Is it better to give up one’s life
And leave a sacred shell
As an object of cult
In a cloud of incense
Or better to live
As a plain turtle
Dragging its tail in the mud?
– Chuang Tzu (Thomas Merton, trans.)
Once, I pictured myself as sinister as a vulture,
even though people treat me like a sparrow:
a creature out-and-out ordinary and non-threatening.
Likewise, in Penny Dreadful, I identified
with John Clare, the hideous,
poetry-reciting monster – when I’d be more
likely cast as “Mahjong Parlour Owner”, “Police Photographer”,
or “Audience Member”.
I used to sink into a deep blue funk thinking
about how with my plain turtle looks, nobody saw me
as a warrior princess. I was scenery
mouthing “rhubarb rhubarb” to another anonymous shrubbery.
At best, I’m comic relief.
When people see me, nobody gets a pistol-in-his-pocket,
but at least they don’t try to shoot me.
And like the Fool in King Lear who flies
from the plot before the main characters die,
I will be the Police Photographer who lives on to photograph
another gory aftermath. Or better, the Mahjong Parlour Owner
keeping the world playing for another azure day.
Sharon Suzuki-Martinez is the author of The Way of All Flux (New Rivers Press, 2012), and winner of the New Rivers Press MVP Poetry Prize. She is also the Editor of a music and poetry blog, The Poet’s Playlist.