- Excerpts from The Pocket Oracle, and: Never complain, and: Don’t be bad by being totally good, and: Believe your heart, and: Understand yourself, and: Don’t enjoy the sound of your own voice, and: Immediately find the good in everything
Excerpts from The Pocket Oracle
(inspired by Baltasar Gracián)
of slights received—or flaws »
this the hardest advice: now not to sing of stings narrows »
but of compliments, broad favors.
Nor of gossip—which battens on another’s flaws to brilliantine your raptor’s feathers.
Complain » & you may bring upon yourself more disdain.
Refrain from feeding on the dead
as on the living or watch the gray hairs start to show. Sing praise alone » [End Page 67]
clap loudest from the wings so that the lines say nothing your face holds
up » as though you were (almost) young. [End Page 68]
Don’t be bad by being totally good
To fail to be enraged (too smart to be embittered) as long as to rise » release » forgive . . .
To be fair if you never felt the surge of envy never
swooned in jealousy » who would you be. Birds quicklymock scarecrows. Be movable
in your feelings » & timely » no esprit d’escalier. Quip
what you would say in tripping down » then go your way in self-aplomb.
You went akilter at a slight?
Be bothered » as by a gnat that lands on your sleeve » then brush it off. [End Page 69]
Believe your heart
Though your dictates are caught in a vise Though your throat’s closed up & you stand there nictating »
heart’s another word for kishkes which is wiser than a hunch. It is your private oracle.
Consult it in the midst of a crowd. Heed it in the salt of a letdown. Chagrin’s for those deaf
to their own inner timpani as the street gralla wails through the air. If someone won’t return a call »
serve yourself a demitasse & anis de flavigny. Let no self-doubt interpose. [End Page 70]
Draw yourself with a speculum of words: peer into where worms writhe into a caduceus of diagnosis.
If your head dizzies like the tops children spin in the plaza » sit still in the café’s passenger seat & let the day drive you with its chiaroscuric charms.
If your temperament be cloudy » in the afternoon » watch it pass with the sea’s breezes. Smudge your face of briny tears » remember celestial blue behind even the stars. [End Page 71]
Don’t enjoy the sound of your own voice
Prattle on & your voice becomes a sonic mirror
your hot breath clouds over.
Self-congratulatory is a debtor’s sign » Owe nothing.
Wearing your ribbons » your laurel crown you’ll strut
like Gogol’s liveried nose in gold brocade & buckskin breeches.
Let others primp » rattle on. Your deeds »
bespoke as your new boots kick up their heels
without your speeches. [End Page 72]
Immediately find the good in everything
You’ve tried on brooding » days when all you see
is error » enmity’s runoff. If you grub for muck
you breed misery & bad luck. How you see changes everything:
Do a bee-dance for the sweet & drop
the bitter viper »
figure-eight’s the upright sign for infinity
& symmetry’s the dance of your reciprocal glance
with the one who schadenfreuded you. Practice looking for the good & like the sun your gaze »
your honest probing will raise virtue to the surface
(as spangled orange koi feed on the light)
mostly. [End Page 73]
Meet the Author
Photo by T. S. Ellis
“As a poet and aphorist, I believe in happy accidents. By chance, I found The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence, translated by Jeremy Robbins (London: Penguin Books, 2011), a book of aphorisms by the seventeenth-century Spanish writer Baltasar Gracián, at the local bookstore near where I teach in Barcelona, Spain. Having just completed work on my sixth book, Manual for Living, whose title section borrows from a contemporary adaptation of the Stoic philosopher Epictetus, I decided to try my hand at more ‘advice poems,’ this time using Gracián’s somewhat Machiavellian bits of guidance fashioned...