“Should I Spill My Beer” by Martin Vest

Martin Vest


an automythography

I used to teach kung fu.
That’s a true thing I tell people
when I’m drunk.
As if to say I didn’t always
sit on this stool.
This is all part of a plan—
I’m not destroying myself;
it’s just that I have a keen sense of timing,
and now is not the time.
As if to say I could kill you
with the death touch.
Or I might kick you in the head
without bothering to stand up,
if the hour comes around.
As if to say this is not how it ends,
sulking in the bony half-light like a ghoul.
On this stool I trudge along,
waist-deep in the corpses of myself.
I am the mysterious wanderer
playing his flute in a forest of bamboo.
I am meditating beneath a waterfall
where the vain peony clings to its treacherous petals.
I am coming to the aid of a town extorted.
The imperial army cannot track me 
in the pure snow.
Should I spill my beer, the Jade Dragon
will rise from the foam
and agitate the ten thousand things.
I will ride it through the Jewel Gate
across a bridge of magpies,
which will scatter in flight behind me.

from Rattle #60, Summer 2018
Tribute to Athlete Poets


Martin Vest: “Growing up, I had few friends and I never attended a school-sanctioned sporting event. But I practiced kung fu seven days a week, and I began teaching while still in high school. My instructor introduced me to the first ‘serious’ books I ever read—The Tao Te Ching, Journey to the West, The Book of Five Rings, and other Chinese and Japanese classics. Much of the work was over my head at the time, but I supplemented it with a hefty dose of martial arts movies—everything from Kurosawa to cheesy blood-and-gore flicks from Hong Kong. For various reasons, I stopped practicing kung fu but soon afterward I discovered poetry. The transition from one to the other was natural to me. In fact, I didn’t really see a difference between the two. Still don’t. Quickly, though, I began drinking heavily for 25 years. I don’t regret it, though my many hospitalizations suggest I should, perhaps. In recent years I have undergone other metamorphoses. ‘Should I Spill My Beer’ is a cacophony of lives made symphonic (with one ear plugged) by poetry.”

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