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JWGoll

Koan Machine

There is a rumor rolled up in a rag in the trash receptacle. That’s what the beggar girl said after I gave her a quarter and a look in the eye. She’d be an urchin in an earlier century, but just an addict in this one. I look in the bin and don’t see anything more than fast food trash and a dead pigeon, so I walk on. You can find a rumor just about anywhere I think. She has bleached white shoulder length hair, wears purple combat boots, and talks in riddles and secrets every time I pass her on my way to the bus stop. One time she tells me I’m not getting my money’s worth. My bus is neither heated nor air-conditioned and the seats are filthy, so this is no revelation to me.


She sets up in an inauspicious location just outside the entrance to the Izak and Sons Iron Salvage Yard and smokes cherry blend cigarillos. Men stop to donate on their way in and out of work, but aren’t lewd and don’t chat her up. They toss their coins, she says a few words, and they move on. Last week she told me my life is a poem next to a corpse, or maybe she said a poem that smells like a corpse. She mumbles, so I have to listen carefully. A month ago she told me I have all the propaganda and bread I will ever need. There’s no sense in asking for interpretation, she’s a koan machine and the contemplation is the payoff.


The last time I saw her was on a steamy summer day. After I dropped my quarter she grabbed my hand. I thought she wanted more, so I dug through my pockets and gave her a dollar. She didn’t seem to care. She said, “This place is a suicide. Run, and burn as you go.” By her look I could tell she didn’t think I would ever follow through. She was right, though I’ve tried, and she's been gone for months.