• Vol. 10
  • Chapter 02

Falling man

Alongside these others, you deal me now
this seventy-ninth card—
after juggler, papess, lightning-struck tower,
the fool, the moon, last judgement, star,

from the undignified back end of a horse,
an armoured knight is flung down.
You give me something else to interpret,
unfolding across a blank, beige background,

and it must mean something catastrophic
when it’s turned up, disasters foretold—
see, the triumphant, three-pronged lance
of whatever it was he set out to oppose,

and the knight’s own lance, fumbled on impact,
let slip from his chain-mailed right hand,
his head like an egg inside the beaked helmet
is about to strike the ground.

But look at the green and yellow and pink silks,
flapping in the wind, his jockey colours,
and, tumbling backwards, his high-kicking legs
are wrapped in brilliant, sky-blue hose,

and polished, black leather, calf-length boots,
add an extra drama to the performance:
I think now that, after the crash,
Sir Knight will dust himself down—he’ll bounce

right back, all rubber limbs, resilience—
juggler, emperor, spun wheel of fortune,

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Falling man

what the tarot reader says must mean itself
but it always means something else again—

the chariot, strength, two lovers and death,
today the pope is dead, long live the pope:
after the hanged man, turn up the seventy-ninth,
in which, to my surprise, I read hope.

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