The Magic Trick

By Nicholas Friedman Nicholas Friedman
Half clown, half Keebler elf, he works a throng
of meth heads and young mothers who peruse
the storefronts, tugging surly kids along.
The pant legs bunch around his wing-tipped shoes.

When a couple walks up to his TV tray,
he hands them each a tattered business card.
Who wants to see a magic trick today?
He grins and cuts a deck: His hands are scarred,

but seldom shake. The two confer, agree,
and fidget as the magician fans an arc
of cherubs laced with flips of filigree.
The man inspects them for a crease or mark,

but they look clean. I’ve watched him do this trick
for weeks now, each time to polite surprise:
He hams it up; he lays the charm on thick.
(As always, haughty jacks materialize.)

The woman smiles and nods in mild content.
Another trick: He pulls a wrinkled bill
from his lapel and folds the president,
explaining how a wise investment will

turn one buck into ten—et cetera.
He taps twice on the bill, a modest “one,”
unfolds it square by square, and then voila!
the bust of Alexander Hamilton.

They clap as the magician takes a bow.
He’s greasy, but he’s on the up-and-up,
and magic tricks are good enough for now.
The woman floats a dollar to his cup.

Source: Poetry (November 2012).


This poem originally appeared in the November 2012 issue of Poetry magazine

November 2012
 Nicholas  Friedman


Nicholas Friedman is a Wallace Stegner Fellow in poetry at Stanford University. 

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Poems by Nicholas Friedman

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Social Commentaries, Cities & Urban Life, Class


Poetic Terms Quatrain, Rhymed Stanza

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