From THE BODY AT FIFTY
3. The Body Reinvented
How odd to wake up at fifty
in this body of loose boards
and tumbling bricks
with its hair like chipped paint
and its bleary breasts
like the eyes of exhausted yaks,
its back like a suitcase
full of iron nightgowns,
and its boarded-up womb--
a museum awash with ghosts.
But a body still wearing
that sly mauve dress
and dancing shoes frantic as castanets
that refuse to scrape off
or be hauled away
or dissolved in the fumes of time's turpentine
or hacked to chop suey by the surgeon's knife
oh, won't you come dance with this body
with its songs that keep sprouting
like a million brash buds
and its face of unquenchable
hardening into a diamond.
4. The Body in Distress
"Large 1 cm right-sided extrusion of L4-L5 disk
impinging on right L5 and L4 nerve roots. 8 mm
left paracentral extrusion of L5-S1 disk with
impingement on left-sided S1 nerve root. Type 1
discogenic changes seen in all the lumbar vertebrae. Spondylolisthesis of L4 over L5 vertebra. Right-sided facet degeneration at L4-L5 level. In this study, last seen disk space is designated as L5-S1."
--The author's MRI results, January 2003
After helping Aunt Leticia move a monstrous teak armoire, my back takes the late train home. It derails just south of Route L5, ramrods into an antiques store at the mouth of the sciatic nerve. On the clothesline of my spine, the laundry hangs askew; nightgowns and bras devour each other, braid together frantically like Barbara Allen's rose and briar. My vertebrae topple like a Stonehenge of dominoes. In some secret lumbar solar system, the planets scatter like pool balls on ice, eight ball careening towards the S1 pocket. The back of my leg becomes the Devil's double bass, scraped with a bow of nettles. My squat, brusque doctor strokes his needleful of cortisone, gauges his trajectory like Minnesota Fats. Hitler blitzes London. The bass starts playing "A Night on Bald Mountain" as Earth collides with Mars.
WHAT MAKES A MAN A MAN
I tried to make a man out of
diamonds and quartz,
with a big rectangular ruby for a heart
and a mirrorball head that shot light all around,
but the jewels clouded over
or kept falling off
or smelling like eight-month-old green cottage cheese,
so I broke him apart
and buried him in the ground
and that was the nasty end of that.
Then I tried to build a man out of telescopes
and put my eye to his heart
to see what I could see,
but all I could spy through that cold glass dot
was his face up some skirt in Amsterdam,
and a pair of smirking breasts in a Bangkok hotel,
and some Martian's coy eyelash
purring down his cheek,
so I broke him apart
and buried him in the ground,
where he could keep his damn eyes to himself.
So I finally made a man
out of junkyard parts
and bound them together with Christmas lights,
then inserted a heart like a red silk frog,
and a big old brain the size of a rump roast,
and read him throbbing Armenian love poems
for thirty days and nights. And he
dug us a nest and he snuggled us in
and he tangoed inside me
oh helium! handclaps!
painted frescoes inside me
kazoo! orchid! bonfire!
and we burrowed on down to
the center of the earth--
oh plunge-and-soar hot honeymoon,
sweet ruckus of getting it right!
ON TURNING FIFTY AND FEELING GODDAMN GOOD ABOUT IT
for Liz Marino, forty-five and ticking
A woman's place
is in her bones--
not tending the gaudy newsstand of flesh,
nor spraying red paint
on the fading walls
in the chichi boutique of her hair.
A woman's place is in her skin,
which she should wear like
Ruth Bader Ginzburg's robes,
sweeping majestically up the stairs of her life
like a peacock tail of stars
to that glittering spree of a party
in the ballroom of the fiftieth floor.
A woman's place is
in her time--not facing backwards
like an unspent coin, but
blazing down its streets in a silver Corvette
made of sheer chandelier-swinging joy,
tangoing slyly through its
airports and zoos
in Minerva's tiara of fire,
shaking time's hand and caressing its groin
and getting it drunk in her giddy penthouse,
winking one coy eye at her
the incredible shrinking dance floor
and the wildly widening light.
VALENTINE BEGINNING WITH A LINE BY THAX DOUGLAS
The sea is a spy in my washing machine
and each year my moiré birthday cake
grows a thicker layer of spongy paranoia.
But just put me in a
honking big bed with you,
and I become the goddess of
hammers and nails,
of butter and hair,
of love becalmed in a rowboat
made of muscles and
mother-of-pearl. But how
can I make love to you
like the inscrutable scissors that I am
when the bed keeps turning
to a toucan at your touch,
when confetti shoots out of
the toasters of your eyes
and makes my heart whir
like an x-ray? My head
shrinks down to the size of a grape
as my heart balloons to a zeppelin
of throbbing red lamé stretched tight as a hug,
huge as the island of Zanzibar.
And with you at the rudder
and me in flames,
we'll fly forever in and out
of Saturn's tricky shadow,
for you are the god of
the lavish spoon of love
stirring the itchy neutrons of desire.
MARILYN MONROE AT THE GATES OF HEAVEN
Lord, here I come
wearing nothing but my ballgown
of a body. At the end
of it all, it's just me.
It's me, it's me, it's Sugar! Tired
as a Chinese mountain
of tap-dancing down Niagara Falls
over and over and over and over,
spluttering-wet and naked
to the world. Spread out your
great clean hands for me,
like a bathtub, a towel,
a nightie. Cuddle me up and hide me,
like a long white mink
eclipse. Storm off the set with me
tucked in your arms. Be my
barrel. Be a blonde's best friend.
His hair unfurls like grand opera.
His eyes are the ocean where the
Giant Squid cavorts.
His chin is the end of the world
as we know it. His mouth,
that monster, guzzles Loch Ness.
His shoulders are two far-flung festivals.
His arms swoop up to rattle
the constellations like chandeliers.
His chest is a forest of
rococo oaks; his hands,
snazzy spiders that prowl my breasts.
His belly is a big bass fiddle
strummed by the Duke of Earl.
His thighs drawl and murmur
and sing me to sleep all night.
And his knees kneel down
and his back sprouts wings
and his lungs scream bloody hallelujah!
His hips are the Grand Prix de Monaco
and I win! I win! I win!
MARIE WRITES A LETTER TO HER HUSBAND JUST BEFORE SHE FINALLY LEAVES THE WOMANIZING JERK
I wish you a plague of scorpions,
scuttling, brown and sinister as
all my years with you:
scorpions in your coffee,
your hairpiece, your bank account,
nothing but names of scorpion species
in your throbbing
little black book.
May you be plagued with failures:
promotion after promotion
flapping away like uncatchable crows,
your lucky streak snapped like a
the life of Job wallpapered
all over yours. And as for your grandiose
long lush manhood,
towering and proud as the Chrysler Building,
may it sink, sink, sink like the Spanish Armada,
never to sail again!
I will you a plague of vaginas,
angry ones. No, not the kind
with the tired old teeth,
but vaginas that march around in your head,
clomping and stomping their furious lips;
that cancan up and down
in your chest, kicking away at
your heart. Vaginas that
sprout on your face like pimples,
cunts that encrust on your butt like barnacles,
one for each mistress and
thousands for me,
shouting me on as I bolt to daylight,
oh million fierce mouths of my morning,
laughing your name down to Hell.
(Previously published in Free Lunch, and in the anthologies Dangerous Dames [11th Hour Productions, 1998] and Freedom's Just Another Word [Feminist Writers Guild / Outrider Press, 1998])