Patricia Smith

Introduction to the poem starts at 2:45; poem starts at 3:30.

Chinese Cucumbers

it’s 3 pm on one helluva hot day and he’d been
scouring the close cluttered streets nonstop,
forgetting lunch. it’s 3 pm exactly one week
after headline screamed at him from
supermarket tabloid, CHINESE CUCUMBERS
MIRACLE CURE FOR AIDS and now right in the
middle of poking around another dusty stall,
slapping aside the maggots and fruit flies,
he realizes he doesn’t even know what the damned
things look like. and once he found them, if he
ever did, what next? did he peel them,
mash them, purée them, boil them, sauté
them, or simply rub the cold, unwashed
things across David’s spotted skin?
should he share them with David,
forcing the crisp slices into his lover’s mouth,
send pieces to their friends, pray over
them, light them like candles, offer them
as sacrifice or simply bake them up in a nice
casserole? Or maybe the cure was just in
finding them—maybe the minute one of the
tight-lipped Chinese merchants admitted
he had some of the little babies stashed in
the back, David would sit up in his hospital
bed and say hey I can breathe now. maybe
the damned things weren’t salvation, maybe
they were just like the oils, the oils, those
pungent greases it took him almost a year
to find, and when he did he warmed fat drops
in his hands and rubbed them over David’s
sunken balls, over the withered cock, up and
down the bony legs and between the toes. then
he turned the thin shell over, warmed the oil
in his hands again and massaged David’s ass
and back and waited and waited and waited
and—, but the damned oil just glistened
under the lamplight, and David kept on dying,
dying so loud you could hear it,
he could hear it, but he also heard NEW CURE
ON THE HORIZON, crystals, yes, hung from
the neck on pure golden chains, set at angles
in the sunlight, crystals, Oprah and Phil,
Nightline and Current Affair screaming it,
and he heard, he held David’s cracking head in
his lap and slipped the chain down on toothpick
neck, the lavender crystal burning with bad light,
glittering against David’s breastbone, shaking
with his breathing and not working, not working,
dammit not working, but pretty as hell and loud
as shit. I am one gorgeous chunk of glass the
crystal screamed, but what is inside this body
I cannot pull out, I cannot silence the clicking
and the wheezing or purify the rotten blood, but
have you tried the oils? made a near-dead boy
in the south end stand up in his bed and scream
HALLELUJAH! but then again he was also on the
spiritual path, repeating one thousand times a
day i am a good person, my body is pure, i will
not die, i am a good person, my body is pure, i
will not die, and as he guides David through
the words, watching them move sore and hurting
through the mouth, the oil matting his hair,
the crystal on fire at his throat, choking
on the chant i am a good person, my body is
pure, i will not die, and tomorrow wouldn’t
be nearly so hot, he’d search all damned day
if he had to, and headline screamed at him
from supermarket tabloid CHINESE CUCUMBERS
MIRACLE CURE FOR AIDS and Jesus Christ the
damn things had to be somewhere.

— Patricia Smith

From Big Towns, Big Talk (1992).

Patricia Smith worked with Kurt Heintz to create a “poetry video” for this piece in 1994. You can read about the creation and reception of this video here, and watch or download the video with one of these links:

More background, and other poems:


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