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Five Thieves in Subtraction

March 31, 2013
By

A poem about treachery and betrayal in a China Town Cafe

This long poem was written after an incident in a Vancouver China Town cafe in the early 1970s. It was during my Simon Fraser University days and four of my fellow students had persuaded me to join them for Chinese food.

I had lived in the SFU dorms my first year at SFU and made the acquaintance of one Walter Woo and he had instructed me as to the best, and cheapest, Chinese restaurant in Vancouver. He was a beef and greens man and a very sloppy eater, scooping the food into his mouth with chopsticks and relishing the feel of grease running down his chin.

I had dined with Walter at said restaurant, found the food plentiful and priced to suit student budgets, so I suggested that our group of five go there.

Among the five was a wild man who was intent on causing mischief. Joining him was a sometime friend of mine who hung around the campus newspaper office where I served as an editor. The sometime friend served no useful purpose that I could see but had been elected to a position on the board of directors. The other two were merely hungry hangers-on, as I recall, and had no attachment to my sometime friend and I.

When the wild man proposed not paying the bill, I was upset and that emotion turned to fury when I saw that my sometime friend was willing to go along with the proposal. I felt a strong sense of betrayal.

I believe I stayed behind and paid the bill myself, having been at the restaurant previously and knowing the owners would get back to Walter with their legitimate complaint. Betrayed and broke I shunned the others now loitering in a nearby alley.  This poem came to me as a way of coming to grips with the situation, expelling my anger, and perhaps it also played the role of exposing the remnants of my lost innocence.

Five Thieves in Subtaction

The music is soft enough, I suppose,

But then again a touch too soft

For I can hear the deepening timbre

Of another sound…

Far off…

Somewhere.

 

Five thieves sit round a circular table

Humming in unison, a circle of deceit,

Justification bleeding from their mouths

“Thorns have been fed us,” cry they,

By the cook

In this cafe.

 

Out the back door they sauntered

Singing “its awright Maw.”

We’re only crying, not dying.

As if leaving the bill behind was

Awright Maw

When it wasn’t.

 

Diced chicken with peas please.

Beef with bokchoy so pale green.

They eat just the chicken

Leave the peas from me and we

Fight for a sip

Of  7-Up.

 

But a single 7-Up was not enough

Among thieves, no not enough

To quench their thirst for

Prejudicial hate against the Asian,

Treachery,

Skullduggery.

 

May I wash my mouth out

With your toothbrush please.

I have no cavities,

But my pyorrhea will give you

Hoof and mouth

Disease.

 

A toothless malady it is

That removed one thief

Leaving only four to

Do the dirty business out

The back

Door.

 

Cheap and filthy deed

Smelling foul alley smells of

Dope, vomit and sex for sale.

You who were once my friend,

What game

Do you play?

 

Are you happy now, friend,

With your never ceasing game?

It is plain, too plain to see

That you seek some kind

Of false justice

Undeserved.

 

But this time, friend,

I have been allowed to witness

How you justify your actions

As the architect of

Vicious

Vengeance.

 

 

My designer of destruction, you

Built this anger against

People who have very little

And not cannot even have

Very little

Together.

 

Why do you settle your darkening

Cloud overhead of me?

And why over them, here, now?

Now out of five thieves

Were only

Three.

 

Dirty China Town streets,

Alleys that stink the same way

A shack that I once knew

In another lifetime far away

Stinks,

Stinks old.

 

Your vile act yields a telling smell

Of used fits and tossed condoms

Too old to hold, so sad,

And rusty razor blades still clutching

Old face and

Underarm hair.

 

As you walk that alley,

You smile and listen

As a drunk curses the world:

“Motherfucker why don’t you

Give

A damn?”

 

So this is your plastic game –

Beat the capitalist cafe

Run by a Chinese family

More destitute than you and

Living hand

To mouth?

 

You who have called out

“Go left, you man” and now

You turn a corner that leads

Down a different road,

Endless,

Pointless.

 

You use your student loan

To buy you dope to resell

On those China Town Streets

That are strafed with so many

Lonely and

Dying souls.

 

You have become lost in the

Screams of those you left behind,

Deaf to the ones who still fear

Death by knife and madness,

Blind to

Warning signs.

 

Your sceptic mind is jaundiced

By the thought of ill-gain.

You sensed the danger

For a fleeting moment when

Two remained

Not five.

 

Capitalism is no game, you fool,

And even so, not one you can win.

You have missed the point, I say,

You can’t run away fast enough

To escape

The next play.

 

Through Pender Street inserts

You sprint away for a stolen

One and a half dollar meal.

Is that what you call

Bucking

The system?

 

“Bank of Montreal” written in Chinese

Below bottomless passageways

Where the calm invades time

And across the street a neon clock

Ticks blue

And white.

 

You never had to go without,

And yet you think you can play.

The capitalist thief’s game.

But why not blow it up,

Disengage its

Inner workings?

 

They work three times the hours

You manage to sleep most days.

Their drug is sleep to work again,

But you stay awake on

Speed and

Amphetamines.

 

Two thieves still and none to go.

Guts you call it as you run.

Where have you done your time,

My fellow thief, confederate,

Partner

In crime?

 

Was your guilty charge back then

A wrong in your lawyer’s mind?

As a single thief freed

Did you shout out loud

“Aux armes, aux armes”

Against the Man?

 

Oh mama, can this really be

The end for this solitary thief

Who cries out in vain

For somewhere to hide in pain,

Someone

To blame?

 

Oh lonely thief who whimpers now

Caught as a solitary hitch-hiker

Pounded senseless in the back seat

By young men who laugh as he

Squeals and

Reels.

 

Anger is my cry as I watch you run.

Someone to hate, you say.

Well, I will afford you that hate

Because I despise the truths

I know

About you.

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