Thugs in Topeka

Thugs in Topeka

“Cloud, Castle, Lake,”
tells a tale of the individual
hounded by a group of German
tourists. A Russian émigré wins
a trip in a lottery…”
—Priscilla Meyer, “Nabokov’s
Short Fiction,” The Cambridge
Companion to Nabokov

I was simply a modest, mild bachelor—
Minding my own business—who happened
To win a pleasure trip given by Melba refugees

It was in 2009 or 2010—the Kansas summer
Was in full blowtorch heat taking pity on nothing
Turning everything brown except the sparrows

I didn’t want to go anywhere—so I tried to sell
The ticket at the office of the Bureau of Trips
But was told I needed permission from TPTB

The Ministry of Transportation told me that—
First I’d have to get a lawyer and draw up a
Complicated petition and get a notary stamp

And besides a so-called “certificate on absence
Or non-absence from the city” had to be obtained
From the local police department immediately

So I sighed some and decided to go after all—
My hair neatly trimmed, my eyes blue and kind
Trying to remember my name “Vasiliy Ivanovich.”

The trip was dull, the bus packed with creeps—
Most of them Melba Exiles looking for escape from
The Topeka heat and the Red State scummy smog

A lanky blond young Jesus Freak stood out at once—
His sunburned face cockscomb-red and his bulbous
Boozy nose gleaming in the sun as if lacquered

I knew I was in trouble when I sat there and opened
A small volume of Nabokov and got frowned at by
The moiling mob who only read National Enquirers

Two of the fidgety women sitting next to me both
Had big mouths and big rumps while Schultz tried
To make them right away in the back of the bus

There was a dark cripple who looked like Goebbels
With lusterless eyes and a vague velvety vileness
Who turned out to be a spy for the Bureau of Trips

The bus wheezed its way out of the state capitol—
Leaving behind the dreary dome moping moodily
With its John Brown murals and crummy staircase

A couple of cyclists were nonchalantly run-over—
Splattering the sides and windows bloody damp
That caused squinting as I felt askance by it all

I was stunned by the tormenting din as evening
Fell over the soiled seasick interior of the tour bus
With green cucumber vomit running down the aisles

Greta an old witch with malevolent eyes sneered—
As if she had my number in her little black book
Looking down her snooty crooked pimply nose

I studied the grace in the motions of silverfish
Scuttling along the floor beneath my feet trying
Not to squish them like Schultz with his boots

Goebbels kept eyeing me as if I were poison—
Knowing I was an intellectual and enemy of the
State because I mistakenly read a book

The driver was a drunk from Wichita weaving—
And barely managing to keep us on the road
Earning a modest living terrorizing tourists

I wondered out loud where we were going—
And they all shouted shut-up as if I’d said a
Bad thing or something woefully forbidden

No one at the Bureau of Trips would tell me—
What the destination of our dream vacation was
So I had to sit there and endure communal angst

I shan’t complain I said to myself uneasily knowing
Suddenly that it was all an Invitation to a Beheading
The joke was on me and then the bus stopped

They began beating me—beating me for a long time
They used a corkscrew on my palms and Goebbels
Strangled me with his studded belt kicking me

Greta had such a devilish dexterity getting me
Down there with a pinch, a slap and pull while
The others had a good time laughing it up

They dumped me off the bus by a cornfield—
Where Cary Grant got buzzed by a spray-plane
None of the luxury of a Santa Fe Super Chief

When I finally got back all-bruised to Topeka—
I begged my boss to let me quit my job but he
Told me the Bureau of Jobs had forms to fill out!!!

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