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This poem is taken from PN Review 141, Volume 28 Number 1, September - October 2001.

Voodoo Shop Ruth Padel

Take the fortune-teller in white lace
Whose brown, fat-flowing upper arm
    Is punched to bruised-plum black.
    She holds my hand palm-up on scrambly velvet
    At her stall in the cobbled cul de sac
Behind the Slave Museum - whose logo is another girl,
Venerada da Igreja Da Rosario, R.J.
    A saint whose mouth is padlocked so she'll never say
    How she was whipped to death. Our sibyl
    Is from Bahia, North Brazil.
She doesn't look your way, not a breath
Or glance though you're at my side, a strict Papa

At the big school interview. Yet when she tells
My fortune what she sees is you -
    The Mighty Hunter striding through
    The forest with his bow, making the whole earth tremble
    As he goes. And I, the Lady of Monsoon and Fire, must lay
Three sweeties in our garden back at home
So the Children (whoever they are) will protect you,
    And bury a large wax key at your place of work.
    The sacred sea-shells say this will connect you
    To prosperity. That's where it's at. My life is your career
And Oxum, goddess of Success, shall smile on it.
She doesn't know we'll never have a garden of our own

Except for here. I'm all for looking after you.
I'll slip three toffees, nicked from last night's bar,
    Under tree-roots on the sea-front sweep of our hotel,
    So Rio di Janeiro's spirit-waifs will keep you safe
    As amber. I give up, though, on smuggling wax keys
To an IBM-compatible Macintosh
On the eighteenth floor
    Of centrally heated, open-plan Canary Wharf.
    But your voodoo blood is up now: you want more.
    Feathers, candles, powders
That work magic in the dark like phosphorus crystals
Blush-encrusting photographic glass,

Or smoky jewelled vials marked
'Come Here To Me' in Gothic script.
    We bowl through little sleepy grey backstreets,
    Closing shutters for siesta, till we find
    The city's secret - voodoo Harrods.
Barrow-loads of candles, ground-up panther-bone
And greeny-black cock-feathers, plus the full
    Cast of the Tarot. Staring figures, three feet high
    In shot-silk robes, the soft blue mould
    Of centuries down every fold.
The Knights of Hell are here, swords blobbed
With lozenges of ruby glass,

Horned umber devils with magenta claws,
Angels on silver wings in locked glass cases,
    Questing Kings on palfreys, Queens
    With tinsel faces, nipples glimmering
    Through snowy gauze like cherries in ice-cream.
Beelzebub; jungle-gods of Amazon;
Mary Magdalen; St Sebastian; the Priest of Saul.
    Symbols to die for. Jung, Freud and the I Ching
    Would have a ball. So who or what
    Do you fancy now we're here? Love spells?
We've got all those already, for ourselves.
Sir Lancelot? The Queen of Spades?

I'll buy you who you want. The Charmer, a white-
Haired anecdotalist and singer. Your voodoo
    Alter ego? No - you simply like
    His operating skills. The way he sits at dinner
    Schmoozing women, patrons, friends.
Does how we see ourselves depend
On me and you, or on these voodoo djinns?
    You buy me Brown Girl, a sleeping leopard
    Plumped against her shin, a daggery belt
    Of feathers round her groin. Alone, intent on distance,
Hoping - what? To melt into cloud-forest
With the sambur and the katydids; join

The Mighty Hunter, his all-seeing eyes? Is that how I am
With you, a flickery deciduous disguise
    Of jungle cryptograms from Salvador to Iguaçu
    To Bogota? Or is she longing to belong, this girl,
    To the Charmer's wine-bar world of Prada slingbacks,
Mutual infidelities, and knowing the words
To all the Seventies hits? Does who I am depend
    On who you are? But which are you? After all this time
    I'm never sure. You want to keep your cake at home
    And eat it in the woods, with me. What am I doing in Brazil
Or in this role at all? Have I, or the Bahia sibyl, missed a trick?
    And which do I want to be? You say. Your call.

This poem is taken from PN Review 141, Volume 28 Number 1, September - October 2001.

Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this poem to
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