Two Poems by Olga Orozco

1 November 2015

Cartomancy

The dogs that sniff out the lineage of ghosts,
listen to them barking,
listen to them tear apart the drawing of the omen.
Listen. Someone approaches:
the floorboards are creaking under your feet
as if you will never stop fleeing, never stop arriving.
You seal the doors with your name written
          in the ashes of the past and the future.
But someone has come.
And other faces have breathed your face’s image off all the mirrors
and you’re nothing more than a candle that’s torn apart,
an underwater moon invaded by struggles and triumphs, by ferns.

Here lies what is, what was, what will come, what may come.
You have seven answers for seven questions.
Your card which is the sign of the World shows this:
on your right the Angel,
on your left the Demon.

Who is calling? Who is calling from your birth all the way to your death,
with a broken key, with a ring buried years ago?
What creatures are gliding above their own footsteps like a flock of birds?
The Stars light up the enigmatic sky.
Yet what you want to see can’t be looked at face to face:
its light belongs to a different kingdom.
And it’s still not the hour. And there will be time.

Better to decipher the name of the one who enters.
His card is the Madman’s with his patient net for catching butterflies.
He is the eternal guest.
He is the imagined Emperor of the world who lives inside you.
Don’t ask who he is. You know him
for you’ve looked for him under every stone and in every abyss.
The two of you sat up together waiting for the arrival of a miracle:
a poem where everything would be all of this and also you –
something more than all of this –
But nothing has come.
Nothing that’s any more than just these sterile words.
And maybe it’s too late now.

Let us see who is seated here.
The woman who is wrapped in linen and caws
while she weaves and unweaves your shirt
has the black butterfly for a heart.
Yet your life is long; its chord will break far, very far from here.
I read it in the sands of the Moon where your journey is written,
where the house is drawn where you drown like a pale stretch mark
in the night spun from great spider-webs by your Death, the spinner of your thread.
Yet beware of water, love and fire.

Beware of love, the one thing that remains.
For today, for tomorrow, for after tomorrow.
Beware for it shines with the dazzling light of tears and swords.
Its glory is the Sun’s, just as much as its furies and its pride.
But you will never know peace
for your Strength is the strength of storms and Restraint weeps, its face to the wall.
You will never sleep side by side with happiness
for in all your steps is an edge of grief that foretells crime or farewells,
and the Hanged Man announces to me
the terrifying night that is your destiny.

Do you want to know who loves you?
The one stepping out to meet me comes from your own heart.
Masks of mud are shining over his face; under his skin
flows the pale shadow of every solitary watcher.
In his one life he is here to live a procession of lives and deaths.
He came to learn horses, trees, stones
and was left weeping over every shameful act.
You have raised a wall to protect him
but you never wanted the Tower that now surrounds him,
the silk prison where love jangles the keys of an incorruptible jailer.
Meanwhile the Cart waits for the signal to leave:
day’s appearance in the clothing of the Hermit.
But it’s still not time to turn your blood into the stone of memory.
The two of you lie there still in the constellation of the Lovers,
that river of fire that flows by consuming time’s belt
as it consumes you,
and I dare say you both belong to a race of shipwrecked mariners
who drown without salvation or any breath of hope.

Now cover yourself with the breastplate of power or forgiveness,
                    as if you knew no fear,
for I’m going to show you the one who hates you.
Don’t you hear her heart beating like a darkened wing?
Like me, can’t you see her brushing your side with a fistful of frost?
It’s her, the Empress of all your broken homes,
she who casts your image in wax for the ritual sacrifices,
who buries a dove in the shadows so the air in your house will grow dark,
who blocks your steps with branches from a dead tree, with
                    shrunken fingernails, with words.
She hasn’t always been the same woman, but whoever she may be it’s her
for her power lies simply in this: to be other than you.
That is her spell.
Though the Conjuror may roll the dice on the table of destiny
and your enemy knots your name thrice on a hostile rope,
at least five of us know the game is useless,
the triumph no triumph –
only the luckless man’s sceptre given to him by the homeless King,
the boneyard of dreams where the ghost of the lover who refuses to die
                    goes on wandering.

You will stay in darkness, you will stay alone.
You will stay exposed to the heart’s wild rages, ready to wound
                    the one who kills you.
Don’t invoke Justice. The serpent has taken refuge on its empty throne.
Don’t try and find your talisman of fish-bones
for the night is long and your hangmen are many.
Since dawn their purple blood has muddied your threshold,
has marked your door with the three ill-omened signs
in spades, in hearts, in clubs.
Cruelty has locked you inside a circle of spades.
With two discs of hearts, eyelids coated in flaking scales
                    have cunningly annihilated you.
Violence has traced a blue lightning bolt on your throat with its wand of clubs.
And meanwhile they stretch out the mat of burning coals for you.

And now the Kings have arrived.
They come to fulfil the prophecy.
They come to inhabit the three shadows of death that will
                    accompany your own death
until the Wheel of Destiny spins no more.


Animal that breathes

          To breathe in and breathe out. Such is the strategy in this mutual transfusion with the whole universe.
          Day and night, like two spongy organisms glued to the wall of the visible by this double rise and fall of the breath that upholds the cosmogonies in mid-air, we expand and contract, the universe and I. On my side I take it in as blue sky, I exhale it as an excretia of mist and then once more breathe it in. In its turn it incorporates me into the whole mechanism, then expels me into that alien wild element which is my own, the threshold’s sharp edge, and then once again it breathes me in. We survive together at the same distance, body against body, one in favour of the other, one at the expense of the other – something more than witnesses – just as in a siege, just as in certain plants, just as in the secret, like with Adam and God.
          Who would pretend to be the winner here? One mistake would be enough for our fates to be swapped for the gliding of a feather across the immense void. My pride is so focussed on the clarity of its wild devotion, on my unequal side of the coin – so weak and doubtless essential – it swells in proportion to its smallness.
          I fulfil my role. Like a cautious polyp I preserve my modest place. With great difficulty I stand on tiptoe on some windowsill to find a level of exchange appropriate for low flying, a point where I might relinquish my own construction with dignity.
          Weaker than my eyes, faster than my hands, further off than the gesture of another face this wrong-headed nose that suddenly strips me of the smooth patience of my skin and hurls me into the world of others, always unknown, always the outsider.
          And nevertheless it precedes me. It cloaks me with apparent solidity, ideally rock-like, and then lays me bare to the winds that invade over a few precarious, vulnerable ditches scarcely defended in trembling and suspicion.
          And so, with no further ado, poking my nose into old habits and dangers, glued like a dog to the heels of the future, I pile up cloud-like ghosts, haloes instead of blessings, the useless fluff accumulated in nostalgic ports, in floating cities that threaten to return, in gardens smelling of the crazed memory of a promised paradise.
          Ah, lethargic perfumes, traces left by rain and bodies, trails of breath that, like some asphyxiating rope, coil round the throat of my future.
          Little by little a volatile alchemy builds up in the cracks, evaporating the years’ hardened condensations. It digs me out and suffocates me, breathes me out in great clear breaths that are the bloodless form of my final skeleton.
          And though the mutual transfusion with the whole universe goes on, I know that “there, in that place, in the dark moss I am mortal, and in my dreams a beast’s snout sniffs endlessly”, a relentless snout drawing the breath out of me, right to the very last stench.

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