You’re in Atlantic City, lying on the sand,
a nymph washed up on the beach, a 40s-era
Botticelli drained of color, your lips looking black
though I know they were red;
you’re posing with one pale dimpled knee on the birdbath,
trying to look vampy;
you’re sitting in a dress with stripes cinching to a v at your waist,
your hair coiffed just so,
a million hidden bobby pins nestling at your scalp,
which is shockingly bright against your dark hair.
You are bathing my father in the sink,
and you are both smiling real smiles with all of your real teeth.
There’s your husband with his hat at a rakish angle,
effortlessly suave, though I’m sure someone,
probably you, positioned the hat. I wonder how you all
stood to live in the thick of all that glamour.
You were a consummate artist,
you designed how you would be seen,
but it was not a screen, a facade,
the illusion encompassed the entire thing.
The position of your hand in an idle moment would pass scrutiny,
even the candlesticks were of the highest quality.
You pruned my grandfather like an arrangement,
and he quenched the cut ends with gin and quietly hated you
while he racked up awards for being the most excellent insurance salesman.
What you might have been had you had the option.
But my father said being a carpenter was lofty enough.
It was, after all, the paid occupation of Jesus.
On November 26, 2016, I attended an author’s talk hosted by the Washington County Museum. Although the talk was sparsely attended—I was one of only four audience members—this was not, by any measure, a reflection of the quality of its content. Flamur Vehapi, a poet from Kosovo who fled his home due to a regime that relentlessly persecuted ethnic Albanians, was a talented speaker. I pieced together that he was only thirty-two years old, and yet he had a self-possession beyond his years, a quiet confidence void of egoism. He was understated and yet commanding in his presence, and I was really struck by this quality more than by almost anything he said; it was as if his presence embodied a content that exceeded his words, something so true that it resisted speech. And though much of his talk touched on horrors that were in fact unspeakable, that is not quite what I mean. He seemed, to use a word that has become trite in our self-help era, enlightened.
Your one day of the week
Is now every day of the week.
Once, you held each of your tales
aloft, daring to expose yourself,
your sex a deadly sort of awning.
It was the kind of sex a man might
strap himself to a mast to avoid,
though his body would writhe
against rope, feeling your voice
composed of honey and salt.
And your strange beauty
bore disfigured progeny,
leaving you singular.
whore for a caffeine empire,
mystical allure traded for chemical
addiction, your terrifying womanliness
plastered over, your complexity
expressed in the fewest of lines,
White Lady to white lady holding
some weird stuff and wearing
a crown, maybe a mermaid.
Maybe like Hans Christian
Andersen filtered through
the candied substrate
of the year 1989.