Paradise is a Hard Gig

Poem by Jack Butler

So often
The meanest people live in the finest places.
No chaos of laughter is ever permitted to soften

the bitter disappointment of their faces,
yet nothing is lacking. Everything is full.
Hand after hand they turn up kings and aces

then fold before the pay-off. Their bells toll
a dull salvation to the blessed air,
and dull against their eardrums beat, and roll

in thunderous echoes down their everywhere
green valleys, through which their rivers, fat with trout,
do leap and sparkle. Oh yay dey do, mon frere,

Br’er Rabbit. And you know why? Without a doubt
because they are so small against it, because
they take themselves so serious. They shut out

the mornings’ breezes, tune their radios
to squawking lowland frequencies, and, grim
with satisfaction, choose the damnedest news

to rebroadcast. No trickster gods for them,
Br’er Fox, Coyote, Crow. And no unbidden
rock-and-roll backbeat to make the black blues scram.

Why, what would it mean if everything were given,
if we were not our own, but children of joy,
that joy which only makes, and only makes heaven?

How would we get our gold stars then, Big Boy?
Affix those medals same color as our bruises?
Spring for the hundred-thousand-dollar toy?

We’d waste our time with double rainbows, roses
in opalescent vases, water-fountains
and apricots and bulldogs and plastic noses

with waggling Groucho mustaches, wild mountains
at mutinous altitudes outside the studio
of ten blue windows, in which we paint our paintings

when we aren’t arguing Zen, or watching the snow
come flying in from nowhere like subatomics
at quantum zero, or teaching our wings to grow

from the fourth chakra, or reading the Sunday comics
in bed, or loving before we read the comics.