I know this poem drags. I’d definitely appreciate comments on what to cut and or change... May is National Poetry Revision Month, you know...
In 1981 I was seventy-three and some girl sang a song
about my eyes: it spent two months at the very top.
I tell you this as an introduction because you may not
otherwise know who I am. To be sure, there are
many things that you do not know. For example:
You clearly do not know what it once meant to be
a Hollywood dame. You know parties and cameras and
fashion and parties but do you know the weight
of Struggle’s yoke? A husband ashamed of making wages
equivalent only to your tithings who will not let you
buy a home until he’s the one who can afford it?
You do not know shame and being made to wear it:
Hollywood did not throw me a christening
with fireworks upon my arrival. They first only used me
to screen test other actors, fifteen of them made to lie
on top of me and give me a passionate kiss. I laid there,
a modest virgin praying for death or stardom already -
turns out they’re really the same thing.
Insincere, they called me, and frivolous, at first.
They would come to say feisty, forceful, intense, and once
an English barrister would call me, in court, a
"naughty young lady": it was always my favorite critique.
Can you know what it is to come from nothing?
You are no single mother borne of a single mother,
no boarding school babe, no ugly duckling watching films
for a religion, dreaming dreams with such strength they have
no choice but to become realities. You took a role on a screen
and screamed like a horror queen; I took a role and
became horror, unpretty, unsympathetic and fearless,
combative, convincing, consumed. Would you have shaved
your hairline and eyebrows for an Elizabethan role?
Today’s beauty will wither and fade and blow away
and you will be left with only your soul to show
for it all. Will it be ugly? The city whose name you wear
like concealer held me tight through my last hours,
when I was too weak even to fly home to die.
Pretend for a moment, as an actress, I beseech you,
that you were not born with a mouthful of golden spoons.
I was only forty when I heard them use the term
"soft lighting" - you will overhear "Botox" one day.
You’ve already learned to dangle the public from your fingertips
like my trademark cigarette, but what will you use,
if cancer takes your breasts, to charm America,
your fourth husband, your own doubting face
in the mirror each morning? For myself, I can only say,
"I did it the hard way."
Paris, darling, be easy on their eyes if you must,
but tough on all they have left like an atom bomb.