THE FORTUNE-TELLER

You can find her on Coney Island
cold-reading the lives of passersby,
identifying their troubles—halitosis,
cuckoldry, barren womb.
Listen to her discover luck:
You will meet a tall, dark
glass of Chocolate Oatmeal Stout.
Ruse, then. Not sun-kissed, but rouge.

Let her find the songs
in your cheekbones, the stories
you keep beneath your fascia.

Her secret: no inner sight,
no vision but divination
by way of birds’ flight,
via the shape and lines in palms;
lots and runes cast. The motions of scrying,
of reading the entrails of animals.
She speaks from yarrow stalks and shaken bamboo,
dreams and names and the tongues of blazing fires.
She’ll dig through your garbage bags
to read your coffee grounds and tea leaves.
Her methods yield something for everyone:

You’ve been hurt before.

Generally, you’re a reasonable person,
but sometimes let your temper get the best of you.

I feel the presence of a father-figure.

When you were a child, there was some
trauma involving water.

I sense chest-pain.


Still—and, this part is real—
she can speak to the dead, but only
when she doesn’t try, when she doesn’t
know, when she’s wiped the rouge away.
Then, the dead speak through her mouth,
through her trembling lips, parted in sleep.

ETUDE NO. 2

The wind, a cylinder
keeps you awake, shaking you from sleep—
how could one drift in this fury?
Saturn looms close to Earth, its rings all an illusion,
like the clean scent of his stained white tees.
Starting from the ground floor, the front door’s locked.
His ankles swim in socks too big for him,
his skin too tender for the sea’s quiet brine.
You remember the ancient Egyptians lined their
eyes with kohl, watching their cats watch them.
They could not see the Romans coming.


Michelle Peñaloza is the author of two chapbooks: landscape/heartbreak and Last Night I Dreamt of Volcanoes. Her poetry can be found in The Asian American Literary Review, The New England Review, and elsewhere. She lives in Seattle.