Today's poem is by Kate McQuade

Sleight of Hand

My first time with Houdini,
he kept finding things within me
I never knew were there:

a dime inside my ear, a trembling
butterfly in my hair, a rainbow
string of handkerchiefs erupting

from my dress, all these ecstasies
of color I hadn't felt against my skin.
He knew just where I'd hidden

his handcuff key beneath my tongue—
knew before I knew, and plumbed
it carefully from those depths.

It's when he pulled a bunch of flowers
from his sleeve that I was finished:
sweet-faced orchids, bursting dahlias,

birds of paradise as pink as apples.
You try, he said, and when I felt the inside
of his wrist, it felt like roses,

and when I felt the inside of his mouth,
it felt like spaces saved for keys.
I guess I should have seen it coming.

Still, when he escaped sometime
between that night and waking, it felt like
the truest magic: there one minute,

wrapped in limbs as tight as chains,
and gone the next, the echo of his disappearance
like a cricket in an empty theater,

like the world's stopped and all that's left
is this violin of loneliness.
Of course I took him back again, and then

again; there's something about the first time
you see magic, feel the unreal brush against
your eyelashes, the rapture of enchantment

as misleading, as irresistible, as love—
and don't we all fall for these illusions?
He still comes by. He's older now,

his hands familiar, his body slight.
He looks for flowers in his sleeve,
but more often than not, they're just old

handkerchiefs he's misplaced
or cross-eyed jacks of Spades,
and once, tragically, a disheveled

rabbit we hadn't seen in days.
He reminds me of my father now,
how he'll reach inside his shirt pocket

for glasses or a pen when they're never
there, never where they should be,
how he has to look away from me

as he grabs at the empty space
above his heart. Sometimes Houdini cries,
and when he disappears, it feels more

like death than some miraculous escape.
I'll lie beside his cool pillow at night,
thinking how time is cruel even

to those who conquered it once:
spun it bright and golden as a coin,
trapped it like an insect in their hands

and made it sing. But that's the thing
about our bodies—they were never meant
to levitate, to be split in half like apples

or a heart. He keeps coming by,
and I'll keep taking him to bed,
but I suspect he isn't here for me.

His hands are shifty and bereft,
eyes more wandering than he admits,
as if he's lost something and hopes

it might turn up, sudden as a dime
beneath the sofa, or the house key
you discover exactly where you left it.

Copyright © 2012 Kate McQuade All rights reserved
from Harvard Review
Reprinted by Verse Daily® with permission

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