Ron Padgett



The Death of Empedocles


Five fingers on each hand, five
toes on each foot, that's enough.

I get into the past
which has a different kind of dust on it.

There's an old Coke bottle with dust on it
behind the bust of I think Empedocles—

Nobody from the neck down. O
Empedocles, don't jump into that volcano!

But jump he did, with his whole body,
bouncing off the rocks on the way down.

And you call this a philosopher?
I don't think he set a very good example.




The Question Bus


What about your friend? Will he shoot flames from his nostrils as he hurls you across the lawn? Or will he fall on his knees and adopt you as his one and only god? Somewhere in between.

Somewhere in between a rock and a click, where the abstractions roam about in their ghostly attire. They are haunting our thoughts, we who wear human attire. When they ask you to dance, you should refuse.

You should also refuse to pay the check when having dinner with sunlight: it's evening, and he should be in bed! He might not even be sunlight!

He might not even be a ghost. He may be the one you have grown weary of waiting for, the last one off the bus at the end of the line. He may be the bus itself, belching flames as all four tires explode. Is he really your friend?




The Story of Jake and Marie


The rips and cigarette burns zigzag haphazardly across the dark red leather of the booths in the old beer joint. A young blond rushes around in the dim late afternoon light that filters in—no, it's an old woman in a wig and a smear of bright red lipstick, and she is mumbling and sputtering as she lurches from booth to booth, flinging her arms out in plaintive, melodramatic gestures of longing and despair. She stops, grabs her head, and gives out a screech that seems to go on and on. Finally the bartender gives her a look, and she stops.

"Jake," she says calmly, as if she were about to suggest something to him, but nothing is left except her wig hovering in mid-air, rotating slowly.