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The Miraculous Mandarin

The Miraculous Mandarin Poem

They knew how your good looks
would bring men
off the street,
how a cave is a good place
to invisibly linger—
no, not you,
you were to be out front,
the three brothers inside
waiting for wealthy victims,
waiting tense as spiders.
They promised you a cut.
And we must remember that all this
takes place in a poor country.
Well, you brought them in
all right, first a bankrupt cavalier
then a thin student, but
they weren’t worth the air they
breathed—the brothers threw them out
their copper bits flung after them
and said move fast and quiet
if you know what’s good for you,
and they did.
Then the mandarin came along,
a traveling collector with silk-lined
pockets and an oiled moustache.
He is called miraculous,
but how much of a miracle
was it, really, that he fell for you
on the spot—you were alluring—
that he rose to your dance,
his face a sad dog’s,
and when the men pounced,
found gold, then tried
to smother him with his own silk sack,
his eyes, fixed to yours,
kept him alive, ready,
so that even when their knife
ripped open his guts,
he still breathed
and had to have you
though the murderers shrieked
“Die, die!” he could
not, lurching
like a haywire top,
a danse macabre that would not finish,
his eyes still on you, so
that was the miracle then:
that desire could keep the heart
beating against all odds…
but that’s no revelation, is it,
nor that when
you gave yourself to him,
right there in front of,
the embarrassed schemers,
when you shimmied along his blood
and kissed his eyes shut
that only then could he die
for you, and did.

Deborah Tall
from Summons

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