A Post-Modern Oracle

Edited by Julia Rios

July 2018

The Sybil’s teaching Modernist poetry at a small college in New Mexico these days.

You can find her, if you seek her, in a cave-like office on the second floor.

Offer her worthy espresso, and she’ll read your future in the post-it notes scattered around her office like fallen leaves.

Offer her subpar espresso, and she’ll recite T.S. Elliot and Gertrude Stein until you forget the meaning of past, present, and future and wander aimlessly outside of time for at least a week.

If she likes you, she’ll share her favorite H.D. poem, which changes with the seasons and the time of day.

If she doesn’t like you, she will sit calmly and dare you to eat the peach she keeps in her office fridge.

You will gaze at its mush and mold and you will not dare. As a punishment, she will recite the beginnings and ends of W. B. Yeats poems in falsetto until you forget your own name and the reasons you had for seeking her out in the first place.

Her students claim her midterms are like forced trips to the underworld.

Her colleagues claim she’s absent-minded and flighty. Maybe a bit off, if you know what they mean.

You will bring offering after offering of espresso, trying to meet her exacting standards, before you finally succeed.

Each time you see her, she will be wearing the same blouse and broomstick skirt, her long white hair wound around her head in a braided wreath.

You will begin to believe that you do know what her colleagues mean.

You will begin to think her students don’t know the half of it.

You will begin to wish yourself safely in the underworld.

Then, you will bring a perfectly pulled espresso, and she will sip and smile and recite H.D.’s “Sheltered Garden.” She will finish her espresso, wandering around her office, and pull down a sticky note or two before tossing them aside.

She will sit down across from you, so that you are almost knee-to-knee, and she will hold out her hands like she means to take yours. But she will stop herself, at the last moment, from actually taking your hands. Instead, she will look you gently in the eye, and she will say the words she says to all of her supplicants, sooner or later:

“Your future is not mine to read.”

Angry, you will leap to your feet.

You will snatch up the sticky notes she left discarded on the floor, clutching them to yourself as you storm away.

Only later will you realize.

Only later will you look and see.

The sticky notes are empty.

And when you do, the Sybil will be there to hand you a pen.

© 2018 Courtney Floyd

About the author

Courtney Floyd spent the first twenty-four years of her life living on the borders of the underworld, where she learned to write in between tarantula turf wars and apocalyptic dust storms. She now lives in Oregon with her husband, her hellhound, and an ancient cat whose skeleton she plans to articulate when it passes on to that great big paper bag in the sky.