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To Be Rid of a Rival

For this curse,       you need a liter of good grain liquor

and a heartful       of unquenchable hate.

Keep the bottle corked,       and spend a long, dry night

thinking of everything       your rival has

that ought to be yours.

                                     At dawn, roll up your trousers

and set off barefoot       down an unmaintained

side road that dissolves into sand,       then dead-ends

at the river.       Walk upstream until you see

the swift skein of the water       tangle and fray,

marking the snag

                              where the river dumps its garbage.

An almost spokeless       bicycle wheel, an oil drum,

two traffic cones       and the aluminum

bones of a beach chair       have fetched up on this altar

of wet rock and weed.       Wade in as close

as you can to make your own

                                                 ugly offering.

The stream may be icy,       but your stoked-up rage

will keep you warm       as you unstop the bottle

and drink deep,       wishing your rival

gone gone gone gone.       Your curse will gain

strength with every swig.

                                            Picture a heart attack;

picture a jittery       mugger with a gun;

a missed stoplight       and a truck; a sailboat

in a thunderstorm.       When your head starts to swim,

take a final pull,       then throw the bottle hard

onto the trash heap. A trail

                                               of white lightning will

glitter for an instant like shards       of glass across the air.

Wish once more.       If your libation is accepted,

some misfortune will soon       carry your rival away­—

cast off, washed up, worn down—       until nothing is left

but a slight catch       in the river’s throat.