The Fortune Teller

On the streets of Seoul,
fortune tellers sit cross-legged
next to birdcages on the blank sidewalk:
the bottom of the cage strewn with tiny scrolls,
and on a perch a single
white finch with clipped feathers.

I lean down to ask how much
and nod at the price,
handing her the bills folded like the pages of a book.

The fortune teller speaks a single Korean word,
and the bird hops down,
taking a scroll in its beak.

“You will have long life,” she says,
“and make your living with words.
Your parents very happy with your choices,
but a neighbor is jealous.”

But when I urge her to go on,
she gets angry, barking
at the bird, causing it to hang
from the side of the cage and look over its shoulder.

“Take the bird and leave,” she says,
opening the cage and thrusting the startled finch
into my hands. “Take money too,” then changes
her mind and snatches the bills back.

I am left standing with the finch
and cannot walk with it in my hand
or find room in my pockets,
so let it sit on my tongue,
opening my mouth to let it breathe
and selling fortunes to anyone who will listen.

—Michael Minassian

 

BIO: Michael Minassian lives in South Florida. His poems have appeared recently in such journals as Aurorean, Iodine Poetry Journal, Poet Lore, Main Street Rag, and The Meadow. He is also the writer/producer of the podcast series Eye On Literature available on iTunes. A chapbook of his poems entitled The Arboriculturist was published in 2010 by Amsterdam Press.