You Could Pass for Lana Turner

Vol XVIII: You Could Pass for Lana Turner


She Could Pass for Lana Turner

Sitting at the Peacock Luncheonette, she rubbed a melon-scented ointment into her hands, chafed and somewhat manly. The meat patties, overcooked, were going down like horse tonic, that famous brand, General...Helms? The kind her grandmother once kept in the second cabinet, above the flour. The rolls, however, were fresh and doughy, reminding her that she was still soft enough to cry at weddings. From the corner of one eye, she made contact with the cute Hispanic porter, bringing out a green rack of half-clouded glasses. Her assessment: He was too young to appreciate tragic or too unstable to accept unconditional surrender or to understand why she changed lovers like leather belts. Her big secret: the discovery that LOVE is a retail outlet on the outskirts of every town. Anything can be negotiated for a mark down. Then she inspected the postcard from Brazil, one of her jilted lovers, who pushed persistence like a Wall St. inside trader. Lurid or Lewd? Hope you change your mind, signed Lewis. From a distance, it was hard to tell, even without the toupee or the long promised tummy tuck, that it was the same man on a horse shoe shaped shore, drowning within the imagined voice of the crowd, grounded under the solo flight of the white bird, beached under the Mardi Gras of clouds.

How it began: he was a stranger who stopped and changed her tire on Rt. 66. She fell in love with his hands and proceeded to short change him by the dashboard. He never got that far into the spoke of the moon.
She rose, paid her check, and said Keep the change, Johnny.




The vapor of loneliness followed him like a fig leaf plucked in childhood, morphing into mundane shapes sticking to the underbelly
of everything. Now his days were numbered and he could never name the fog that he confused with a woman's whimsy. He collected soup cans for no reason and held his breath on subways. Sooner or later, he thought, there would be a tidal wave of happiness, a slip of merciful goo.

The second to last woman he loved was torn between paper assets and the cut outs of the little girl she once resembled--all void and pretty curls. Under stress, the little girl mimicked her mother's empathy, trying to understand the folly of adults, the world's slow suicide. When this woman left, she forgot to ring the babysitters.

The last woman he loved was a composite of the second to last

and the very first. She had a wonderful way of smacking her lips at a baseball game or making smoke rings preside over dead air. During lovemaking, he imagined the swirl of autumn leaves, their linger and glide, his love of victorious colors how the crowd rose to their feet and cheered. The only problem with her was that she didn't exist.

After the last woman left him, he died in heartfelt doses. They never made a patch you could wear on the chest, one that could make you smile over absentee lovers who loved to smoke you to death.



Utah Agave

Out from the canyons, limestone on the rim, the girls walk towards us, single-file & zombie-eye, seep willow is their past, steam orchid is what passes for blood. Now they stand before us & hold hands.

They want to tell us what they saw at the bottom. The schist & the tree frog, the redbud that spoke in riddles & never shed a leaf. How the acacia & the salt cedar betrayed their Proterozoic lovers. One girl cries exotic crystal tears.

& even though they are dead, they look like any other girl before a red sun, squeezing cacti in her hand, fire ants under the skin.

They will tell us that at the bottom of the creek, where a cave wren sings an oversimplified truth but with color, only love can save them. There is nothing more and nothing less. I know because I am the secret tourist who once walked behind them.

They keep trying, Lord knows how, to recruit me back into the life of blind limestone. & it was love that killed them all.



The Maximum Darkness of Childhood

Sinking in 10,000 closets blindfolded against the sudden eclipse of stalker against moon, the scrim of dead birds after a bad mating season, I grew up in between the fingers of my mother who worked double shifts her hands testing vacuum tubes and the burns that never left her palms, or me stung and stretched in my growing pains. My future going on 17 doused matchsticks amidst slow-burn wicker lives.

It was then when her hand entered the crevice of rust and nail dawn, a girl with spider veins and high on Zydeco. On hot dusty roads, she floored her father's Impala, already recalled for faulty brakes. She said she was ditched by one too many swine and drugged by their words of travel and pearl. But I never said much. She instructed me to not hold my breath while we were doing it, breathe in and out, like the misfit seasons. She loved that feeling of sinking through mud, belly up, to be allowed into the layers, soft, soft, hard, the stratified entrails of the earth silent in their sodomy of fossil life. We parked near furrowed fields of corn, past the distant cries of women migrants, how we imagined burning in a scarecrow's heaven and the dirt tasted rich.



