Tag Archives: redemption
When Things Got Too Weird for Ripley
Notwithstanding the fact that he still received
more letters every year than anyone on earth,
including Santa Claus — Believe It Or Not —
his sinking fits of despair started to occur
with frightening regularity after the war;
on his way to the far East for the first time
since Pearl Harbor Day, he stood on the plucked
turkey-breast hull of a sunken battleship,
the Arizona, looking down at his well-shod feet
as though the rolled steel were transparent,
as if he could see the innocently disarrayed
skeletons of the young men still entombed within —
Believe It Or Not — his full, delicate lips stretched
over his protruding teeth, speechless for
the first time in fifty-odd years. Oddly, he
couldn’t take his mind off the Tibetan skull-bowl
at home, he felt the hinged roof of the bowl
under his cold, stiff fingers, he tasted warm
sacramental blood and wine, mixed in equal parts,
sharp and bitter against the roof of his mouth
like the blade of a rusty iron sword.
For the cameras, he read aloud the notes
he had with him, but his voice wasn’t his anymore,
it was the gentle, quavery voice of an old, old man.
Although he was just fifty-five, he had the manner
and body of someone thirty years older.
Ever since his first success, he had been
a hard-working, hard-playing man, with the immodest
tastes of an oriental emperor; he earned a million
dollars a year, and knew how to spend it —
on better days, he’d have six smart, well-dressed
women under his roof, for energetic conversation,
for private fun and games. Out on his secluded
spit of land in the middle of Oyster Bay,
they’d barbecue whole pigs, split sides of beef,
and the flavor of the smoked flesh he tore into
was marvelous, marvelous. But, later that day,
on the continuing flight from Hawaii to Japan,
he actually lost track of where he was for a few moments,
and through his puffy, heavy lids, the woman bending
over him with the pitcher of pink lemonade looked
exactly like the love of his life, dead ten years
that month of cancer. Dear, sweet, Ola, he almost said,
then caught himself. Though his temples sweated
copiously, he refused to soil his handkerchief,
letting his shirt become wet, stiff with his salt.
He broadcast live the next morning from Hiroshima’s
approximate ground zero, sitting at a rusty card table,
fumbling with watches frozen at the moment of detonation,
staring dreamily at a child’s embroidered silk slipper
retrieved intact from the dunes of sticky ash —
Believe It Or Not — the only artifact to survive
the blast for many thousands of square yards.
He haggled over price and bought it for his
newest museum, opening next month in Las Vegas.
As long as he could remember, he’d been happily
locked in an embrace with the whole odd eclectic world,
savoring each one-of-a-kind moment his physical bulk
passed through, but lately, and especially here,
for the first time that innocent enthusiasm
which had brought him so very far from Riverside,
California seemed to encircle his tired neck
like one of the great unwieldy money-stones
of New Zealand, giving little joy, though if
anyone asked, he’d still say he’d rather die than
leave it at the side of the road. Upon reaching
his final destination, Shanghai, he saw his dearest,
most beloved city in a panic: everyone knew
the Reds were marching down from the hills —
it was only a matter of time before the soul of China
became engorged and insensible with revolution.
Voracious appetite of old quelled, he stuffed down
a few quarts of sticky rice with Seven Delicacies
for show, for form, so as not to upset his agent.
A week later, back in New York, for the second time
he faltered while on the air, then passed out,
slithering to the floor in his fine wool suit
like a large scrubbed potato, hands scrabbling
against the studio floor, grasping the taped cords
underfoot with a stylish syncopated rhythm,
his young female assistant staring into the camera
like a ritual mask, her mouth a lipsticked
slash of fear, babbling nonsense until they thought
to switch to the test pattern: the perils of
live television. That night, Rip called a neighbor
from the hospital; I’m getting out of here
tomorrow morning, he said. I’m taking us
on a long vacation, God knows we all deserve it.
He hung up the black phone and leaned back dead
before his head touched the pillow. Years later,
his dearest friends all said it was a blessing
he didn’t live to see how the world came to make
his column of physical oddities seem by comparison —
Believe It Or Not — warm, safe, what we dream of
when we dream of heaven, not one of us doubting for
a minute anymore that fact is stranger than fiction.
The Eternal Conversation
Hard wood portends on my truth, I long to burn every tree,
I long to sift the gray ash of discontent
for the few teeth and bits that remain.
My body is full of small holes,
the better to let you pass through me.
You old vagabond, the sun is you,
the sun is your heart, the sun is your eyes.
Look at me, I will blind you, you will remember nothing.
You will remember only how it felt to come inside me.
I melt men like sugar cubes.
Give me fountains of blue wine to drown myself in.
Let me swill from your fountains.
