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Exquisite Corpse - A Journal of Letters and Life

Foreign Desk
Five Prose Poems
by Mark Terrill ||
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Top Cat

The old dented black Peugeot taxi hurtles through the streets of nighttime Karachi Pakistan at breakneck speed seeming to catch each & every pothole & rut with a shuddering slam until suddenly the lights cut out the engine dies & the taxi rolls to a stop in the middle of a street where people are living on the sidewalk in makeshift huts & lean-tos huddled around smoky cooking fires & the driver this kid named Top Cat in an AC/DC T-shirt is already out from behind the wheel bent under the hood where I glimpse an occasional shower of sparks then there's a clicking & buzzing & the lights go on & the engine kicks in & we're careening through the streets again just as hell-bent as before heading for the docks where I hope to catch a last water taxi out to my ship anchored in the bay & Top Cat reaches down & pulls something out of his sock holds it up in front of the rear-view mirror as we screech around a corner this brown lump about the size of a baby's fist You want buy hashish my friend? & in a combined gesture of absolute trust & brilliant salesmanship he passes the lump back to me for a closer look & just one whiff & I'm immediately seeing lush green fields of towering marijuana plants in a high mountain valley watered by gurgling streams of cool clear glacier runoff & even though I don't want to buy any hash I ask him how much anyway just out of curiosity For you my good friend only five dollars & of course there's no way I can resist a chunk of killer hash for five bucks so I give him the money & take the hash & we come screeching up to the gate at the docks & I pay Top Cat with a healthy tip on top & jump down onto the deck of the very last water taxi full of drunken sailors puking over the rails fighting over life-&-death trivia & we go chugging across the bay in the warm foreign darkness bump up against that floating hulk of rusty greasy steel & whirring blowers & roaring machinery & brutal stupidity & I'm going up the clanking aluminum gangway two steps at a time ducking down the passageway locking the door of my room behind me where I throw together a slapdash pipe from a beer can & a piece of tinfoil & take a few good-size hits & flop back on my bunk & there's a clicking & buzzing & the lights go on & the engine kicks in & I'm strolling through lush green fields of towering marijuana plants in a high mountain valley watered by gurgling streams of cool clear glacier runoff the earth below me the sky above me the sun warm on my back Top Cat cruising the streets of Karachi for another benevolent fare.

Terminal Satori

I drop the band off at Schiphol airport & drive back into Amsterdam & return the van to the rental agency & take a cab to the main train station & stow my bags in a locker & buy a ticket for the train to Hamburg which doesn't leave for another two hours so I walk back out into the streets of Amsterdam on a cold gray day in November after a six-week tour of Europe from Helsinki to Athens to Prague to Dublin & everywhere in between & I'm just walking around enjoying the feeling of total liberation & not having to be phoning faxing driving checking in & out of hotels driving loading equipment soundchecking & counting tickets towels heads & money driving listening to walking-wounded singers cranky musicians motor-mouthed roadies asshole promoters & loopy groupies & I go into a Middle-Eastern snack bar & eat a falafel & drink a beer & then browse in a record shop & eventually wander into a so-called coffee shop & smoke a little bag of incredibly strong stuff & stroll back out into the streets totally blasted into another world altogether looking now with sheer astonishment at the quaint buildings & narrow streets & romantic tree-lined canals & then somehow I've inadvertently strayed into the red light district & I'm looking at all these voluptuous half-naked women in their storefront glass cubicles & they're looking at me & smiling & I'm mentally counting the money in my wallet then glancing at my watch to see how much time is left when suddenly it starts to rain & I duck into a little bar on the corner which is not some red-light dive full of whores & pimps as I'd been expecting but rather just a regular cozy corner bar full of local color mostly old folks sitting at the bar drinking Heineken out of those funny little glasses listening to oldies on the jukebox one old couple is even dancing & I order a beer & sit down at the end of the bar & no one is taking notice of me so I can just sit & drift in my cannabis-anonymous state of mind taking in the entire scene the feeling of liberation expanding by the minute filling the ether with previously unknown feelings of fraternity benevolence human warmth & that sense of whatever-it-is-we're-all-in-it-together & the sallow November light is slanting in through the bottle-glass windows giving everything a hallowed Vermeer-like tint pushing the whole scene beyond the real & the surreal & on into the hyper-real & soon the whole thing is bordering on an all-out religious experience with evolutionary repercussions even though I know somewhere over on the practical side of my mind that it's basically just a default convergence of road-burn fatigue killer-dope & good cold beer but I'm not about to let some petty two-bit conventional wisdom pop my bubble & bring me down because-hey-I'm feeling what I'm feeling & I order another beer & get up & put a few guilders in the jukebox & when Elvis starts crooning It's now or never I suddenly hear the words like I've never heard them before imparting as they are an entirely new meaning putting the ordinarily mundane here-&-now in a completely different light altogether one of utter divinity absolute righteousness & almost blinding purity.

