William Miller

Dead Fortune Teller

Two days in a row, she set her table up
at the corner of Royal and St. Peter:
a pack of tarot cards, a skull, a bottle
of warm water.

Summer heat thinned out the crowds,
the need for fortunes told
less than the thirst for exotic cocktails
in a frozen hotel lounge.

Her skin was brown, wrinkled,
tattooed with street or prison ink,
her black hair twisted into dreadlocks.
She had no upper teeth.

Not even the street people went
near her, though her crude sign
promised results, all futures told,
“None one turned away.”

On the third day, she seemed to fall
asleep, mouth open, brown lids closed.
Flies buzzed and landed, never swatted
away or smashed on the table.

A small crowd gathered, shop owners
mostly, who called a cop because
t-shirt and beignet sales were bad
enough already.

They said she wasn’t a fortune teller,
not a real one with a cell phone
and a credit card machine,
though she told it plainly for all.

Wedding Day, 1984

In the courthouse,
on the third floor.
in the town where I was born,
the judge tied the knot.

His name was Arthur Murray
though “he didn’t dance,”
barely smiled when he
wished us well.

It took less time than
than the syphilis test,
blood drawn into a glass tube
as required by law.

And they gave us a hygiene kit
in a sealed plastic bag—
a bar of soap, a tooth brush,
a pack of tampons.

We stood outside in the cold,
bright sunshine, two strangers
on the courthouse steps,
not knowing why or why not.

But it seemed like the thing
to do, as everyone did,
at least once, raised children
in little pink houses.

A man took our picture,
sold it to us for a dollar.
Impossibly young, we held hands,
tried hard to smile.

***

William Miller’s poems have recently been accepted or published by The Crucible, Straylight, The Anglican Theological Review and Dewpoint.  His seventh collection of poetry, The Crow Flew Between Us, was published by Kelsay books last fall.

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