December 9, 2016
I know a reprise of one of my darkly humorous fruitcake pieces might be more appropriate this time of year, but we’ve just been plunged into a future that is hard to fathom. So hard, it’s a challenge to think of anything other than the ugly possibilities. When PEN’s Michelle Franke asked for submissions to a Rattling Wall/PEN sponsored anthology reacting to the current situation, I offered this poem, Clara Bow, 1931. It’s adapted from a chapter in my novel in progress set in Los Angeles in the 1930s.
As I said last night at DTLA’s The Last Bookstore launch for Only Light Can Do That, the resulting anthology I’m honored to be included in, it’s based on a true story and involves fake news. What I should have added was that it speaks to the socially condoned and conjured violence women faced then and are facing now in these trying times.
Clara Bow, 1931
Bovine lashes flapping, red hair flaming,
I promised the jackal press
I’d return to Los Angeles
For my nervous breakdown.
After that vile, vulgar trial,
I needed New York, my raging
Up from the gutter people
Woozy on the ledge
Braving imminent immolation.
Escaped from the slaughterhouse herd.
I’ll kill you before I’ll let you leave to be an actress
Mother held the rusted black blade
To my 16 year-old throat
That winter we nearly froze,
Nearly starved, the mother I mothered.
Her Baby Clara fought off the vicious mother beast,
Left Brooklyn, packed the ratty clothes girls mocked,
Corked my bristling self for Hollywood,
The It Girl—my short draught of silvered bliss.
An industry ignited,
A nation’s dream whore.
The It Girl,
Spread on toast, like honey and butter,
Chewed up and shat out.
Love letters purloined,
Black-mailed, black-balled, ravaged,
I wish I’d slept with that German shepherd!
Rex raised meat. He knew steak from pot roast,
Filet mignon from chuck.
A bullet clean to the temple, carved up according to industry standards,
Sold by the pound.
Cattle know it will never end in their favor
An honorable man, an honest business.
We moved to Nevada.
Two boys birthed.
Blood to confide in after spilling so much of my own.
But first, there was Los Angeles,
Tight white sheets, chomping rubber, electrified temples,
Mother’s black eyes and crooked mouth,
Head, heart, body, mind,
As the rusted black blade finally falls.