You can’t argue beauty’s not an accident, the particular heft and angle
of a chromosome’s spin. A tarted spangle, bright lanyard twist, the slip
of cells weighting this boat uneven from stern to prow. We’re all
skittery as marbles on a marble floor. Beauty stays, then goes;
it fades, we say, something about years and sun, the nights we slept
in makeup and left mascara like ashes on the pillowcase. We burned
through every one of our dreams. I wasn’t always a stepmother, you know.
There were whole years when I was a girl. But now, these ladies
sell me moisturizer, stand close in their lab coats, pretending at science
in a fog of perfume. They wield a contour brush and my cheekbone pops.
The magic settles uneasy; it turns out fairy dust was always
fake. And the lipstick’s made from beetles, shells crushed vermillion.
My color is Fleshpot, they say, it’s Folie or Fixation. It’s Wilderness;
it’s Artificial Earth. They can’t quite make themselves care.
We’ll waste it, they know, whatever we’ve been given.
I had a boyfriend who told me stories about his family,
how an argument once ended when his father
seized a lit birthday cake in both hands
and hurled it out a second-story window. That,
I thought, was what a normal family was like: anger
sent out across the sill, landing like a gift
to decorate the sidewalk below. In mine
it was fists and direct hits to the solar plexus,
and nobody ever forgave anyone. But I believed
the people in his stories really loved one another,
even when they yelled and shoved their feet
through cabinet doors, or held a chair like a bottle
of cheap champagne, christening the wall,
rungs exploding from their holes.
I said it sounded harmless, the pomp and fury
of the passionate. He said it was a curse
being born Italian and Catholic and when he
looked from that window what he saw was the moment
rudely crushed. But all I could see was a gorgeous
three-layer cake gliding like a battered ship
down the sidewalk, the smoking candles broken, sunk
deep in the icing, a few still burning.
The potato that ate all its carrots,
can see in the dark like a mole,
its eyes the scars
from centuries of shovels, tines.
May spelled backwards
because it hates the light,
pawing its way, padding along,
there in the catacombs.
I keep telling you, I’m not a feminist.
I grew up an only child on a ranch,
so I drove tractors, learned to ride.
When the truck wouldn’t start, I went to town
for parts. The man behind the counter
told me I couldn’t rebuild a carburetor.
I could: every carburetor on the place. That’s
necessity, not feminism.
I learned to do the books
after my husband left me and the debts
and the children. I shoveled snow and pitched hay
when the hired man didn’t come to work.
I learned how to pull a calf
when the vet was too busy. As I thought,
the cow did most of it herself; they’ve been
birthing alone for ten thousand years. Does
that make them feminists?
that I don’t like men; I love them – when I can.
But I’ve stopped counting on them
to change my flats or open my doors.
That’s not feminism; that’s just good sense.
A person is full of sorrow
the way a burlap sack is full of stones or sand.
We say, “Hand me the sack,”
but we get the weight.
Heavier if left out in the rain.
To think that the stones or sand are the self is an error.
To think that grief is the self is an error.
Self carries grief as a pack mule carries the side bags,
being careful between the trees to leave extra room.
The mule is not the load of ropes and nails and axes.
The self is not the miner nor builder nor driver.
What would it be to take the bride
and leave behind the heavy dowry?
To let the thick ribbed mule browse in tall grasses,
its long ears waggling like the tails of two happy dogs?
The bird’s-eye view abstracted from the bird. Cover me, says the soldier on the screen, I’m going in. We have the sense of being convinced, but of what? And by whom? The public is a hypothetical hole, a realm of pure disappearance, from which celestial matter explodes. I believe I can speak for everyone, begins the president, when I say famous last words.
Exuberance sips bootleg gin from a garter flask
with a ruby monogram “E.”
She wears a red dress one size too small,
eyes wide, she flirts with everyone, dares
Lincoln Beachey to fly until he runs out of gas,
rides a dead engine all the way down.
She watches Ormer Locklear climb
out of the cockpit two hundred feet up,
tap dance on his upper wing
as the houses of honest families
with their square-fenced yards
slide below his shuffle. An oval pond
winks in the sun, like a zero.
Exuberance challenges pilots
to master the Falling Leaf, perfect the Tailspin,
ignore the Graveyard Spiral, the Doom Loop.
These aviators predict every American will fly.
Exuberance believes Everybody Ought
to Be Rich, John J. Raskob explains why
in the Ladies Home Journal. She gets stock tips
from her manicurist, call loans from her broker,
buys Radio, Seaboard Utilities, Sears,
orders shares in investment trusts — why not? —
chain stores keep multiplying, cars, trucks,
planes, houses. This nation is all about growth,
growth and leverage, look at the skyscrapers shooting up,
men rivet steel, floor after floor, high-speed elevators
spring through the cores, planes soar over them all.
Sherman Fairchild has made a million
selling aerial photographs of real estate.
Exuberance travels constantly, owns land
in Miami, Miami Beach, Coral Gables, Palm Beach,
she trades “binders” on lots five times over,
befriends Mr. Charles Ponzi from Boston
who is raking in a bundle near Jacksonville.
Prices for sand and palms are sure to rise.
But how do we know when irrational exuberance
has unduly escalated asset values?
Wall Street has been wing walking,
call it barnstormer capitalism,
soon the bankers and the brokers will steal
the aviators’ lexicon, claim their own tail risks,
graveyard spirals, doomsday cycles,
wonder how everything blue-sky stayed up so long.
Exuberance buys more stock on margin,
volume runs high, the ticker tape
can’t keep up, higher, higher, higher,
Black Thursday, not a parachute in sight.