In Hungarian myth, a tree
was at the center of the universe,
its branches holding the upper world,
its trunk forming the middle, and
its roots grounded in hell.
My father’s family left Budapest
as displaced people, heading to
camps in Germany, where they’d
try to build a new life and
wait for passage to America.
The Turul bird lived in high branches,
calling to all below, speaking of its
prowess, its claws and beak
sharpened, its eyes bright.
Its bronzed cast sits on the castle still.
They came to Alabama, shaping what
future they could in a foreign land,
trying not to think of all they’d lost.
My father liked to wander the woods,
rifle in hand, looking for birds.
When you fly into LAX, you
cross the Archimedean spirals of
onramps and exits, freeways that
divide the landscape into
unequal parts, an antichain of
circular identity. Watch springs,
too, are scrolled according to
such logic, the pressure
going out, yet held in.
Your mother, who studied
mathematics at UCLA,
down there to the right,
up along the hills’ angle of
depression, would have told
you this about spiral
and asphalt cloverleaves:
they’re always going
both ways at once.
You know about this one:
when you come upon a group,
shady, sure, but friendly enough.
They’re playing cards. Gambling
and such. Nothing too dramatic,
in a back alley on a cardboard box,
attracting just enough attention
to keep things going, see. Just
enough to attract you. And so you
amble over, not feeling like a target,
not understanding you’re the mark.
The guy deals three cards on the box,
shows the queen and two jacks,
shuffles them around.
“Find the lady!” he says, and though
you sure as hell could, the guy
betting doesn’t, and well, that’s that.
You take the bait,
watch the shuffle,
make your bet.
You know how this ends, now.
You know you can’t win, no
matter how hard you try, because
it’s rigged against you from the beginning.
Those guys? They’re the dealer’s friends.
That box? It’s cardboard and
portable for a reason. It takes you
a few bets to wise up, and by then
they’re laughing at you and moving
on, and who are you going to tell?
The cops? You’re going to say
you just lost in a gambling game?
No, you are not. You’re going to
put on your hat and saunter down the
alley like nothing happened.
Because nothing did.
Nothing ever does.
This work was first published as part of the Maple ~ September 2017 Issue, of the Coldnoon journal.