Setting a Bomb to Go Off at Three

As children who never quite grew up, my sister and I hatched plots to un-love mother, but we only succeeded in hating ourselves.

I drive back to the house, empty, Victorian, Pre-pre war, (which one I'm never certain), one side sinking, badly in need of repairs--the rotting gables, the terrace overgrown with ferns and ragweed. In her will, my mother left me this house. She never wants me to leave her again. She would want us to suffer together.

I sit at the dining room table, scratched mahogany but strong. Still strong. I recall the time my mother taught my sister and I how to build a gingerbread house, how it had to be built in a certain succession, pattern after pattern, and only then could you eat it. What we ate were bits of ourselves.

I will now build a gingerbread house. Shall I build it in the shape of a ski lodge, a respite from the cold? Yes? Then I shall need icing to mimic the effect of snow. The icing, mother reminded us so often, serves a double purpose, as decoration and as glue. My icing shall contain a raw egg, which means I can't eat it, but mother always made us eat the decorations. The house shall be in the shape of a triangle, symbolic, almost religious, fashioned after the memory of its creators, our mother being the apex. I'll make the windows round to add a semblance of softness, the quality of seeing through interiors, the door traced in icing, and a fat jelly bean for a knob, locked of course, making everything inaccessible. The texture shall be made of shredded mini-wheats, something mother loved for breakfast before she passed away without really disappearing. And the base shall be large enough for another guest room, another conspiracy of strangers, or to fit a landscape, which means we must hire a gardener, for mother to have an affair with and the gate will be made of candy cane. We have none in this house.

I raise my fist and crush this gingerbread house and who might still live inside it. But my mother still breathes against my ear and my sister still writhes softly under my palm. No. It is only stillness.

I stand up. I know what to do next.

I'll plant a bomb in my mother's kitchen. Since her lingering death-in-life-in-mine, the trace of her on Baba mold or Bain-Marie, her lingering fingerprints on stainless steel, cookie cutters, or waffle iron, my reflection with her eyes from a mated colander pot--well, it will all be too much, won't it? It will be a bomb made not only of explosives, but also bits of my sister and I, the bones, calluses, the contusions, the scrapes from our nasty pasts. When the bomb goes off, I'll be standing next to the counter, the slant of light coming through the bay window at just the correct angle, a lark peeking sideways on the ledge, as if to say peek a boo in birdese. I'll fondle a lemon zester or a lobster pick for the last time. Bits of me to fill a muffin tin, my miniscule shards through a puree sieve. I'll set the egg timer for three. Because you can't get rid of your mother unless you over proof yourself. Wrap my head in tin foil. Sing that old German lullaby about princesses living forever on an island of toads and charmed swallowtails and grate memory to a precise fleck. I won't feel a thing.



Among Other Things She's My Super Hero Green Hornet Stung Woman

Who spends three lifetimes, medium rare, thank you, in a bar of misbegotten pizza addicts & their watership-down heads up lives . Has varicose veins that impede her ability to circulate among super market swept women and their 101 wrinkle removers and vanishing creams. In a drizzle conjures the umbrella shape of sadness in a city as far away as Paris. Sadness in the shape of a horseshoe. Borrows a stranger's cell to text message a daughter who has disowned her for tax purposes and keeps a P.O. address in Buenos Aires. a. At night, sleeps with a dragon who resembled the one from the night before. All teeth and no foreplay. Falls prey to the latest Brazilian Tush Truth until someone discovers that cellulose cannot be burned but rather, burns you. Or to every imposter who looks good in the perfectly ascending O-Rings of the smoky Last Call. Is haunted by the Dogs of Red Dawn. Loves telling this stupid joke: if life is a party with exchangeable partners, then bring your own mask an booze. In a night without sodium light, discovers caskets under parking lots. Can attach 17 names to the same boy who keeps stealing her shopping cart and returns it with another wheel missing. Always the first in a line-up of suspects and the first to be dismissed. Loves to get driven downtown. Just for the warmth of it. Believes in the traveling salesmen who sell liquid nothingness 3/4 below market price. In other words, and materialistically speaking--she's fucked.



