The Magician Contemplates Certain Mysteries

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…………………………………..But in the end
Any protection would have to come
From Providence, him-her-or-it-self, working
By whatever hidden means usually employed,
Which we know to be so secret and so various.
…………………………………………………..—John Hollander

Children love magic: dollars ripped in half
And pyrotechnic pigeons make them laugh.
Why wouldn’t they? The birds return to sender,
The bucks get stitched back into legal tender,
And every quantum quarter reappears
From somewhere just behind jug-handle ears.

These mysteries, though latent, must be learned,
As masters of the craft have long discerned.
Charming a stick into a harmless snake,
Repairing pairs of spectacles you break,
Conjuring silk scarves in concatenation—
You start with simple prestidigitation,

And even then, scoffers can’t quite explain
Some feats of your alleged legerdemain:
No hands could move so fast, nor fingers flick
So quickly, as to render every trick
Explicable. Thus, gawkers watch, wide-eyed,
Boxed sidekicks sawn in two while you decide

Which laws of physics break. You can produce
Absinthine blurs of fire with your abstruse
Imperatives or make kids’ thoughts converge
On one card, picked by you, the thaumaturge,
Or levitate or, with a mock blown kiss,
Induce that fleeting faux-paralysis

That locks a volunteer’s feet to the ground
Or even choose to let yourself be bound
In serpentine, cocoon-like coils to prove
No ties too binding—you can hardly move,
Contorted into that inhuman shape.
You still break free. To play up your escape,

You let them tie the knots with their own hands.
You know the ropes: how one large breath expands
Your ribcage, loosening the binds you’re in,
That you, like Daniel, may step into the din
Of their acclaim. You smile from ear to ear,
You take your bow, and then you disappear.

Who am I kidding? All magicians know
These acts are parlor pastimes and children grow
Into the painful knowledge palmers tried—
With every slick, distracting trick—to hide.
Given this world, its weals and woes and welter,
Small wonder subterfuge once meant a shelter.

The best illusions end. No matter how
Many bouquets slip from my sleeves right now,
One day those kids will need to look beyond
The stopgaps of a top hat, cape, and wand.
What can I promise then? Their separate griefs
And hidden pockets full of handkerchiefs.