Day of the Dead

Twenty-third hour of the day of the dead under palm trees scissoring dryly in the breeze off of Subic Bay the deaf-&-dumb girl we picked up at the Dogpatch Hotel strumming an old out-of-tune guitar while we sit on the bamboo porch of the ex-helicopter pilot's bungalow drinking ice-cold San Miguels Jack Daniels on the rocks smoking Filipino Red watching a big green lizard perched next to the single light bulb under the thatched roof where it waits totally motionless until a moth is momentarily stunned after brief contact with the light bulb & a long pink tongue suddenly snaps out & the lizard swallows the witless moth whole while the ex-pilot is telling us of his stint working on the set of Apocalypse Now & how they taped charges to the legs of a water buffalo & blew him to pieces in front of the cameras & Marlon Brando in one of his countless improvisations started rubbing himself with the bloody remains of the water buffalo while going into a long intense monologue about his mother until he was totally soaked & glistening red with the blood & the tears were streaming down his face & how the scene was never used & god what a waste & then the party is finally over & we're out on the street looking for a taxi to get us to a hotel somewhere before the curfew comes down & there across the way is a huge cemetery sprawling down the hillside with thousands of candles flickering on each & every grave & tombstone like a cascading waterfall of tiny points of glimmering light & people are walking by with chickens under their arms & mongrel dogs are scurrying silently from one shadow to the next & the warm night air is thick with the smell of pansit & lumpia & those skewers of bright red meat you see them grilling on every corner & I can feel the booze in my legs & the dope in my head & I'm starting to feel diminished by everything around me overwhelmed by the entire scenario when suddenly the deaf-&-dumb girl sticks her tongue in my ear & for a second I'm thinking about that big green lizard again then I'm looking into her face glowing warm brown friendly smiling in the light of the thousands of candles & I realize that despite the onslaught of phenomena & my inability to articulate communication is going to be the least of my problems tonight.

From Zero to Bitch in 2.5 Seconds
Christmas Eve off the coast of Costa Rica 147 degrees down in the engine room wherever I stand I leave a big puddle of sweat the light is dim the air is foul & close it's greasy it's steamy the giant turbines screeching like so many fingers scratching down a blackboard the bilges are sloshing with their oily brew my mind is reeling with thoughts of elsewhere I grab the clipboard & head up the ladder to log in the readings from the reefer flat glad to be out of that dank blistering hole even if it's only for a matter of minutes then I glance in the galley on my way back down below at first a little confused by all the commotion then realizing it must be the so-called Christmas party & I can see already that it's not a happy affair everyone stumbling drunk bitching & bragging five guys crowded around the one female steward with her skin-tight From Zero to Bitch in 2.5 Seconds T-shirt & right away I'm ready to continue on down the passageway when the female steward sees me & breaks away from the knot of drunken admirers & comes my way offering me her tall can of Coors from which I drink long & greedily it going down like a tropical waterfall in the back of my mind It must be terribly hot down there she says her breath in my face her hand on my arm the signals loud & clear & somewhat frightening & suddenly there's a blur of action in the corner the smack of fists on flesh & in a glittering flash the knives are out & all five guys are in a big ugly tangle ostensibly something to do with the dignity of the female steward which someone has obviously insulted & now the party really kicks in but the female steward is ignoring the action looking up into my eyes with alcohol-fuelled expectation & red-rimmed pathos while I drain the beer & give her back the empty can Thanks I say backing out into the passageway Merry Christmas & I'm headed down below again ready to come to terms now with each & every one of those searing scorching 147 degrees.
Lusitanian Afternoon

At a street-bullfight in Portugal I'm watching a young mother sitting nearby searching for lice in her daughter's hair as the bull goes thundering down the street chasing a pack of would-be macho revelers while sending others fleeing & climbing trees & lampposts & jumping over walls & the mother finishes with the one side & roughly yanks her daughter's head around & starts in eagerly on the other side as the bull stops suddenly in the middle of an intersection & kicks at the pavement with a shiny black hoof while dropping his head & snorting & grunting & flinging long strands of glistening saliva high into the azure expanse of the Lusitanian afternoon & a drunken villager decides to take up the challenge & approaches the bull with an open umbrella while the crowd looks on in eager anticipation of another example of death-defying bravado or maybe just drunken stupidity & in the ensuing silence I think I can hear the clicking of the young mother's fingernails in the glossy black hair of her daughter who is trying to twist her head around to see the bull who is tossing his head one last time in preparation for the charge & I know what the daughter is thinking & I know what the mother is thinking & I know what the drunken villager is thinking & I know what the crowd is thinking but I wonder what the bull & the lice are thinking or if they're even foolish enough to be thinking at all as the sun beats down & the clatter of hooves suddenly rattles like a salvo of gunfire into the boundless breadth of empty blue sky?

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