The Day I Shot William Quantrill

I stepped towards the table where five men sat. I drew my gun, aimed it at the one with a sailor’s tie.
My voice sharp as an army bugle. My legs started to wobble. I thought of the twisted licorice sticks my sister kept in mama’s old mason jars.

“Sir, “I cried, “might your name be Charles William Quantrill?”

He raised his head from the card deck and his steel-blue eyes studied me as if I were a cheap whiskey shot.

"I have come to avenge the death of my brother at Baxter Springs.”

He leaned back, a wide-brimmed hat overshadowed his face.

“Who was your brother, boy?”

My gun arm trembled. Several women leaned over the balustrade; a pianola stopped.

“Linus T. Walsh of C Company."

He gulped a swigger of liquor from a shot glass, slammed it down.

“I remember that boy,” said he, a buffalo skinner. “Way before the war, maybe before you was born,
we’d sneak a swim in Crook’s river at night. Nothing but the paltry coats of our flesh.
Moonlight lapping our faces like a playful pup. Old Linus. A mule packer.”

I made out his one hand sliding to the edge of the table, itching for the pistol.

“Not a mule packer, sir,” I said softly, “a buffalo skinner.”

Buffalo skinner, he repeated softly.

I shot.
He shot.
Something big thudded and somewhere a war was both won and lost.

I peered down at my shirt, blood streamed from my gut. It burned like a hot poker.

Figured I had three good days left, would ride past the canyons of Chelly, breathe the fresh air of the Kanab plateau reeling in the scent of clouds, that smelled of newly-wrung linen, write papa a letter begging his forgiveness.

I unhitched my beloved beast, considered Bullhead or Yuma, and rode on.


Cow Tipping

I was painting a plein air of three assholes, and by that I mean three men who I probably would have hated more than my stepfather: Stalin, Hitler, and Pol Pot. They are sitting bare-assed on a collapsing scaffold while eating lunch, their faces half-turned and mouths open in various distortions of fright. In the background, the city crumbles in muted shades of orange and red. There is billowing smoke. Beyond this, there is a pale pasture littered with dead moo-cows. I worked hard to get the right flesh tones on the faces of my subjects and the correct amount of light. Just then a drunk, who was a familar face in the area, stumbled and landed on my painting ass first. She started cursing and asking if I had a license to do this sort of thing. I helped her up, her face now flushed in shades of purslane and her voice a glissando of nonsense syllables. As she wobbled away, I noticed on the seat of her pants the fresh smears of paint that reminded me of wildflowers in their natural state: Cheddar Pink or Limestone Woundwort. Those who were staring at us returned to their daily lives and daily planets. For my next plein air, I will do a headless messenger riding bare-assed against a sunset. In fact, that will be the title. For this, I will need a sun with the perfect degree of immersion and color temperature, a chestnut mare who is not afraid of city traffic, and a model with the correct missing part and just the right vanishing point.



Alicia Katz

She enjoyed pink taffy at the carnival, 60 cents apiece, monkeys wearing paper crowns, the whiplash of rain forcing the barkers to abandon the mikes. She wondered about the elephants indigenous to some unpronounceable region in Sri Lanka, humid and giving birth to unkept gods, a new pantheism touted by professors who couldn’t get tenure. At home, the afternoon paused. There were no telephone messages from the boy who was a possibility. She tried to rouse her sugar daddy dosing in the corner, the latest of her mother's old paper lovers with starched shirts and sooty voices. Mother controlled them with the lexicon of rejection, nothing viable outside a cage. This one loved to talk about his house of collectables back in New Hampshire, too valuable for private auctions, how he once wore Melville's boots. Peering out the window, she saw a cloud in the shape of something tragic and undefinable, wondered about that baby elephant back at the fair, poised in its naivete, angry at a memory.



from Amazing Animal Facts #12

It's more serious than Pascal's wager. How can you terminally love a girl with just one eye? How do you keep your sang froid & explain things as if your only audience is composed of amicable cripples?

Well, make her wear a baseball cap to cover the eye sitting in mid forehead and oversized sunglasses to cover those blanks of orbital conjectures. It's crucial to maintain a sense of humor in front of family and friends. But your little brother, who gets off torturing Japanese beetles in mason jars, might request for the shades to slide. Fuck off, you'll say. But it bothers you, the way day recedes into night, the way she wears plaid skirts like a Lolita on hormone therapy and white knee socks like a Barbie Doll that winds down only after Ken Doll says You can get laid just like the owners. When you come, it's a dam buster.

