cryptic from the cave


Another Visit to the Oracle
Margaret Atwood
1) Another visit to the oracle
There’s so much I could tell you
if I felt like it. Which I do less and less.
I used to verbalize a mile a minute,
but I’ve had to give it up. It’s
too hard to turn the calories into words,
as you’ll find out too if you live
long enough. If you live as long as me.
So I’ve had to edit. I’ve taken up
aphorism. Cryptic, they say.
Soon I’ll get everything down to one word.
All crammed up in there, very
condensed you understand, like an
extremely small black star. Like a black
hole. Like a dense potential. Like the letter A.
You see what I mean about cryptic.
I could go on like this for hours. Weeks months
years centuries millennia. Could and did.
It was my vocation, after all. My
fate. That, and the lack of accurate
translation. Want to know your future?
But you’d rather have a happy story any
day. Or so you say.
2) Prophecy
The future will be both better than the past
and worse.
What future?
Your future,
which is implied in many futures.
What past?
Your past,
which is touched by many pasts.
Both your future and your past are in your head,
because where else could they be?
And your head is in the present, since
by the time you hear this, “your head” –
the one I just mentioned –
is already in the past,
which doesn’t exist, except
in your head as I’m telling you this.
Prophecy is therefore easy.
All I have to do
is be present in my head,
which contains your head.
I can walk around in there
as if in a cave,
a well-lit cave.
I can look at any feature.
This is one method.
It only seems like magic.
3) They used to ask me…
They used to ask me all kinds of questions:
Will I get a good husband
Will I be rich
Will the baby recover
and so on.
Now it’s only the one thing:
Is there no hope?
They ask that over and over.
Though the sky is as blue as ever
the flowers as flowery,
they stand there slack-mouthed
arms hanging useless
as if the earth is about to crumble,
as if there is no safe refuge.
Of course, I say.
I hate to disappoint.
Of course there’s hope.
It’s over there in that well.
There’s an endless supply.
Bend over the rim, you’ll see.
Down there.
It looks like silver.
It looks like you
with the sun behind your head
as if your brain is burning.
The face dark and without features.
But that’s a trick of the light.
That’s hope.
It’s in the future tense.
Don’t be deceived.
4) Don’t be deceived…
Don’t be deceived.
What a thing to say.
As if there’s no conspiracy.
Relax, the lightbulbs are singing.
It will soon be all right,
hum the wires.
You’d think it was spring,
so many tunes on the loose
bursting with love, and all of it
Deception is the air we breathe,
we couldn’t live without it.
Don’t you want things nice?
Don’t you want to have fun?
Don’t you want your dinner?
Clap your hands and wish very hard.
That’s what we’re eating:
Wish food.
5) Wish food
Wish food lies on the plate.
It twitches. It’s still alive.
You wouldn’t want a dead wish.
Those go bad very fast.
But if wishes were fishes
we’d soon be out of luck.
Eat, eat, the body says:
Here comes starvation
blowing towards you like a dry wind.
Nobody has a plan.
You’ll need that fat,
all those fat wishes,
those fat dreams you ate.
Start working on your burrow,
the one you’ll crawl into
so you can hibernate.
Call upon your inner bear,
it’s in there.
6) Why should I tell you anything true?
Why should I tell you anything true?
Why should I tell you anything?
You’re not paying me.
I don’t do this for money.
Hold out your hand,
Your empty hand.
I see.
If I told you what you hold
in the lines in your hand
which as I said is empty,
is full of emptiness,
you’d be annoyed. Oh surely
not, you’d say. You’re far too
dismal. Too severe.
I’m doing this to help you.
What would you prefer?
You’d like me to amuse you?
Do some jigs, or pranks?
I lack the airiness,
I lack the feathers.
That’s not what I do.
What I do: I see
in darkness. I see
darkness. I see you.
I see you,
in darkness, walking.
I see your hurrying feet.
This is where you’ll be
at the end of all the sunsets,
all the banquets.
Behind you there’s a tunnel
with a life in it.
Your former life,
your life of silks and gardens.
Colours flickering.
The city is in flames,
it’s as I said:
time to get out
with what you’re carrying.
Forget the jewellery,
forget the lovers you once had.
Don’t hesitate.
You can find other bangles.
Ahead of you there’s what?
Is it a river?
The water slides like oil,
soundless and without fish.
A mute beach.
This is where I’m handy:
I’ve been here
in some form or another.
I’ll help you to the edge,
I’ll see you over.
I know who to bribe.
Don’t be afraid.
Don’t be afraid.
A boat will be provided.
After the boat has foundered,
after you’ve reached the shore
despite the foundering boat,
after you’ve met whoever’s waiting,
who loves you (possibly),
after you’ve entered
the part that I can’t see,
I’ll tell your story –
Your story that was once so graceful
but now is dark.
That’s what I do:
I tell dark stories
before and after they come true.

