Lon Chaney did tortured like no one else.
Unlike our modern werewolves who embrace
their inner animal Lon was trying to hold back and it hurt.
Even on the little black and white screen of the Saturday
Creature Feature, the slightly cheesy stop-action close-up
of sprouting fur and fangs, his eyes made it seem
there might be a beast; made it seem that the fifth grade
math teacher who growled and showed his teeth
might really hurt me when the moon turned full
on those Colorado winter nights, bright moon nights
when you could walk down the street without one porch
light on and not have any trouble finding home.
When we played at monsters with waxen fangs
and lipstick blood, putting on a wolfen skin:
I was the white wolf, invisible in snow, Linda
chose fur of solid black, added green eyes.
We slashed the air with claws, practiced predatory leaps
and then went off to supper and fearless sleep.
When Linda’s father started screaming
and shooting off his gun, Linda and her mother
hid in our back room, Linda white and shaking
waiting out the night until outside the howling passed.
So that afterward we understood that Barbies was the game
and the only fur that Barbie wore was mink.
Afterwards, none of us
showered quite the same.
Black and white film
chocolate syrup blood;
the water poured,
a shriek of violins.
Two minutes, forty-eight
seconds, seventy four cuts
changed what made us
Near sunset waves flatten to sequined stillness,
rising, falling—a slow breathing beast.
The old year turns tonight and the dead
may slide into a clearer focus.
I’ve left no spirits on this shore
but tonight I’ll borrow a passing fog,
stretch out some old sorrow,
drink toasts in an improbable liqueur
while grackles fall like darkened stars
in twos and fives, then dozens
past my balcony chair, break and rise
as smoke, wheel as one—again, again.
Arcane devotion to the guttered gleam.
Egg of orange fire, horizon-balanced then gone.
The bay: a beaten sheet of matte and shine
lifts the ship that slowly swings
around its anchor, points the ebbing hour
as gnomon to a darker sun.
It is a night for fires and huddling in,
for letting Buddy Holly shake up my drink
as blonde and breathless Marilyn sways by
carrying plates of fragrant meat and Elvis
gleaming in jumpsuit and cape
curls his lip to ask “What do you need tonight?”
a crack is opening between the stars
and lights of Bainbridge Island reflected, floating
in the Sound beyond the glass.
Video flickers on the wall
from Barbarella to Fred Astaire.
For the third or fourth time tonight Ringo,
George, John and Paul goosestep
in silence over Abbey Road.
Buddy Holly leans across the bar
“Do you want another round?”
I consider other choices I might have made:
a life of diapers and PTA, maybe decades
at a dig for some lost tribe or night-sky
searching for a star to wear my name.
There’s a feel to this moment
as if a great wheel slows its turn
and might unwind at my wish, let me choose:
a path through unfamiliar consequence
or, repeat, and here I am again,
Hell a lockstep march through every error
and Heaven asking more than I can give.
It’s possible that years are moving
by outside while I sit and sip my drink;
vanWinkle-like I’ll awaken into daylight
lost from any history, rusted from long disuse.
If Buddy never chose, homesick, out
of clean clothes (and isn’t it always the simplest
wishes that just go wrong) to get into that plane,
if he’d waited for a better day or just kept driving
home, he might have stayed in Texas
raised his kid, maybe died in bed at eighty-two
with his own plane parked on his own field.
There would be more music: songs no one
now will ever sing. But Buddy chose
and tonight I sit here humming
That’ll be the day, the day that I die.
That summer she stalked our neighborhood, slipping from the drive-in
screen to step over rooftops and look with one huge eye
through the bedroom screen while we slept.
Donnie Estes had a poster on his bedroom wall where we
were forbidden to play, the mothers judging that he,
for all his eleven years, was on the road to ruin
and most likely to end in prison, joining, it was rumored
his absent father. But Donnie had the nearly complete
collection of Justice League comics and let us share
in return for dangerous games involving pocket knives
thrown into the air. But even then we girls knew to stay in pairs.
Donnie loved the Fifty Foot Woman, snuck into the drive-in
every night for a week where it was the second feature.
He could tell the story in the tiniest detail, playing first
the Giant Alien Hand then the screaming lady growing
and bursting out of her crazy-house room.
He had a different scream as the terrified nurse, the idiot doctor
or the sheriff who would not believe in glowing spheres and aliens
but it was 1960 and we believed in radiation and mutation.
We wondered how many sheets it took to make the skimpy skirt
and bra that Fifty Foot Woman wore and where she would ever
find a toilet seat and how many hamburgers she’d eat.
All summer we stomped out our problems, Fifty Foot Women, all.
Donnie played the Alien Giant Hand and sometimes Sheriff
but he really had to be The Fifty Foot Woman as he
lurched around the room, batting over chairs and TV trays,
tearing off the roof of one house after another yelling
for the just plain bad husband who was in a bar with another
woman, clearly a floozy—Donnie nearly drooling
as he became the girlfriend, talking about all the money
she would have when the bad husband’s crazy rich wife was put away
then screaming as the roof tore up and beams fell down
to crush her into little floozy bits and the Fifty Foot Woman
scooped up her man straining nearly out of her twisted bed-sheet bra
and Donnie shook the lamp which was really a high voltage tower
made of steel and collapsed across the bed breathing hard and dead.
lives and practices medicine in the San Francisco Bay area. She resumed writing at forty as a way to recapture something of the decades given to medical training. She is a member of the Cloudview poets, an ongoing seminar with poet David St. John for the last ten years. She has had poems published in numerous medical journals and anthologies including the recent The Place That Inhabits Us, The Squaw Valley Review and The Healing Art of Writing. Her first book of poems, One Breath, drawn from medical practice and training was published by Tebot Bach Press in 2008. Her second book, Lifeboat, will be out from the same press later this year. Visit her website at http://www.clarksayles.com.