.
White sails blow past. The city buries

its stars each night. Evenings, I memorize
which streets reach the river’s mouth

as we walk there together—the three of us—
you leading as if you can’t turn back.


The Wheel of Fortune
The fevered southern sky
bleeds into distant farmlands.

Goldenrod lines the interstate on either side.
It’s almost autumn when I move down

to North Carolina, drive myself
past Chapel Hill’s shops and spires.

Father, I know this is where you married
my mother, built that brief life;

this is where you imagined
a home you would never leave.


The Hanged Man
What does it matter that you don’t cry
when you tell me about the split?

You pick me up from Logan
and we walk together into the city

talking the nuts and bolts:
she changed her mind

in those few months, wants to be a mother—
not mine, but somebody’s.

You still live together, sleep
in the same bed. Your hair is strewn

with more gray than I remember
and you lock your hands behind your back.

All week I listen, mistake the loft settling
for footsteps climbing up to us.


It’s not as bad as it sounds—
break up the house and leave

quietly so no one sees you go.
Brief goodbye and you’re gone.

Don’t look away from the night
closing in above you;

don’t forget to lock the door.
The earth remembers how to grieve:

frost tints your windows, rhododendrons
curl around the cold.

The river water freezes on top
but still keeps pushing out to sea.


The Tower
Dry heat. Neon wash. You, a stranger,
driving three thousand miles west.

You, starting from scratch. Shot in the dark.
All of a sudden, gone.


The Moon
See the coyote limp across the road
toward you, how his eyes flash

in the dark and his dirty fur catches
what light lingers in the desert.

He’s hungry. He’s not afraid.
You’ve already found scorpions

in the new house, heard snakes
rattle out in your yard.

Your neighbors say they’re happy here.
A fat moon pulls back on the plains.


The World
The mountains nearly brush the sky
set deep and blue and bright.

You tell me about the woman
who cuts your hair, the track marks

dotting her arms, how lucky
she feels to be alive,

the snip snip snip
curling around your ears.

Telephone wires race back east
but you’re taking your time.

You’re almost lucky yourself
you say, with the western winds

and the long spring, the high sun
that falls everywhere.

Each night, you slice California tomatoes
careful not to cut your thumb—

you crack the windows open an inch
then bolt the door shut.  

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