1079: Cassandra by Sasha West

20240321 Slowdown

1079: Cassandra by Sasha West


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

As we drive past signs advertising crystals, aura photos, and palm readings in Cassadaga, Florida, Psychic Capital of the World, my wife Didi tells me about the time she visited a fortune teller. I was desperate, she says. After a frustrating session, her therapist recommended a medium. Against her skepticism, Didi called her from the parking lot; an hour later she stood in a stranger’s living room. The medium announced that she didn’t talk with the dead, or hear voices. She only saw images. After ten minutes of empty visions, the medium apologized — yet, as Didi walked out the door, the medium landed on a very personal image. One that brought both women to tears.

It can be difficult to believe anyone who professes an ability to see the future or beyond into the spirit world. I think of my youth and the self-styled prophets who stood on downtown street corners proclaiming the end of the world. Commuters walked briskly by them. But occasionally I’d stopped to listen as they screamed doom and damnation. I fretted for us all.

The speaker in today’s poem, taken from Greek mythology, has sight beyond the veil. Their relationship to objects points to the kind of clairvoyance that artists exercise, connecting our physical, emotional, and spiritual worlds.

by Sasha West

increasingly the raw flicker—I couldn’t tell you—that I was
walking in the paper goods aisle and the boreal forest that fed it—
that the sequins over the children’s bellies shimmered into
the bellies of the fish gutted open to glitter—that knowing how
the field would burn made the field shimmer—and sorrow caught
against my clothes like sandpaper—that red was sometimes so lush
at the edge of my vision, the slow carnage a poppy field—that
weathering steel has a skin of rust to keep the deeper self from 
rusting—that I tried to rust my mind—that when I ate an orange I
became wholly orange, felt my teeth between the pulp’s cells sink
into my own hand, its rot, the loam—that like an enemy leaving
a territory, the ocean salted so many acres—that trees died from
the bottom up, the forest a floating pool of green limbs over black
stone—that the visions started spreading—so many of us in waste
+ waves + endless flood—that my mind alongside their minds
was less alone, less singular—that everywhere I looked I was 
a terrible window—that bonfires of burning tires around each
deer’s corpse on the thawing tundra thawed the tundra—that fish
swam across the marble floor of the dictator’s palace—that as we
got nearer and everything sped up, what flew off with centrifugal
force was a terrifying kindness—that the neighbors tended each
other’s lives after the storms fiercely, herding debris, filling sand-
bags, tucking an old woman in on a couch or floor—had you seen
what, when we all pulled together, came from us, you would see
why my suffering faded—how tender our villages when the goods
receded back to good—yes, the world kept burning—I kissed my
daughter’s neck behind her hair where I had marked her—
my husband and I lay down like the ones in Pompeii
to be together, forever, as stone

“Cassandra” by Sasha West from HOW TO ABANDON SHIP © 2024 Sasha West. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Four Way Books.