In the aftermath, you study yourself in her open eye, floating, twisting, pointing a finger at yourself. Whenever you're together, with just the right pieces, you feel something moving inside you, away from you. The transverse colon reaching out, connecting to blind redwoods, discarded boxes. Your heart elongating, wrapping itself around the neck of a homeless woman. If this is first love, you're in deep shit.

But in your Cyclopean despair you conclude that being in her vagina must be like being enveloped by laughing lily pods, fondled by androgynous brooks. It could be worse. It always gets dangerous.

So you've been seeing a shrink. You're telling him you've been a passive aggressive since the first time you shit your pants and denied the scrunched up faces in class. How do I break up with her? you ask. You know the answer. Because she continues to move inside you; happiness is the fucked up sound of wind chimes against voices on a breeze. & she claims she can see through you or fall through you with all purity strained and intact. Why with her, you're a piece of chamois.

The shrink, who you refer to as "Shrek" with closet friends, asks if she fucks like a jackrabbit on the first day of Spring. You study his furtive eye movements & his Groucho Marx funny faces with various degrees of tilt. One night, you concede, you dreamt of a park, big as a galaxy, and the ground littered with eggs, not one hairline crack. Inside the eggs, minnows sang.
You stare at Shrek. "I am one of those eggs & I can never move." You announce this in semi-theatrical voice.

He writes you out a new script for an anti-depressant that won't fuck up your oxidases & brain tendrils or won't leave you singing like an idiot on risky elevators. Later you learn that Shrek scores ludes from a Vietnam Vet who still listens to old Spooky Tooth LPs, who keeps newspaper clippings of women and men without body parts. You cancel your next appointment and tell him your insurance ran out, even though he's in stitches over the phone.

So you'll do it.

On a windy day, on Heuer's Cliff, you end the thing with the Cyclops girl & she looks off in the distance, the air, heavy, misty. She starts mumbling some weird shit, maybe relevant, like do you know how many mosquito bites it takes to drain a human of love? You can't answer because you're already too porous. & she becomes a space & you the portable void who from then on will deny all space.

Years pass. Beyond numbers. You do the right thing to stay on good terms with the urban herd, the society of leeches. You marry a respectable girl & find a respectable job. But a voice keeps nagging you throughout your pinprick of a life: Not one girl can hold you in her secret eye. In bed, you wife goes dead, accuses you of being an irresponsible sex addict with a hard on that deflates too easily & you never say the right things. She rolls over but won't agree to a divorce. Your two children are vases half-filled with rain water, wilting Cala Lily rumblings. You have to strain to hear them.

So you’re going to make a show. Self-improvement. YOU CAN DO IT! People can change. So can insects. Even the hobos on Oprah with the sodium restricted diets & TV eye smiles. You take the family to the carnival. Such a lovely day. The Ferris Wheel and the mid-air screams. Barkers. Musclemen. White tigers that jump to a whip. An elephant named Candy that dances to an accordion. A monkey that can sign rap. The freaks. A man with a tail. Women with two heads. A woman with one eye. You stand before her. She is dressed like a gypsy, promising the crowd she can see through them, reveal their symptoms and signs.

You, ma'am, mitral valve prolapse. Don't mean to be technical. You, sir, a notorious blood clot in your left leg. Hurts to walk, doesn’t it? You with the flower dress, a misaligned spine that made you weak willed & coquettish. You with the blue hoodie, a childhood trauma with a hunchback Jesus Freak. You became addicted to soot & manholes.

She turns to you. The crowd grows dumb. Or dumber.
& you, she says...a hatched ventricle coronary. Look at me!
And before your wife has a chance to say What's wrong? Or close your mouth, too many mosquitoes can fly in, or ask why you're locking eyes with this color uncoordinated freak, both you and the Cyclops girl have collapsed like two amazing puppets on the same string.



