Fortune and
Taming Your Lion

by Shawn Sturgeon


I went to the fortune-teller, who may not have been a teller of fortunes but someone who only told fortunes for money. As I should have expected, she had something to say: "You will die a slow and agonizing death, poor and friendless, alone in a foreign land. After your death, your work will achieve wide currency, and at last fame will arrive. This is how the world will kick you a second time."

I refused to take her seriously, but continued making plans to go abroad. Arriving finally in my new life, I exchanged my money for the local currency and rented a small pension overlooking a famous body of water. I bought some long novels and a new notebook. There I began the slow business of forgetting who I was.

I was successful at forgetting—first, the location of my passport and then several parts of my name, the pin number to my bank card and later my favorite show tune. When I went to the bank one day for a small withdrawal, I was turned away in that peculiar local manner that I can only describe as laughingly. Impoverished, I began fashioning amulets and charms out of bits of rope and bird feathers and selling them on the wharves to tourists, all the while secretly hoping to chance upon an old friend who could tell me what I was. After a few years of dealing with one-eyed sailors and ancient widows, I contracted a strange fever and realized I would soon die.

Even as I lay dying on the steps to the local cathedral, delirious, watching the gargoyles readying themselves to spring down on me, I could not help remembering that strange prediction. Thinking about fortune, I refused to despair: "What have I ever done with my life that could possibly endure?" Sensing the answer to that question, I knew the answer to the other: the fortune-teller was a fake.


Taming Your Lion

There are two ways to tame your lion. One, hold its head underwater until it makes a roar like a toilet being flushed. Two, pull its tail until its body recoils like a Venetian blind. And three, call in a professional. The third way is not the best way for taming lions because first, one never knows for certain whether professionals have done the job right since the only language that they speak is Billing, and The Billing Department is staffed by untamed lions. Ducks know something about bills, but this similarity should not lead us into confusion since ducks have webbed feet too. Spiders, which know something about webbing, will not help us in the least, unless of course, one can see the obvious analogy between the spider's web and God's Eye. God, looking in on the scene, may still recommend a Christian as a colorful diversion after a long day of taming lions, and if by chance one is in Rome, wearing comfortable walking shoes, for a price, the guide will know where the circus is found. Which leads us to inquire why we're in Rome in the first place since Madrid is so much cheaper, and as any fool knows, Spanish sounds lots like Italian if one mumbles. After your lion is tamed, all sorts of fun awaits you—romping through savannas, paying surprise visits on professors who give only Cs, inspecting tonsils. Does your lion have tonsils? Wait. See.


Shawn Sturgeon is the author of one collection of poetry, Either/Ur; a finalist for The Independent Publisher Book Awards 2003, The Paris Review Prize; and a semi-finalist for The Walt Whitman Award. He's had poems in many magazines, among them The Paris Review, Western Humanities Review, The New Republic, Witness, and the Southeast Review. He currently lives in Prishtina and teaches literature and writing at the American University in Kosovo.