"Proverbs of the Conjurer"

Torben Robertson

Torben Robertson is a writer raised and educated on unceded xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) territory. Their poems have appeared in Bad Nudes, Trinity Review, and Hart House Review.

“In trying to evoke the unsettling strangeness of Hieronymus Bosch’s The Conjurer (c. 1502), this poem asks whether any magic has really taken place. An empirical solution is offered, and the maxim on which Bosch is said to have based his piece is disclosed.”

     The Bosch scene is a charcoal room of hell ;
     the Conjurer up-carried it with him ;
     and three familiars, a duck and owl—
     the duck shades in the corner of the scene,
     crooknecked, making an orgasm-bill,
     echoing the strangely gaping mouth
     of one archfiend in human form, who takes
     the village elder’s inattentive purse.
     Are these normal conmen? Are they gods?

     We know the elder’s fooled because
     the frogs form in his mouth
     and fall onto
     the tabletop
     in pools of algaeic water.
     It is Bosch’s paint-translation
     of the proverb:
     “No greater fool than a wilful fool.”