Sixth Street Psychic Walk-ins Welcome

by Mike LaForge
The Waters
First Place (tie), August 2020
Judged by Ron Singer

For twenty dollars she said she’d tell you
what you’d been or done in the past,
and not the past that you could remember
on your own, what would be the fun of that,
she was talking about the you that lived
before this you arrived and got your name
and face, and not about the face you had
before your mother was born,
that’s different, she was talking about
another life, a previous life, maybe
in a different century, certainly
in a different body with a different name
and face, and so she takes your hands in hers
and leaps back in shock, says you have enough
personal vital energy for three people
and you could be a cult leader in this life
if that’s what you wanted, but you don’t,
and then she says what you have paid her
to say, that you lived a fascinating life
before this one – and what did you get?
My brother got
French Madame in a Paris brothel, I wanted
Indian Brahmin, or Buddhist Warrior Monk,
but I got Undertaker in a time of civil war,
so disappointing, so gruesome, so very me.

This rich poem adroitly marries form to thought, using many enjambments to wind its way back and forth in time, from the present to the near past, to the revealed, more distant past (after the question mark). The poet gets us past the hackneyed tropes of the old “visit to a fortune-teller” (“enough personal vital energy for three people”). He/she sets us up for the surprise ending (“Undertaker in a time of civil war”). And the final line’s confession (“so disappointing, so gruesome, so very me”) is one of those surprises that a moment’s thought turns into an “of course!” Yes, we realize, the narrator’s imagination may well be a bit “disappointing” and “gruesome.” We certainly get our $20 worth! --Ron Singer