Sunday, November 1, 2015

Reconsidering Liars

"Let there be light."
Did you think
He had it just lying around?
The sun, the stars....all made up.

Billy Robinson was an upstate New Yorker of Scottish ancestry,
a magician who reinvented himself
as Chung Ling Soo, Chinese conjurer,
ripping off most of his act from another vaudevillian.

His wife Suee Seen was really named "Dot." 
They weren't really married.
She was as American as he was.

Consider this:
"America" is a construct. 
You start with trees, bears and native tribes,
kill most of them, plant a flag and
Voila! America. Something that wasn't there before,
like a rabbit out of a hat.

You'll argue that it was there, just different,
like "your" card, now at the top of the deck every time,
fanned in the illusionist's hands.

Watch and learn, padewon.
Billy Robinson whipped lather in a mug and shaved off his moustache,
used greasepaint to darken his complexion,
threw on some bright Oriental robes,
and started banking the cash from the suckers who came for his act.

God would tell you,
ya gotta have a gimmick,
whether you call it Manifest Destiny or The Ten Commandments.
Billy's was a stunt he called "Condemned to Death by the Boxers."

Marked bullets were loaded into rifles wielded by stooges in costume;
the weapons were rigged not to fire,
but Chung Ling Soo would appear to catch the deadly missiles with a china plate.
the sun and stars are slowly burning themselves out,
and the rifles became worn with cleaning.

Bam! Bam! And down went Billy, right there on stage.
"I've been shot," he said, in astonished perfect English.
You can look on Wikipedia today and find Chung Ling Soo's whole story.
Do you think that if he had stayed Billy,
kept his moustache,
and sold tam o' shanters in a shop all his life,
that anyone would remember him now?

Let there be light,
how ever it is made, and how ever far it has to travel
to get here.


Sioux said...

When I was a kid, the story of Columbus was such a straightforward story.

Now it's the beginning of a lengthy and terrible horror story...

Kerry O'Connor said...

What a fascinating story, a cautionary tale worth remembering.

Mama Zen said...

This is full of so much awesome I'm not even gonna start quoting. I adore this.

hedgewitch said...

There is a real novelish sort of feel to this, a narrative that a novel would not do as well, because it would lack the illumination of the phosphor-flashes of poetry you ignite into beacons about every seventh word--but it reads like a Beat sort of screed to me, without having that style at all. Uncomfortable truths are always hidden in con games, and America has been ersatz from inception, but how very seldom we think of it that way, till a poem like this rocks us back on our heels and turns the world on its head. And he really *is* on wikipedia, as real as real, or as phony as phony. GREAT piece, Shay.

Pink Rook said...

My favorites are the third, fifth, and sixth stanzas.

Your poem reminds me of a movie:

Have you seen it?

Fireblossom said...

^^^ the character in that movie was inspired by Chung Ling Soo.

Sherry Blue Sky said...

My fave bit? The label, "oops, this is awkward". You are the best story teller ever.