Prose by Sean Hogan
When you’re struggling with a binary decision, toss a coin: When the coin is in the air, maybe you’ll hope for an outcome. When the coin lands, maybe you’ll be disappointed by the outcome. It’s not about the coin toss. It’s about your reaction to the coin toss.
It’s time to toss coins. I need to know the truth of this situation. I shuffle the cards. I don’t believe in tarot, but I believe in coins, and each card is a coin: When I reveal a card, will I be disappointed? Tarot doesn’t have coin-tossing’s binary simplicity, but it’s the same principle. I finish shuffling, cut the deck, and lay out a three-card spread.
The first card is Two of Cups, Love: two goblets juxtaposed over a peacock, or maybe it’s a bird-of-paradise. Maybe it’s another species; it reminds me of Audubon’s illustrations for The Birds of America. I don’t want to think about love. I don’t want to think about her. I’d rather think about birds, and I don’t want to think about why I’d rather think about birds.
The second card is Ten of Swords, Ruin: ten ruined swords piercing a ruined land. I’ve seen this card more than any other card, but I’m never disappointed. It’s comforting. It’s a confirmation of what I believe: Everything is ending. But why do I believe that? Because our relationship is ending. Because fascism is ascendent. Because the biosphere is dying. Because if I believe everything is ending, then I don’t need to save anything—
Because it’s easier. I turn away from the spread. I try to turn away from the sharp truth, but then I remember Rabindranath Tagore’s words: The truth comes as a conqueror only because we’ve lost the art of receiving it as a friend. I’m resisting the truth that “ending” isn’t always an unstoppable process. How many times have I saved dying plants? I threaded wilted calendula seedlings to toothpicks last summer. I saved each seedling—no, we saved them; she helped me save them. If I try, maybe I can save our relationship. I don’t know how to save it, but I didn’t know how to save the calendula seedlings. I toss the final coin.
The third card is Two of Swords, Peace: a pair of swords juxtaposed over trees. It’s a simple three-part dramatic arc: love, then ruin, then peace. It’s so facile. Fuck peace, I think, and then I feel foolish. It’s about my reaction to the coin toss. I’m still resisting the truth: I can’t save our relationship; maybe we can save it, but not me, not alone. And that would require effort and patience and—and do I want to save it? We’re separated because of my actions, but we were already separating. I’m repentant, but I’m also angry, and there’s comfort in anger, just like there’s comfort in believing everything is ending. But I don’t turn away. I pick up the card. When the card was in the spread, it seemed like so much more than glossy card stock, but I’m just holding thin paperboard. I focus on Hermann Haindl’s art; my mind stays with his art, and anger leaves my mind. It’s hard to hold anger when you’re holding something delicate.
Sean lives in the Midwest, and the Midwest lives in him; it's mostly symbiotic. When he's not writing, he should be writing.