At the Southern Museum of Archaeology, I find

Homo heidelbergensis, the last common ancestor

of man and Neanderthals.


A skull with a sloping forehead, pronounced brow ridges

and no jawbone, a skull that, coupled with a heart,

once contained techniques of ecstasy,

esoteric knowledge of joy, gained,


perhaps, near a gentle soughing stream or

at dawn, sunset, night under the stars or

after a successful hunt or

at his joining with his woman or

at the birth of his children or

at the death of an enemy—


I am much more simple, now.


Tonight, the android Gypsy woman in the glass booth

will awkwardly lay out my cards and discern my future through plastic eyes

and with a resolute smile egest  a slip of printed paper 

telling me generic-happy-specifics.


I really cannot ever make myself believe

a common augury. Chinese fortune cookies

do not change my life though I have tried.

Benny, a homeless street prophet at 5 Points, tells me

every time he sees me “You are bound for greater things.”

Elijah, my fundamental Christian neighbor, constantly warns me about

a hell that “invades the land of the living and takes prisoners.”


The cards will yield no ready clues.

They must be interpreted by an adept,

a possessor of occult knowledge

concerning past and future.


Heidelbergensis is the first species of the Homo genus

to bury its dead.


I am a middle way Catholic.

I like historical criticism too much, or

I want to like it. In the Church galaxy, hell is a “mystery”

beyond my ability to understand, to understand

the rightness of it, the justness of it

and how God can yet be love.


I believe in geologic time, carbon dating, archaeology.

Homo heidelbergensis could probably ferment a beverage.

He knew about certain mood-altering roots and herbs and flowers.

Did his people suffer from addiction? They had no package stores, no bars,

no coffee shops, no rave clubs.


In Nazi Germany, alcoholics and addicts

were deemed to be “life unworthy of life.”

They were sterilized during America’s early 20th Century eugenics purge.

Now the health insurance companies and hospitals say

it is a disease, a heritable disease

expressing itself on the level of genes.

Chemical dependency is a malady, an unfortunate state

which comes upon us. Like diabetes.


Recovery nets billions of dollars per year in America.

The illegal drug business nets 350 billion dollars per year,

worldwide. And so on. (Alestair Crowley called himself “the Beast 666.”

He died a heroin addict. Did he also require heroin in the afterlife?

Did he need to detox there?)


The next right thing.

I would readily see the lesser secrets.

I would readily see the greater secrets.

I still need help to do this,

to look for the defining arcana

in a random array of circumstances. And

I will learn to interpret the circumstances.


by Bryan Merck


Bryan Merck has published in America, Blast Furnace, Camel Saloon, Conclave, Emerge Literary Journal, Hiram Poetry Review, Literary Juice, The Rusty Nail, Stoneboat and others. He is a past winner of the Southern Literary Festival Poetry Prize and the Barkesdale-Maynard Poetry Prize. He lives in Moultrie, Georgia with his wife Janice.

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