Let me piss in your bed and make you love it.
Only give me glory and work,
and I will tell you all I know, gladly.
This is what I know.
Pretend you’re my father: your one spurt of joy
caused me to begin ticking in your pocket.
Pretend you know my name.
Pretend you have always been with me.
Don’t forget me, don’t forget to wind me up,
don’t break the thin gold chain attaching me to your heart.
I am not a cat, I don’t have a plaintive past,
I can’t meow for attention. I could try to scratch you,
but you would only fling me away in hatred, off to the floor.
Yet away you go, with soap to pass your outrage,
cleansing your sins like so much dry grit.
You boil your soup of amnesia,
burn your tongue with it,
lose the ability to taste anything, ever.
You are like a tourniquet of the breast,
keeping me tied to the earth. I never let myself float,
I was always afraid I would never return to sanity.
I am an old vagabond, I will die without you.
But that is nothing new. You abandoned me
on my first day. You didn’t care what time it was then.
All you cared about was yourself. You couldn’t live
your promises. You are nothing.
You have no heart, you have only your tired words.
Taunt the people who are less fortunate than you.
Make them suffer even more, that is your duty and function.
Speak nothing without hunger and death
being always in your mind — these are
the only real problems. This love, this is an illusion.
There is no love. There has never been love.
There is only madness, heat and passion.
The game is to force myself out of myself,
into the bigger picture. I want to be everyone,
all at once. To rid myself of these cramps.
To stretch the labored muscles, to tear them,
to rend them from the bone, to flay the entire beast
and let it dry in the sun until it is harmless meat.
Dance with fossils without ceasing life. The past haunts
but it does not weigh down our joy. We can weep
and laugh simultaneously. We do not need drugs for this.
I am finished viewing sickness at last.
I have no more patience for dying. I will bury the dead,
but I will not visit their graves. I will plant flowers
to bloom in perpetuity, then I will take my filmy scarves
and fly away toward joy. I will sprout wings,
they will carry me to my own heart.
Those who have passed under my hand won’t suffer,
I am a slim ivory blade, sharper than a razor’s edge.
I am skillful at dispatching those who love me.
I am the merciful murderess, the killer who weeps
as she cuts the veins, sorrow for the blood but joy for the heat.
The others I have jettisoned are always sad,
they think of me with mingled regret and malice,
but they shouldn’t mourn, they’re better off without me,
this I know for I know where I have buried all the dead.
Courage for life, alleys are for the party afterwards,
the wake for the soul. The body remains upright.
We live without life, we breathe without air.
We fuck without coming. We give birth
without understanding the process.
The hospital where I will say my last good-byes
to everyone who harmed me, everyone who tried
to caress me. I built the building, I know its every corridor.
May we all have a plain dance upon dying.
May we go stately to our blessed rot.
May we laugh as the teeth fall from our jaws.
I hope to see my destination, at least from a distance.
Will it be like a train through the mountains?
Will the air rush in to meet me? Will the air
be like a baby’s kisses?
I see an old vagabond, moronic or just born,
and it is a mirror I stare at. I have studied all the books,
but can remember only one thing.
Despair is a waste of time.
With artists, we dance my young age and love,
but white hair and rigor mortis are just around the corner.
I can get through anything in one minute segments.
I can breathe the pain through myself,
I can detach it from my body.
I am told when I was sleeping I was at my best.
That is when I hurt no one but myself.
In dreams, I am kind, I am eternal.
Respond to me, you seller of happiness.
Money can buy everything, didn’t you know?
They are only lying to you to keep you down.
The raw chicken sits on the board, weeping juice,
and it is cold under my hands. To lift the carcass
takes more than I have. How did my mother,
my grandmother, manage it?
I have been a good feaster of pain —
I have made the banquet from whatever bones were left.
I have seasoned the food until it does not remember
from whence it came.
Riches, I have dispossessed. I work hard
for tomorrow’s bread. Someone will take care of me.
The poor are patriots, the poor can pass through the gates
into nothing special. I am nothing special.
I am a very special nothing.
I have been asleep until I heard your voice.
I thought you despised me. I tried to touch you,
but you were far away, and could not sleep.
You lost the paper with my name on it.
You forgot everything I taught you.
You old vagabond, you are maudlin and past.
I am the future. I am the young blood,
the hawker, the fresh pain.
I hear what you say, I am only a poor man
but I will live to bury you. I will live
until my energy is spent. Then I will
tender my resignation. Where is my combat pay?
The only true war is the war to be true.
Sharpen your teeth on my bones.
I have undressed the apple that moored me
to the board of my clothing. There is no nakedness left
beneath this flesh. I have fucked a thousand like you.