The Bee Keepers

In white cotton jumpers, we transport hives from crop to crop, state to state,
poking our smokers into hives, where no hands should enter, shaking up the
bees' pheromones, shaken like a snow globe, driven from their honeycomb fragile
rooms. We ride in flatbed trucks, red & rickety, ones we stole under a cascade
of whitewashed stars.
We're doing well now selling honey for a dollar and a quarter per pound and our hives
are being shipped to California to be cleaned.
In the hush of afternoon, we eat from paper plates, watch motionless tufts of
grass. You said you were going back to college in Texas. What's so special
'bout Texas, I asked, & what about our bees? Or our BIG love floppy as cabbage
leaf. Everything is in Texas, you said, &, yes, bees too, workers, queens,
drones, bees are there too. Dust on their wings & I suspected you had a secret
lover on the meridian. Pushing a blade of grass between m-y teeth, I think
about yr secret lover. I think about windmills on the meridian, or how teabags
are shipped from the Spice people in C-h-i-n-a; I think how someday we might
get caught, & brought back to McKendree Springs Hospital where we stole the
attendants' uniforms, broke from our leather restraints, our razor blade
slashes fresh on our cellophane-thin flesh. OH how you once joked we are trying
to fight the world with a pea shooter.
Taking along our inner maps of secret treasures & red drawn meridians where X
marks the spot where Icarius fell into the sea, we climbed/OVER the brick &
stucco walls that once housed a fortress against Cheyenne or Arapaho, how we ran
from a witch's season of dry cracked leaves shaped like hearts, aspiring to be
hearts. We ran from the floor counselors and the ward nurses who fed us tiny
white and yellow pills as if that could shelter us like sheets of tracing paper
over our heads in a downpour. I thought of how my mother once said to save
your lucky pennies for a rainy day. I saw her reflection in the rain, in the puddles, in the
store windows that always reflected what was behind us.
In the blunt afternoon, we remove our fine-meshed jumper masks & kiss.
All I can think about is us shrunken, marooned in this sagging honeycomb,
hiding from the adult hands reaching in, grabbing us. I imagine the honeycomb
repairing itself in the morning dew; I can see the morning sun glitter in yer
hair; such amorous creatures us bees, YES, pollinating with whatever at hand:
alfalfa, clover, dandelion. Slowly we are losing all memory of boundaries. In the grass,
the sunflowers brush against our legs.
My mother used to play this strange game with me when I was old enough to
appreciate the magic of yo-yos and belly buttons. Each day after school she locked me
behind a closet. She sold her body like a jar of honey to strangers outside it. Within the
origins of darkness, I imitated grunt-like noises. I began to understand the meaning of
private want. I pictured jars of amber colored honey and their going price in town.
Bees are always loyal to one queen.
From my window, I used to watch the girls of MacKendree Springs walk to the water. They formed two precise columns, almost a military precision to their rigid lines, and the sun danced in their eyes. They were the girls of summer, and sting-less. I watched as Head Mistress, Olga, strutted her way past them, her high stilettos clicking harshly against pavement. ``No. 22,'' she shouted. This girl, no. 22, marched forward, walked upright until submerged under water. The girls remained in tandem, fixing their eyes on the water's surface until no longer a trace of hair, any strand of it, floating. Not even bubbles or a thrashing about. Only a longing to reunite with whatever was there at the other side of the lake. I was glad yr number was never called.
She made me promise never to reveal the secret of this ritual to my father chafing wheat in the fields I wondered which way I would grow in my very private space How I thought of white birds spotting their own shadows on the sea, I invented places with strange names like Thalessa I thought of seashells whispering the names of dead sailors I thought of windmills across the world I decoded the location of meridians in stealthy darkness I dreamt of odd numbered girls rescuing even numbered boys drowning after a shipwreck How long I waited for light for sunshine that could taste like honey How long I waited for my mother, that first unconditional keeper of beehives --my arms spread like vanes of a windmill and soon hers too hers too-- to open the door.
Bees are social geniuses you tell me. They understand that with honey the demand always exceeds the supply. You pick up yr gear and fit yr head into the mask. Kiss me now, you order me behind a mesh of screen. Yr crazy, I say.
``Now you know how bees feel.''
We depend on flowers. We feed on honeydew secretions from aphids and insects. The plants have grown to love us. Pollen is our protein. Nectar is our energy. In the fall, in the trails of cracked hearts, we will die off.
You turn and wave as you walk down the road to hitchhike to Texas.