Features, Poems

Bob Hicok: “Fortune Teller”

Bob Hicok, whose sciencey and seriocomic poems appear in the current, science-themed issue of Poetry Northwest (v7.n1), makes a rare landing in the Northwest this May 17-20 at the Skagit River Poetry Festival in La Conner, WA.  He will read with poets Nikki Giovanni and Marie Howe on Saturday night, as well as participate in various events and conversations throughout the weekend.  See the festival schedule for more info.

Here, in a web-exclusive poem–cousin of sorts to the pieces appearing in the print issue–the search for intelligent life comes to an end.

The fortune teller

cannot tell me if Americans will come to believe
in evolution. “You will get a sliver
of cedar in your hand,” she says, kissing my palm
where Christ would have had a scab, whose father
made everything, including Band-Aids,
according to polls. And what about the oceans?
Will senators admit we’re breaking them?
Her eyes roll to white, a wave of capitalism
snaps her flesh to and fro in her chair, “I see a woman
telling you not to worry, it happens
to all men,” and falls back, arms flung out,
panting as if she has just won gold
in the hundred meter fly. Can you at least see
if we’ll stop beating up nerds
in movies? She takes her wig off, her mole,
her hooked nose is a prosthetic, her crap teeth
are fake, layer by layer she un-uglies herself
until I’m looking at a beautiful woman
lighting a cigarette and saying, “no one likes
the smartest person in the room.”
She’s so wise I want to marry her
brain and protect it at parties
from the lesser intellects of the rum drinkers.
“It would never work,” she says, sensing the future
redecorating I’m planning, a granite backsplash
with glass tile inserts. “You’re a gradualist,
I believe in punctuated equilibrium, our children
wouldn’t know where to turn.” We sit awhile,
the carnival perfecting its screams and odors
of rut and dung around us, until she tells me,
“you’re about to stand, picture me naked and wonder
if life is worth it.” I stand, picture her in nothing
but a lab coat and head straight for the caramel corn,
sure intelligence has never been sexier and buy
the biggest bag they have of life being worth it.


Bob Hicok‘s recent books include Words for Empty and Words for Full (Pitt, 2010) and This Clumsy Living, winner of the Bobbitt Prize from the Library of Congress.  His new book, Elegy Owed, is forthcoming from Copper Canyon in 2013.