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Betye Saar

By Patricia Spears Jones for The New Yorker

My runes are in ruins, little laughter here for my sarcasm
What to do, this chart confuses, conflates moon, which phase
And honey, local or from some exotic shore and what of money
My savings stuffed beneath deflating mattress. Each cold

Day warns me that my résumé is unworthy. Who will hire me
Now that my spells are so easily broken, my warnings useless

It is a wonder that I worked as long as I could. Incantations
Memorized and recipes for spells written in an ink too pale
For visibility—each item sourced, the medicine worked and then

It did not. Was it the well of stories drying up? The fish scales
Stinking the kitchen table. The cat wandering away, while
Spiders spread their cosmic maps unreadable to all but
The other spiders. They cheer me. Again, I read the signs.

Oh, how the signs obscure true knowledge and I am blazed
In this dark room, hungry, cold and searching—who is this thief
And why has she cast this curse. What must I do to bring
Runes from my parched throat, medicine back to my pockets.