Apr/May 2005 Poetry Special Feature

Three Idylls

by Jennifer Finstrom

Three Idylls

The man with the mustache
was a magician. He carried
names in his sleeve like
colored scarves, had walked
the towns when they were
fields, the fields when they
were forests. He saw
the boy sleeping and knew
him for a hidden prince.
The boy awoke with a destiny,
ate his meals in diners
and truck stops. Between towns,
they summon spirits, seraphim,
in the back of the van,
their card tricks and white
rabbit, fluttering doves,
nothing but illusion, a false
scent, the essentials of a small
town magician. By day
the boy sleeps, wrapped
in a blanket of power.
The magician draws forth
night from his secret
sleeve, but one day he
will make it morning and
the boy will rise up
like the long-awaited sun.

The man with the mustache
was a magician. He was lean
and wicked, the shadow
of a streetlamp. He stole
the boy while he slept,
lifted him out of his stucco
house and made him
disappear. Now the boy
sleeps in the back of the van,
his only friends the rabbit
and the doves. He dreams
of animals as they drift
from fair to fair. The black
bulls, heavy with meat,
and the grotesque sow
with her writhing young. But
sometimes he dreams
of the cool green lawn
that lies before the stucco
house. He crosses it,
leaving no prints. Up
the porch steps—one,
two, three—and the door
opens on the woman
he remembers, the queen
who counts the falling leaves
and waits to welcome
back the lost.

The man with the mustache
was a magician. He was dirty
and streetwise, beckoning
to my friend and I as we
wandered the last sad alley
of the fair. The boy
was our age. We made friends
while the magician read
our palms and pulled his doves
from our hair. The boy
told us that the leaves
on trees have lifelines
just like human hands. We
walked an exhibit hall that
echoed with our voices,
admiring quilts and layer cakes,
enormous wheels of cheese.
The boy was called Spike
or Ace, no real boy's name.
We talked about King Arthur
and how evil came to Camelot.
The next day I returned,
gave him my address
and a paperback Tennyson.
The carnival slid away and I
forgot about the boy.
When the letter came, it was
smudged and crumpled.
I threw it out unread.
In autumn, the leaves turn
to dust beneath my shoes,
but one, still green, has fallen
from its tree. It is telling
me something and I read
in its palm the long
winter to come.


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