Poem of the Week | February 01, 2021

This week’s Poem of the Week is “Occultism for Beginners” by A.R. Hopkins!

A.R. Hopkins holds an MFA in creative writing from Syracuse University. Originally from New Jersey, she is currently living in Edinburgh, Scotland, where she is at work on a novel.


Occultism for Beginners

I threw a séance, but nobody came
(from among the dead, that is – I was
myself the sole representative of the
living.) Perhaps they were hurt
I hadn’t come to them sooner. I was
snubbed by luminaries and sinners
alike; even my own ancestors, who,
I would have thought, owed me
an audience. But consider: my great-great-
great-grandmother has two thousand,
four hundred and eighty-two descendants.
Maybe someone else was occupying
her attention. The woman who is
genetic mother to us all died seventy-
thousand years ago, and her bones still
haunt the bottom of an Ethiopian ravine,
maybe. So could her sprit still nudge
my Ouija board’s planchette? Or
did the millennia degrade it,
along with the molecules in her bones
that would claim our relationship?
I had nothing else to consult, then: I had
jettisoned my Magic 8 ball, shredded
my astrological chart, and burned
my pack of Tarot cards
after they gave me only warnings
and bad news. I consumed the ritual offering
of wine and saltines myself. I walked out
of the apartment to breathe the city’s sooty air
in the night, stalk empty pavements
between extinguished storefronts.
Lit by a streetlamp in front of the parking
garage across the street hunched
a gaunt and tattered fox, red fur
leached strawberry-blonde by years
of marginal living. Ruffed fox face,
fox pupils waxing fat with fear.
I asked him: are you an omen?
Did something call you here for me,
or is your hunger your own?


Author’s Note

I don’t think I’m alone in looking for symbols, design, and meaning in places we probably shouldn’t. Research has shown that this penchant for pattern recognition was evolutionarily beneficial to our survival, but with the volume of stimuli we’re exposed to, there are bound to be false positives. If there is some kind of intelligence behind the universe, I rather hope it doesn’t expend its energy in making sure I’m walking past a street that shares my mother’s name just as I’m thinking about her, all so I can have some low-rent epiphany. Sometimes a fox is just a fox (…probably). Since moving to the UK, I’ve come to understand that foxes here occupy the urban pest niche that raccoons or squirrels do in many parts of the US. Whenever I see them, though, I can’t help but feel lucky to have caught a glimpse of something wild holding its territory before it disappears behind an apartment block.