Houseguest, Pier Thirty-One, Yes or No
Your new friend muttering, “I can recall
what is to come, I have foreseen it all,”
you make your way downtown and, minutes later,
reach your place. After the elevator
whisks you and Orin to the seventh floor,
you turn the key in your apartment door
and, wow, while padding down the entry hall,
you hear an agonizing caterwaul,
and there’s your wife in sweatpants dandling
your spastic child and humming Clair de Lune.
She stops; she stares.
She stops; she stares. You say, “Um, this is Orin.
He says the human race and everything
is going to be turned to ashes soon.
The guy is homeless, so I brought him here
to talk it over.”
to talk it over.” Flustered by the foreign
presence in her living room, Li-ling
takes you aside and hisses in your ear:
“How could you drag this man in without warning
to shoot the shit at seven in the morning?
Are you insane?”
Are you insane?” You whisper back: “Get off it,
honey. There’s trouble coming. What I’m trying
to tell you is this guy’s, like, some big prophet.
He knew about the monster from the water
and beasts by land. He knew just now, I swear,
a plane would crash. He needs to hide somewhere.”
Meanwhile, attentive to the sound of crying,
Orin has shambled over to your daughter
and touched her forehead with his filthy palm.
Instantly she is mum. A strange, new calm
descends on her. Her little fists relax.
She shuts her eyes. You pick your darling up
and carry her into the nursery.
A short while later, after you have lent
the guy a T-shirt and a pair of slacks,
served blintzes and refilled his coffee cup,
your wife asks how it is that he can see
what is to come and why the things his eyes
have witnessed match to such a great extent
the signs in Xi Tung’s poem.
the signs in Xi Tung’s poem. He replies,
“Let me explain: I am Xi Tung reborn,
the ninety-ninth and final avatar.
I know that poem well—it is my own.”
She tests him with, “because our copy’s torn,
please tell us what the last four omens are.”
He shrugs and thunders in a vatic tone:
“. . . Fourth, balance will be lost; the proud will totter
and fall; creation, as if giving birth,
will groan and open, and the blood of earth
will taint the surface of the sterile sea.
Fifth, then, the disparate elements forgetting
the old taboos, there will be fire in water—
an ominous impossibility.
Sixth, then, the sun, on rising in the morning,
will shine blood-red and still be red at noon,
still red at dusk and still red at its setting.
Seventh, when the Untainted One, the last
true Incorruptible, whose voice of warning
has called the signs and told of ruin soon,
is murdered, an exasperated blast
will echo through the New Land, echo through
the Old, pronouncing on the race of men.
There will be nothing anyone can do
but serve as carrion to vultures then.
There ends the poem; there ends all human life.
The thugs who tried to spirit me away
intend to kill me when the time is right
for the apocalypse. You and your wife
were fated centuries ago to fight
against them. That’s it—all that I can say.”
. . . . .
Malachi McCann is sick of hating
us wastrels for the carefree way we spend
our stupid lifetimes. He is sick of waiting
for the inevitable apocalypse.
He frankly doesn’t care if he survives
or dies. He simply wants the world to end.
After ten years of shrugs and smirks and taunts
from nitwits living flabby little lives,
he wholly needs our race to come to grips
with being wholly dead. Oh yeah, he wants
to teach us all we should have been afraid.
So he and his Catastrophe Brigade
have moved downstate, where he has rented out
a warehouse on the old Pier Thirty-One
to serve as his Manhattan garrison.
When he got notice that at 5 am
a private jet had crashed in Bryant Park,
he smiled and knew that there could be no doubt—
the omens in the poem were coming true.
He roused a squad of men and ordered them
to march out under cover of the dark
and search the crash site for a person who,
distinctive in his vatic dress and style,
might be the seer Xi Tung mentions.
might be the seer Xi Tung mentions. Well,
where are they? They’ve been gone for quite a while.
How could this first small job have gone to Hell?
The dawn is brisk, and joggers, briskly paced,
are everywhere. Seagulls are in the air.
While he is looking at the distant column
of black smoke rising from the crash, a pair
of cabs pulls up. Six men get out: two solemn;
the other four halting and bloody-faced.
The first two soldiers (the uninjured ones)
stop and salute. The rest just groan and bleed.
“What happened?” “Though we found the man we need
and seized him, we encountered great resistance.”
“How many were there?”
“How many were there?” “Just one well-trained guy,
a real brute. We should have brought our guns.”
A furrowed scowl, a disappointed sigh,
and Malachi says:
and Malachi says: “Dammit! Well, at least
we now are certain of the seer’s existence.
The odds have grown less long; the stakes increased.
We need that medium, not just to see
the other omens for us, but to die—
his death will mean the end of this accursed
race of insulting twits. The Chinese text
predicts a major earthquake will be next.
If I am right (and I am right), then we
will find him where the damage is the worst.”
. . . . .
Yes or No
Orin the seer is snoring on your floor.
“That is where I prefer to sleep,” he said.
Li-ling went “just to lie down on the bed”
(which means “to nap”) a good half-hour ago.
Even Savannah has been sleeping for,
my God, like three hours straight.
my God, for three hours straight. Yep, you alone
are up and asking questions: Yes or No,
can prophets really see what is to come?
How does it work? One gets “into the zone”
and views, like in a film, some future scene?
What would the bits of vision issue from?
From God? From Time? What would that even mean?
Besides, it’s just not fair. Why should a bum
like Orin get the gift? Oh well, you’ll stake
your life, for Li-ling’s and the baby’s sake,
on his abilities. You’ll see this through
and then. . . and then who knows?
and then. . . and then who knows? As if on cue,
the ragged prophet snorts himself awake
and, all eyes, says, “Earth’s entrails will divide!
I see a shattered ballpark in the Bronx.
I hear the highways splintering and honks
and crashes everywhere. Soon, soon, the fourth
omen will be fulfilled, and you, my guide,
must take me to its heart. We’re heading north!”
Last edited by Aaron Poochigian; 08-25-2019 at 03:33 PM.