Wednesday, November 2, 2011


Fortune Cookies

My old boyfriend’s fortune cookie read,
Your love life is of interest only to yourself.

Not news to me. A famous writer
once showed me the fortune in his wallet—
You must curb your lust for revenge—

slapped over his dead mother’s face.
After finishing our Chinese meal
at that god-forsaken mall,
eight of us crowded around the table,
the white tablecloth sopping up
islands of spilled soy sauce and beer,
the waiter brought tea and oranges
sliced into eighths and a plate of fortune cookies.
We played our usual after-dinner game—
each of us saying our line out loud,
the chorus adding its coda: “You will meet hundreds of people…” “In bed.”
“Every man is a volume if you know how to read him…” “In bed.”
“You have unusual equipment for success…” “In bed.”
And those with more delicate sensibilities,
new to the group, blushed
and checked their wristwatches.

We divided up the bill, and split.
A few left their fortunes behind.
The rest slipped those scraps of hope or doom
into pockets and pocketbooks to digest later.
Maybe one or two of us got lucky that night
and had a long and happy life in bed.
On the ride home, I absentmindedly
rolled my fortune into a tight coil
the way you roll a joint, and dropped it
into my coat pocket,

and found it yesterday
oh, how many years later—
caught between the stitches of the seam,
like one of those notes
wedged into a niche of the Wailing Wall,
that someday God might read in bed
and change a life.

— Jane Shore (Ploughshares, Fall 2011)

* * *

There are several good things about this poem, in my opinion, and one great thing. The great thing is that she never tells you what her fortune said.