Even the cookies get it right sometimes,
even the horoscopes, their homely tales
in search of characters. We all want love.
We all keep secrets. We all lie
in wait for one-size-fits-all words to fitlike skin.
So it’s forgivable, this memory
of mine, of two girls singing down
the Bowery, incongruous and light
as clouds reflected in an oily gutter,
and how utterly they fell under the spell
of her, the gypsy woman calling someone’s name
that each heard as her own. Invited in,
the darkness smelled of bread and linament
and soap, deja vu aromas
every childhood loses. She sat them down
on shawl-draped chairs and promised
them the world for just five dollars. Oh,
how beautiful she was, her streaked gray hair
pinned up and wisping down like woodsmoke,
her ample breasts held tight in silky lace
by a giant cameo. She stroked their palms.
Her deep gaze led the girls into their lives
as if for the first time; her stories swelled
to fill the dark, to crowd like spirits
peering across an invisible divide.
The more she spoke, the more she saw
which girl longed after art, how innocent
she was, and which girl’s appetite
for adventure had an edge
you could get cut on. Perhaps she read
the cues. Perhaps the truth becomes more true
in telling, as the gypsy told her chosen
listeners about false loves they’d take,
false starts, about the passage
of trust from one hand to another
like a currency that makes the spender rich.
“Give your heart not easily,” she said,
“but fully.” All too soon the world
five dollars buys goes dark, and money
changes hands from mirrors of the future
back to skin. As she stood to tuck the bills
into her bosom, the cameo came loose,
her dress fell open in a storm of coins.
Though we all want happy endings,
what we get is memory, spilled
down through years and gathered in again
like her savings on the floor.