after Hieronymus Bosch’s “The Conjurer”
Useless glasses perched on his nose,
The thief gazes skyward in false supplication
As he grabs the dangling purse.
The globe window above
His head seems to tilt in a seasonal nod
To what’s at stake in this entertaining scene,
Which is a window into being.
Distracted by the trick,
By the magician’s sleight of hand and all trinkets
Of this magic show below the heavens,
Our minds are slower
Than the danger of such cunning
Targeting us as marks, blunting
Our better natures, stealing us blind.
Caught in sphere and circle,
Crowned by ridiculous hats,
Thinking that everything is on the table,
The cups, the glistening marbles,
Even the magic wand, and something
Like a frog about to leap—
Our rapt attention meets a peeking owl,
Our own lost wisdom.
The boy we once were
Watches us with fascination,
But the crowd is busy looking askance.
Devil’s ears on the dog
Twitch below the table where our eyes do not reach.
We’re trained on the decoy,
The golden ball that trips us into losing
Every god we ever wanted to behold.
Cathryn Hankla is the author of over a dozen books of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, most recently Great Bear, Galaxes, and Lost Places: on losing and finding home. She teaches in the Jackson Center for Crearive Writing at Hollins University and chairs the English & Creative Writing Department.