Mudlark Poster No. 17 (1999)

Claudia K. Grinnell

My Fortune Teller
The Quality of Mercy
They Are Happy

Claudia K. Grinnell was born and raised in Germany. She now lives in Monroe, Louisiana, where she teaches English at Northeast Louisiana University. Her poems have appeared in various electronic and print magazines. E-mail:

My Fortune Teller

I keep her in the basement
and torture her a few times
a week when I am tired
and her sullenness insults me.
She has grown small and mean
in captivity and her fortunes
have soured. Last week
I was told to take out
insurance—ten thousand
for a peaceful death
and seven times as much
for a peaceful accident,
for the shoes under the bed
and the wheelchair
to carry me around
in a hundred years when
the tram no longer runs.
I was supposed to buy soap
from a door-to-door salesman
for my neck and hers.
I beat her severely
for several hours until
my arms ached. She snorted,
grinned toothlessly, and put
her bloody lips to my ear:
These things I know
well—it has begun,
perhaps it will also end.
She has been quiet ever since,
a week now without a fortune—
grass grows over my grave,
someone will have to pay
for this.

The Quality of Mercy

I arrive
hours late,

bring the usual
gifts: rocks,

cleverly hiding
the anemic sun

and thistles.
A candle

twitches, smoke
rises. Don't tell me

the same wounded
are still asking

for the same
glass of water.

They Are Happy

In the mountains, the first snow is falling,
in the valleys, black leaves. A child
is laughing, I hide my eyes behind my hands:
this fall is like a sickness but I don't speak
its language. Between the straight lines
of civilization and the static sky, people
walk, participate in the boundary-making.
I approach them, wanting to be
gathered into the soft hands of this
story. I hold a photograph of myself,
a photograph of me next to a fountain, next
to a church, next to a large building
of some sort, and I push this photograph
into their faces, but they see nothing
on the page. I spend the afternoon
like that—running, holding. They cannot
see, but they smile, like King Ludwig
who never let himself be seen eating
because it meant to acknowledge the body.
The reasons for the suicide are in the text
books—Geisteswahn and Übermut—hopeless
insanity judged so by the doctors
of the time. But none of this
can have really happened, none of it
because I was rushing to a point of view,
holding a photograph of myself.

Copyright © Mudlark 1999
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