Thursday, January 19, 2006

Society prepares the crime, the criminal commits it.


Frank Frazetta

Three by Diann Blakely

Low-angle shots show Viv, Eliot’s hormone-plagued first wife,
sunk to her knees and scrubbing, scrubbing blood-stained hotel sheets
while her husband walks along the beach, crowded with housewives
and families on holiday. He wishes his new wife
were like those singing mermaids he wrote poems about in college,
poems he later recited Camside to court his future wife,
eyes needy in the flashback as when she becomes his wife,
as when she’s pronounced “morally insane,” drunk on ether
and raving about thrice-monthly periods and saints. Either
you take his side or you take hers: wives sympathize with wives,
usually, husbands with husbands, but I fell in love
with Eliot during freshman year, read “Prufrock” and loved

every last word. Getting pregnant the first time you make love
is awful luck: my roommate hid in clothes like a fat housewife’s,
spent five months drunk before she finally told her ex-lover
and me, who took the Pill each time I thought I was in love.
A shot and—I’ll call her Ruthie—writhed on clinic sheets,
writhed as I read to her the bedstand’s From Russia with Love
and Modern Poets, read to myself Saying No and Love;
and British spies and Prufrock and freak pregnancies collaged
with punk blared from next door, where kids from another college,
in that town we’d come to by bus, heard the death of love
and God and maybe Queen Elizabeth screeched by either
Sid Vicious or Johnny Rotten, or maybe both. “Ether

is contraindicated for your friend’s procedure; ether
lessens the contractions and the fetus won’t expel, love”
a nurse said on that night’s first rounds, the full moon etherous
and clouding over in the window pane. Smell of ether—
no, Lysol—and Ruthie’s sweat. Was Nancy Spungeon a wife,
or a girlfriend, when her nags sabotaged that haze of ether
Sid wrapped around himself, a heroin drift etherous
and shared like the Chelsea Hotel’s cigarette-scarred sheets,
till he stabbed her dead? I read “Prufrock” aloud, smoothed those sheets,
fed Ruthie ice-chips till she finished screaming in the calm ether
of the recovery room, dark as that bar near our college
where the father cried and gave me cash: “Three years of college

and she thought a baby could be wished away?” Back at college,
Ruthie moved to another dorm; by the next year, either
she’d lost contact with me or vice versa, and I left college
for more school, to study those poems Eliot wrote at college
on erotic martyrs like Sebastian and the arrows he loved.
Now Viv dies in the asylum: I’m pulled from friends at college
to recall scenes from that other movie, just after college,
its scenes razored by Nancy’s whine—she was a perfect wife,
if you live in hell and want some company, like a wife.
The two films twine with that clinic, the club’s kids from college
who spewed cheap beer, Ruthie’s why not you? muffled by sheets
as I left at twelve to buy cigarettes and stand in sheets

of rain like tonight’s, peering through the door at a torn sheet
emblazoned with a safety-pinned Queen Liz, at a collage
of pulsing acrid spotlights, of beer and spit and blood in sheets.
“I’m not an animal,” rose Sid’s dazed choral leer, sheeting
the words in cut-throat fury. “And I’m not a discharge, either”—
“I’m an abortion.” Eliot sent his friend Aiken a sheet
of the Times once, red-circling words like “mucus,” “bloody sheets,”
but this after he’d renounced Viv and her half-mad love.
Aiken’s left out of tonight’s film, which, like London, I love,
though I’m travelling alone, sleeping chilled by nylon sheets.
On the late bus, a punk trio—husband, toddler, wife—
nuzzle each other’s spiky hair; he kisses his wife,

who’s given birth to more than rage and pain. Both of us wives
just after graduation, Ruthie, and I sent you lace sheets
but missed your wedding, write each year in care of the college.
This scrawled postcard will say there aren’t any mermaids here, either,
but the punk husband’s singing—I swear—a lullaby, with love.

1. Christmas: Ext., Wide-Angle
A Dantescan pit, the city glitters into view
As this climbing, until street levels off and curves,
Curves so sharply the odd gift, a book of photos —

Fin de siècle dead girls from police archives,
Also silverprinted porn — thuds to the car’s floor;
You’re dizzy from brandied fruitcake and surviving

Another visit home and — stop. Aren’t you bored
With those family scenes, replayed so many times?
And “Dantescan” and “surviving”—can’t you find words

Less grandiose? And yet who doesn’t feel godlike
Speeding on deserted streets, the gorgeous sprawl
Of city lights below, those skyscrapers spiking

At your feet? And how the sweeping eye’s lust swells
As your ears vibrate with the tape player’s chords
Now thrumming, that post-punk diva and grunge pin-up girl

Who wails yeah they really want you in “Doll Parts.”
Not what you really wanted, the evening’s first show:
Your parents’ surprise gift of home movies, cartons

They’d saved for years and copies onto video;
The cheerless opener showed a foundry burning down—
O dying town of Bethlehem Steel—and windows

Shattered, wooden rafters split and sparking flames,
In one hour your grandfather’s job gone
That Christmas Eve. And close-ups of his sister, the shame

Of her suicide just months away. O dying town.
In which infernal circle did Farinata rear
His scorched and ash-smeared head to stare down at Dante

From the glowing tomb, ask who were your ancestors?
Close-ups of a wedding cake. Yeah they really want—
You know about the singer’s husband, dead now ten years,

Another suicide, MTV still haunted
By his ashen junkie’s face, by barbed-wire guitar licks
And shots of his little girl, who dances frenzied

On legs as plump as your were kicking in red socks:
Santa brought one doll, but you’d asked for two,
And tantrummed—I want to be the girl with the most cake,

The tape goes—by the tree. Yeah they really want you—
Who gets to wish0list anyone as parent or child?
An obvious afterthought, the book of ghastly photos

On the car’s floor, late-arriving from hundreds of miles
To this city’s sunken glitter; yet you forgive
Distracted, distant friends more than your family. Smile,

They said: is that such a wrongheaded way to live?
Dead girls and bad girls blur their singing answers
Like the city, like the last shot of clustered graves.

3. Antonion’s Blow-Up
Already dated when I’m in college,
David Hemming’s bell-bottomed swagger
And talk of Nepal, the thick eyeliner
Raccooning his models: misogyny

Or a knight errant’s heart makes him walk out
Of one shoot, leave the models standing there
With eyes shut, arms artfully akimbo, bare
Bony torsos thrust sideways as they wait;

Already dated, the Mary Quant bangs
And white lips of two Twiggy wannabes
Who haunt his trail. The three fuck like bunnies
In one scene. It’s all in fun. He hangs,

In his swank Knightsbridge flat, not fashion spreads
Or even portraits of the most gorgeous—
What happened to … was her name Veruschka?
But poster-sized shots of London’s rag-clad

Scrounging for fish and chips in curbside bins,
Sleeping in tube stations, sleeping in parks.
(Film 301. Late 70’s. No talk
Of homelessness except after hurricanes,

Those fires and earthquakes covered on TV.)
Sleeping in parks. In a green leafy copse—
Even then my brain translated corpse—
A body lies waiting to be found. What’s real

But the shots developed in his darkroom,
Characters and props taking hazy shape
As fixative scents the air, as blow-ups
Reveal a splayed leg flattening grass, an arm

Holding a gun, a woman’s frightened face—there—
Then dissolve to grains? Or is the body,
And the gun, a trick of light? I’m twenty,
Taking notes as if the world might disappear.


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