Do Not Ask Too Much by Paul Freidinger

“Metaphor is analogous to fiction, because it floats a rival reality. It is the entire imaginative process in one move.” – James Wood

An alien is a born metaphor
or a metaphor becoming

a baby opening his eyes, that cries,
coughs, breathes.

He is African-black, Chinese,
Latin-brown, Russian, Vietnamese,

Aussie, Polish, Ukrainian, Serbian,
Korean, Indian, Pakistani, Dutch,

Palestinian, Egyptian, Iranian,
Moroccan, Korean, Thai, Jew.

An immigrant sighs through
a black-and-white lens into color

and quivers as the contrast
ripples through his bones.

He hears in the form of a strange,
difficult language, his body

huddled in humiliation and despair.
That’s why the music takes hold

like a grip on a hammer or a hand
on a wheel, why it has the rhythm

of survival in a world far from home.
An alien doesn’t appreciate

why he should call this home, these
cruel streets, violence in the stares

of strangers. Everyone’s a stranger,
and he is lost. The seed of metaphor,

the distant opposite of experience,
the lot in life that explodes toward fate,

a scent of disaster, failure, cold,
heat, fire blazing down the day,

dark making room for gazing in.
The first step is madness,

syntax of a sentence, a nod, a gesture.
That is money, a presupposition

of power, a grimace of survival,
a tear of self-pity, a prayer for

deliverance. A word comes in
the back door. Please. He learns how

it surges on the tongue, he wonders
if he utters rightly, he practices

in the mirror. He stays hidden
in plain sight, he works until

his bones creak, muscles scream,
heart craves straight bourbon.

He splays the line between him
and death. He lives the metaphor,

embodies its dark core, has no choice.
Amerika is riddled with riddles,

and his life has no meaning without
a few bucks in his back pocket.

He accepts indignity like putrid meat.
He learns the taste of it in the air

in the morning when the crow calls.
He breathes. He was old at seven.

He is younger now, housed in
an ancient body. His eyes, a black-

and-white lens, curve to the arc
of color. His prism refracts

the facts of existence. His legs
are carrying him out the door

onto a concrete sidewalk. It leads
somewhere he has never been.

If he told you the truth, he would
be deported. That is the pause

between question and answer.
The question carries his lunch

with anxiety, launches him
through morning into afternoon.

Do not ask too much. He will
disappear through the door

of the metaphor. Learn compassion.
Store judgment for another time.

At night when sleep comes slowly,
a jailor and redeemer, he dreams

of the best part of home that
never existed. It would require

a new lexicon to explain
the manifesto of his suffering

and what it’s taught him.
It rubs against his ribs

until it hurts into silence.
Do not ask too much.

You could wake into the light
and find yourself in another country.

 

——

Paul Freidinger is a poet, long-time Chicago guy, now residing in Edisto Beach, SC, where he can attest the ocean is rising. He has been at this a while and have published over 250 poems in the U.S. and abroad. He has poems recently published or forthcoming in Atlanta Review, Florida Review, Folio, Grist, Harpur Palate, Isthmus, New York Quarterly, Pacific Review, Portland Review, Reunion: The Dallas Review, Roanoke Review, Subprimal Poetry Art, Switchback, and Triggerfish Critical Review, among others.