The Last Fortune Teller of Chicago


John Buckley and Martin Ott

Originally published in The Evergreen Review Issue 122 in March, 2010.

His great-grandfather was a one-legged sausage grinder
who put a hundred year curse on the Cubs after the brawl
which left him hobbled – his dark gift for his pickled brats,
the favorite of pregnant women, gangsters and card runners.

His grandfather cast chimeric statues, heads and broad
shoulders of giant bulls atop pork bellies, with clay geese feet
and wild-onion tails. He drowned in the lake, having leapt from
the El on the defunct Gray Line running east to the water.

He had two fathers – one who gunned his Chrysler Le Baron
across an ice bridge through bum encampments, hidden hatches
smelling of baby powder; his second father dancing an Irish jig
blindfolded on skyscraper girders, a twin magic of disappearance.

One or more of them gave his mother a phantom pregnancy,
his dry older sister who never came forth from the womb,
anti-Lazarus, who knocked around until he arrived, stitching
his caul to his face. He was born blue and embroidered, gasping

like carp in the birth canal of the Chicago River, churned green
for the first time with the dumping of fluoroscein. The doctor
who slapped him learned the language of love and sired hump
shouldered boys, future eyes and ears for unerring prophecies.

And all around the last fortune teller, the skin on his sockets
like the soles of his feet, came traveling visions, sights of boxcars
and carnival destinies, hobo clowns carving up fates in stockyards.
He pushed a broom at the stock exchange, shoving rent tickets

into a bag that he used to build scarecrows promising perfect
crops to the farmers that paid him homage. Rain never touched
his downed squid of a face, and the women who sat on his crystal
ball found men, marriage and children that smelled like kielbasa.