Monday, July 13, 2009

Pulp Fiction

This afternoon a bum on the street mistook me for a drug addict.
“It’s that CRACK that’s making you sweat,” he advised me.
I nodded and said, “Yeah, I really ought to quit,”
as people walking near me picked up their pace to get away from me.

Later, I’m crossing the street when a carload of scraggly haired kids pulls up beside me.
“Hey, man, you got any rolling papers?” one of them asks.
“No,” I say, “I just drink, that’s it.”
“Come on,” he says, “just give them to me, all you Filipino motherfuckers smoke reefer.”
I keep quiet and walk ahead as they start to jeer and yell at me.

It’s been said that the meek shall inherit the earth.
But I’ve got bruises on my arms from running into people
on the street who expect me to scurry out of their way like a rat.
I’ve got dark patches on my soul from people who move out of my way
because they think I’m going to kill them.

People always either see me as the lamb who’s ready to sacrifice himself
to the gods of their ambition
or as the wolf who’s going to set his fangs upon them,
tearing them limb from limb, eyeball from eyeball,
when the truth is somewhere in between.

“Do you speak English?” people in bars often ask me.
“No,” I tell them, “I’m from France, I speak French.”
“You’re not from around here, are you?” other people say to me.
“No I’m not,” I answer. “I’m from Saturn and I’m here to mate with Earth women.
Is that your sister who’s sitting next to you? Nice tits.”

It’s been said that he who makes a beast of himself gets rid
of the pain of being a man.
So I drink straight from the bottle till the hair grows on my cheeks.
I steal the drinks from in front of other people
until the fur forms on the back of my neck.

“I was born here,” I used to say to people,
“I ate my first McDonald’s cheeseburger when I was 4,
recited the Pledge of Allegiance for teacher when I was 6,
and by the age of seven I could speak the language better than you do now.”

It’s been said that the truth is what sets you free,
but whenever I speak the truth no one believes it,
and whenever I hear the truth it makes me feel like a prisoner
on death row.

So I tell stories to keep the truth alive without telling it.
I create history to keep me from becoming history:

“I was raised by flying cockroaches until the age of seventeen. Could you lend me a buck?”
“I’m a crack-head pimp from the planet Liechtenstein. Would you like a job?”
“I’m a millionaire from Muffberg, Ohio. I came here two years ago with a dollar
in my pocket and a smile I could pry open doors with. Would you like a tip on
the stock market?”
“I’m vice president of a mid-sized consulting firm making
two hundred grand a year tax free. Can I pay for your groceries?”
“I’m Johnny Depp’s garbage man, wanna go out?”
“I’m Conan O’Brien, wanna fuck?”

This is the way I spend my days.
This is the way I earn my nights,
walking the earth telling lies, spreading rumors:

“And blessed is he who in the name of charity and good will
shepherds the weak and ignorant through the valley of darkness
for he is truly his brother’s keeper.
But I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance
and furious rebukes those who attempt to poison and destroy
my brothers
and you will know my name is The Lord
when I lay my vengeance upon thee.”

It’s been said that that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
I think that that which doesn’t kill you simply lets you live longer.
There’s a difference.

- Jose Padua
From circa 1996

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Complete Failure Of Everything

At the carnival sideshow
the veteran sword swallower has bloodied his throat.
The snake charmer has been attacked,
his cobras, rattlers, boas
have stung, bitten, and squeezed him to death.
In the tunnel of love the teenage couple
keep their hands at their sides and
look straight ahead,
waiting anxiously for the ride to end.
Out on the rollercoaster people are yawning
while on the merry-go-round children
are screaming in terror.
In the suburbs a man has decided
not to build a deck on the back
of his new house.
His neighbors are at the mall
attending the grand opening
of a multiplex porno theater.
Back in town the crack dealers
and junkie hookers
are giving it away.
The Jehovah’s witnesses are wandering around
drunk, cigarettes dangling from their mouths
as they mumble, “Jesus, I just don’t know.”
In the universities the professors
have taken over the libraries.
They’re tearing up the pages
of every book on every shelf
on every subject.
In the nightclub the stripper
with the 72-inch bust is keeping her top on
while the flat-chested women
rip open their blouses
and shout, “Va Va Voom,”
to the delight
of the already frenzied crowd.
The billionaire is sitting on a park bench
perusing the want ads
while the panhandler orders dinner
at a fancy French restaurant
for fifty of his closest friends.
Over in the third world
the mercenary is helping to build a hospital
while the Christian missionaries
have just raped and pillaged
in a small town of peasants.

There is snow in the desert
and flowers in the arctic,
wild music in the asylums
and silence in the dance halls,
charity in the casinos
and greed at the Salvation Army,
orgies in the convents
and prayer in the whorehouses.

And what we are witnessing
is the complete failure of everything.
The failure of the rich and the poor,
the failure of the ecstatic and the tortured,
the failure of the loud and the peaceful,
the failure of love and hate,
the beautiful and the ugly,
the good and the bad,
the daring and the timid.

It’s the failure of the holy to stay holy
and the sinners to keep sinning,
the failure of the rich to stay rich
and the poor to stay poor,
the failure of those who love
and those who hate,
everything failing,
inevitably falling into its opposite,
into its enemy, into its nightmare,
into the end
where the big bang,
having reached its limit,
reverses itself,
with everything you know
falling apart,
here, in the carnival
where the last great act
is to take something,
and through a swift sleight of hand
turn it into nothing
as the bright lights dim
and the merry-go-round
grinds slowly
to a complete
and silent

- Jose Padua
First published, in the St. Mark's Poetry Project Newsletter, in 1992.