February 9, 2017

Mark Evan Johnston

GAME SHOW HOST

“When I was growing up, all I ever wanted to be was a game show host.”
—a former student

I

It’s true: my world is false.
My make-up gives me lips I never had,
eyes more almond-shaped than I’d ever dreamed of,
and skin that shows no trace of zit or razor.
My suit hides flab and wrinkles.
The angle of the camera hides
equipment, prompters, mise-en-scene from other sets.
The counters the contestants sit behind
hide polyester pants, brown shoes,
broken zippers, laddered hose.
There’s glitter everywhere:
teeth shine, necklaces glimmer,
pendents glow, rings glance,
lights illumine and reflect, dresses shimmer.
Smiles are everywhere in this happy world.
O happy, happy, happy world.

 
II

Let’s get this straight: my world is crooked.
I turn the elemental symbols into shams.
My circle is a wheel that rolls toward fortune.
“C’mon, Big Money!” they shout or titter.
But fortune is a whore, and always fickle:
the faces of two losers droop
in dejection at their loss,
and mask their envious thoughts with grins
to congratulate the one who walks away loaded.
You see, I teach hypocrisy. And I mean that sincerely.

My nine squares are filled with Hollywood has-beens:
three stand-up comics, long since funny, two lounge singers
who’ve crooned their way to Scotch,
an old busted rock star so blunted and baked
he can’t shut up long enough to smooth his wrinkles,
two soap stars who still seem
to wear the paper bag they couldn’t act out of.

And in the middle, all teeth and tits,
the grand, red-headed, indomitable American X,
a Grade-B slut who wrote a lousy book.
The audience loves them all, of course.
You see, I peddle fun too. They all want fun.
They’re all having fun. Say it together: fun fun fun.

My triangle is the twenty-thousand dollar
pyramid they all want to scale. Block by
slave-laid block, and buck by buck, they clamber
and scratch and claw to grasp at radix malorum.
I pose my silly questions; they spew their silly answers,
hoping they’ll be the first to reach the pinnacle
of the delta, not of Venus, but of Gold.
Given gold, Venus, and fame, and who knows
what else, will follow.
You see, I sponsor hope, so pick your image:
summit, bait, carrot, lure, trap, prize.

 
III

So there you have it.
One: hypocrisy. Two: fun. Three: hope.
I give them all the real American dreams.
And prizes. Lots of prizes.
“Johnny, tell our guests what they’ve won!”
The garish bedroom set, the swank convertible,
the week in Puerta Vallarta that will do their marriage in,
the big Sony, the wardrobe, the dishwasher,
the new Kelvinator she always wanted,
the tackle box he’ll break out for his boys
when they’re done hacking
with the brand new set of golf clubs.
An emerald necklace. And last:
one year’s supply of Fab, of Sparkle, or of Cheer.
Wake up and see, I give them dreams
of all that wealth that leads to lust and sin.
And I? I smile. I let the fun begin.

from Rattle #17, Summer 2002

__________

Mark Evan Johnston: “I write poems to compensate for what my heart can’t say and head can’t think. Somehow the language, which as been around for longer than I have, proves durable and fertile.”