The Frightened Magician’s Final Performance

by J. J. Steinfeld

There at the front of the stage

a frightened magician begins to perform

one more anxious trick

Halloween night has been long and disappointing

the tricks and trickery

getting more convoluted

than an inveterate swindler

reminiscing over a lifetime

of seeking the beauty of deception.

I will make a ghost appear

and offer solace and consolation

I will make a ghost take earthly form

and offer a million sweet proofs,

the frightened magician says,

sweat on his straining brow

knowing the weight of last chances—

in the midst of the most sonorous

abracadabra words I’d ever heard

he drops dead and hits the floor

like a discarded prop

or a perfect clattering curse.

Everyone in the audience

goes home with a new memory

and something to talk about

for at least a day or two.

A Cemetery’s Birds and Ghosts

by J. J. Steinfeld

in a cemetery as unyielding

as mythology and madness

hasty in its grasp for meaning

and explanation and joy however misshapen

you experience a concoction of time

and language and garbled truths

what shameful nourishment taunts

you hear a song you cannot comprehend

birds and ghosts all about

some louder than others

you see a phase of the moon as indecipherable

as the moment of birth and the instant of death

you hug, in desperation or random coercion,

a vision and feel its defiance

birds the girth of ghosts

and ghosts the airiness of birds

you take a brooding morsel

that was once something else

you smell a fire from another time

and say to the birds and ghosts

words about another era

that era less long than current minutes

it is by minutes that punishment is exacted

you attempt to retrace your steps

the cemetery laughing beneath resentment

the birds with the voice of ghosts

the ghosts with the naturalness of birds

it will all be different and bearable

when the visitors arrive

one by one or in a frightened group

unlike unafraid birds and enduring ghosts