By Joel Allegretti

Beside the carp-glistening stream, before my wisdom-drinking eyes,

Consummate Master grasped an iron mallet and broke the fingers of his left hand.

Seeing the horror inscribed like an aphorism on my face,

He said reassuringly, “They will heal,” and instructed me

To cut lengths of his robe for bandages.


When he regained the use of his fingers, he broke them again. I clipped.

A second time the fingers healed. He smashed them a third.

Once more I took scissors to garment, raising the hem above his knees.

The fingers became whole for the third time and were assaulted a fourth.

I cut and cut.  The robe was now small enough for a child.


The fingers curled and froze into a hawk’s claw, ghastly to behold.

Again the mallet swung. I took to the sleeves.

Come the second winter, the fingers refused to mend.

Consummate Master sat naked in the snow. The wind danced nettles on his skin.

I saw what I had not seen. His curdled scrotum. The green veins marbling his inner thighs.


He studied the clump of wasted flesh and hammered bone.

Consummate Master lifted his eyes to me and said, his voice trembling with the sorrow

That comes from the knowledge of final things, “I have nothing more to teach you.”


Joel Allegretti is the author of three collections.  His poetry and fiction have appeared in many national journals.

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