Photo by paul morris on Unsplash

hold firm


The Disappearing Island
Seamus Heaney
Once we presumed to found ourselves for good
Between its blue hills and those sandless shores
Where we spent our desperate night in prayer and vigil.

Once we had gathered driftwood, made a hearth
And hung our cauldron like a firmament,
The island broke beneath us like a wave.

The land sustaining us seemed to hold firm
Only when we embraced it in extremis.
All I believe that happened there was vision.

wrong turn


The Immortal
Charles Simic
You’re shivering my memory.
You went out early and coatless
To visit your old schoolmasters,
The cruel schoolmasters
And their pet monkeys.

You took a wrong turn somewhere.
You met an army of gray days,
A ghost army of years on the march.
It must have been the slop they ladled you,
The ditch-water they made you drink.

You found yourself again on that street,
Inside that narrow room
With a single dusty window.
Outside it was snowing as in a dream.
You were ill and in bed.
The whole world was absent at work.
The blind old woman next door
Whose sighs and shuffles you’d welcome
Had died mysteriously in the summer.

You had your own breath to listen to.
You were perfectly alone and anonymous.
It would have taken months for anyone
To begin to miss you. The chill
Made you pull the covers up to the chin.

You remembered the lost arctic voyagers,
The snow erasing their footprints.
You had no money and no prospects in sight.
Both of your lungs were hurting.
You had no intention of lifting a finger
To help yourself. You were immortal.

Outside the same darkening snowflake
Seemed to be falling over and over again.
You studied the cracked walls,
The many water-stains on the ceiling
Trying to fix in your mind each detail.

Time had stopped at dusk.
You were shivering at the thought
Of such great happiness.

cat magic


in other words
charles bukowski
the Egyptians loved the cat
were entombed with it
instead of with the women
and never with the dog

but now
good people with
good eyes
are very few

yet fine cats
with great style
lounge about
in the alleys of
the universe.

our argument tonight
whatever it was

no matter how unhappy
it made us

remember that
there is a
adjusting to the
space of itself
with a delightful

in other words
magic persists
without us
no matter what
we may try to do
to spoil it.

Photo by Bing Han on Unsplash

praise be


Praising Opens
Irving Feldman
I praise you and my heart opens.
You are admirable
–and small tender brave mortal.
I hide you in my praises.
I preserve you.
You grow in safety.
And, mortal, my heart opens.

aimed gaze


And so I think of the Glaswegian, who pronounces “glasses” as “glaises”, and continually breaks his own by sitting on them. Each time I see his face, the glaises sit lopsided, drooping where the reparative tape begins to fail.

For the longest time he didn’t know he needed glasses. He was blitzed-drunk every morning, noon and night and therefore had no idea that the blurry vision of his every waking moment was poor eyesight in addition to the side effects of drink.

John Updike
I wear them. They help me. But I
Don’t care for them. Two birds, steel hinges
Haunt each an edge of the small sky
My green eyes make. Rim-horn impinges
Upon my vision’s furry fringes;
Faint dust collects upon the dry,
Unblinking shield behind which cringes
My naked, deprecated eyes.

My gaze feels aimed. It is as if
Two manufactured beams had been
Lodged in my sockets – hollow, stuff,
And gray, like mailing tubes – and when
I pivot, vases topple down
From tabletops, and women frown.

Photo by 85Fifteen on Unsplash