Thursday, July 14, 2016

Michael Minassian: The Fortune Teller

On the streets of Seoul,
fortune tellers sit cross legged
next to birdcages
on the blank sidewalk:
the bottom of the cage strewn with tiny scrolls, 
and on a perch a single 
white finch with clipped feathers. 

I lean down to ask how much
and nod at the price,
handing her the bills folded like the pages of a book

The fortune teller speaks a single Korean word,
and the bird hops down, 
taking a scroll in its beak
which is quickly removed and unrolled.

“You will have long life,” she says
“and make your living with words.
Your parents very happy with your choices,
but a neighbor is jealous.”

But when I urge her to go on,
she gets angry, barking
at the bird, causing it to hop
from leg to leg on the perch, 
then hang from the side 
of the cage and look over its shoulder.

“Take the bird and leave,” she says,
opening the cage and thrusting the startled finch
into my hands. “Take money, too,” then changes
her mind and snatches the bills back.

I am left standing with the finch
and cannot walk with it in my hand
or find room in my pockets,
so let it sit on my tongue,
opening my mouth to let it breathe
and selling fortunes to anyone who will listen.

Originally published in Diverse Voices Quarterly, 2014

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