Live Girls
That’s an exaggeration.
There’s only one live girl
upstairs, and she barely moves.
Instead, the students move
around her in the life
drawing class, dragging their easels,
so from downstairs it sounds
like children pulling heavy
wagons without wheels. Downstairs,
the invited luminary is trying
to recite poetry about death,
but constantly stopping because
of the screeching of easels
from above, which may remind
her of fingernails on a chalkboard,
of an episode when the class clown
erased her sonnet from the board—
a piece about a dying horse
which the young poet sensed,
even then, formed the germ of her oeuvre.
But this is conjecture, and further
distraction from the luminary
now darkening the stage, the fright
wig she is above the podium growing
more frightening as she glares
up at the ceiling, as if
her wrath could bring it down.
She does not bring the house down.
Her arsenal includes death and more death—
child’s play compared with the live girl
upstairs, the girl with fleshy folds, nose
ring, a lizard tattoo you’d swear
not fit for refrigerator art but which, on her,
becomes unspeakably alluring, as the students,
circling, edge nearer, the way two newlywed
brides, holding hands and cell phone
cameras, having driven all night from Nice
to Paris, advance on the Mona Lisa.
Like us, they’ve heard:
come close enough to the bullet-
proof glass and you can see breath
fogging the case’s interior.
You can take a picture of it.
But this is a case of mistakenly
talking about the Mona Lisa
and French brides and the live
girl in lieu of focusing
on the famous poet, who abhors
distraction, unless it involves looking
away from the wan vase of irises into her own
eyes, which are watering as they recite
her swan song of irises, a bouquet
she’s slaughtered by merest mention.
Meanwhile, the live girl scratches
her nose, the teacher closes
the window (more noise), and the Monday
night class advances its easels in a circular
fashion around her, the way the restaurant
atop the Hyatt Regency rotated beneath
its blue glass dome in ’67, when that blue
dome was the Atlanta skyline, before a whole
glass forest grew up around it. This too
is a diversion, but my father took me there,
to lunch at the Polaris, decades before we’d ever
tasted loss, and I’d like to take you there,
to where I placed a sugar packet
on the ledge at the edge of the table,
and after an hour of oyster Po-boys, Coca-Colas,
Take the “A” Train, and a dizzying
vista, the table had returned
to that packet. I want to believe
we’re on a journey that returns us
to sweetness. I want to believe that when
the famous poet insists she will never
read here again, she means it. This
is a humble venue, painted a deep,
strange green and she cannot compete
with the ruckus even one live girl,
barely moving, makes, as even now,
after the girl’s left the room
for a cigarette break in a blue
kimono, the students close their eyes,
re-position their easels and try,
with charcoal stubs,
to approximate that glowing.
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