No one watches correctly— the conjurer makes sure

all paying eyes stray to the glint of his large amber ring

before he speaks again:

And where’s the Queen of Spades now?

She appears, but she’s not where she’s supposed to be.

The retiree at table seven is astonished to find the Queen bobbing in his gin.

The conjurer loans his grin to the surprised man while the crowd applauds.

Night after night, at home in his pajamas, the conjurer works the flourish,

the drop, the fangy smile in front of the standing mirror in the hall.

And where’s the Queen of Spades now?

Not at home with the conjurer, that’s for sure.

He begins again. The flourish, the drop, the fangy smile

while the unseen world turns and snores in its bed.

(Or that’s how he pictures it.)

No one knows his patter— the story that goes with the cards

and the props and the brassy little band that drops its brassy little cues.

There are

the missing girls and the broken plates; the lost cards and the vanished flowers;

the doves that rise as smooth as white scarves,

from his well-scrubbed palms as he feigns surprise.

And under each story, another story:

the vastness of darkness and the terror of loss.

And where’s the Queen of Spades now?

And the band misses its cue. Again.

In the conjurer’s version of his favorite trick,

the missing girl is a jaguar crouched in a tree, and the broken plates,

three men out to woo her down from her perch

with cards and flowers and white shuddering doves,

which she eats, whole.

(Spoiler: She consumes the men, too.)

And where’s the Queen of Spades now?

She appears in the salad bar, crammed into the olives.

A woman yips, a man jumps.

No one goes back for seconds.

One night, there is a woman—

a smiling woman, alone at a table,

a beautiful woman, attentive and supple,

who laughs at his jokes and oohs at his tricks.

The conjurer begins his jaguar tale, caressing his cards.

(Under each story, another story snarls.)

It’s a beautiful day and three man go a-wooing

this woman with great big golden eyes.

(Here’s a surprise, she’s bewitched.)

At this point, the woman

turns her full amber stare on the face of the conjurer—

her eyes see all: the pass he fumbles,

the surprise he conceals, the volta, the drop,

the hidden drawer, and the fine secret pocket

that contains the map every man hides

of himself to himself.

He glares at the woman, who returns a toothy smile—

Do you see the Queen of Spades?

No. And now she’s gone.

But he must continue. So the conjurer tries

to enrich those familiar stories—

a woman transformed, a recovered map, a dove

to watch over you when you cannot sleep.

That what is smashed can be mended.

That what is unloved can be endured.

That there’s forgiveness from the unseen world.

But no one hears correctly— in this version

the jaguar goes at a nightclub

in the guise of a woman, a beautiful woman,

a smiling woman, starved for a meal. And guess

which magical dish

delights her amber eye?

Do you see the Queen of Spades?

No? Watch closely—


About Courtenay Bluebird

Courtenay Bluebird is the creator of Bluebird Blvd. and The Bluebird B-Side. She is a published writer, career journalist, and professional photographer who likes books and sweets. She laughs loudly and sincerely both in public and in private.
Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Oh! This one is dark. And a little angry?

    • A bit, I think? I know that I subconsciously ended up pulling from Latin American fabulist literature, which can have this through-thread of darkness. (I heart those fabulists!) I’d like to think that I’m riffing off of a darkness we know, though— all of those allegories and fairy tales that kept us from wandering off into the dark when we were small?

    • Ah, that could be it! I’m not familiar with any of those fabulists so I automatically wondered if something was wrong with /your/ life. Sorry. 😀

  2. Interpretation is a beautiful thing. How many people will read a different story? As many as have read this one? No – – – more than that. I have read it twice and have read two different stories. Great piece Courtenay, great piece. Thank you for sharing.

Hey there, cupcake! How are ya?