Sunday, August 12, 2012

Colleen Iverson
WRI 725
Fall 2009

no angels in the bushes

Start with a small thing.  A snowflake.  Scissors and paper.  Sit in the corner.  Concentrate very hard.

            It's late November and there are people over. 
            Grown ups, Mom's friends, talking in groups, laughing.  Someone pushes open the door to scoop up some snow. 
            First snow! They call out. 
            Someone else leans a little out the door to light a cigarette.  Cold cuts across the room, and I wish they would close it.  I bend in closer to my snowflake.  I'm trying to figure how Mom makes them come out like stars.

            I remember the room.  The people, their bright winter sweaters and long hair and old jeans.  The friendly shouts and laughter.  Beer bottles clinking.  Cigarettes stubbed out in ashtrays.  I remember this party very particularly.  Blushing when someone said cigarette butt, confused at the multiple uses.  I remember that time looked too long, just then, life a little too big.  Something about it heavy and difficult to breathe through, like wet air.  Looking up seemed overwhelming.  I remember, I sat very still.  I remember hunching over my work, the sharp wind, the big, clumsy scissors, the voices, the worn wood floor, the way the boat swayed, precarious with all those people, the icy late November, the worry about driving, the talk of being frozen in, the tiny boat, the rocking waters, my mother somewhere across the room, I remember leaning in and concentrating very hard.


            Later I will say, how can I miss him?  I never knew him.  And toss my head and grind my cigarette out with my heel.  I will have very blonde hair.  Red lips.  A predilection for hooker hoops and cocaine. 
            The inability to shut up or stand still or be alone. 

            It was May. 
            He was laid out on the bed.  Red plain wool blanket still over his knees.  They were dressing him in his favorite shirt.  They were crying.  I don't remember feeling anything.  Someone was holding me.  Walking outside and down the dock a ways.  I remember that the water seemed sad.  That the sky was both too big and too close.  That the sun made me nauseous.

            [when I think of you]

            Oh, Daddy.
I wish I could say I called out in the night, or that
I recognized your voice on the recording,

I wish you ever were mine.

Not somewhere in back of the stories.  Your father, they all begin
with the slow shake of a head,
a remembering smile.  A great man,
Not just the knobbed cane leaning
in the corner, not the ring: three people and a fish
in what position?  Or every pack of Lucky Strikes I ever saw.
Not the photograph hanging
at the top of the stairs.  Caught, once, in a flash of light.  Laughing at something
I will never know what  
I will never know you.  I set my jaw hard. 

You're not mine to cry for.

a Benefit for

To look at him you would not know that he is dying.  Yet crab-cancer gnaws at his life. He is Stan Iverson lumpen-bohemian, dirty old man-dirty young man, womanizer, lover ('I regret only missed opportunities'), drinker ('My revels are now almost ended'), dreamer, outside agitator, visionary, Fifth Amendment Communist, Anarchist (always), subversive, and rolling stone (gathering, of course, no moss).  Now he is flat broke, dying a slow death on board the old river tug on Lake Union that he has called home these last eighteen years.  As the waves of the lake splash and roll against the boat cancer permeates ever more of his body.


            [the Ora Elwell]
The whole time he is dying, the boat is sinking.  He loves her and it is breaking his heart.  They put Styrofoam in the bottom and pump the water out every day.  But it's more than that.  There may be rust.  She may be rotting.  Nothing anyone can do.  By the bed, on the floor, there's a hatch you can lift, and look straight down into the lake.  Lay your face a foot or two from the murky waters.  It's a precarious feeling.  I'm scared I'll fall in, or jump.  I pull the rug over it so there's just the bump of a handle sticking up.  


a photograph
two sketches
and the calendar you used in 1984: chemo, chemo, chemo, surgery, Jacob's birthday, chemo, final exam.
A love letter from 1966 (who wrote it?)
the Provo-White plans (what are they?)
a newspaper clipping
a canceled check

the tape of you reading to me.  On so many painkillers you can't keep track.

            [secretly, I believe you are God.  I'm sorry.]

I open and unfold them.  Listen.  I don't know what for.
Do I think I'll find you? 

It's just a stack of papers.  You held them once, but you're gone.  It's other peoples' memories.  I'll never know how your hands move when you talk or what makes you laugh.  Not how you smell.  Not the feeling of your hand on my shoulder.  Not the rhythm of your voice, how you bend your head to light a cigarette, the way that you walk.  Not what it's like to lean against you when I'm tired or sad.


My sister, who isn't really my sister,
has lost her mother
who is still alive.

My sister imagines that everyone she loves is swaying on the edge of death
at all times.

She holds on tight.
Won't let us go.

This summer
my love wants to marry me. 
What do you see, for us.  For a future?  he asks, late at night.
I look at the place where night slips through
the corner of the window where the curtain's folded back,
caught on something, and
no light comes in because the sky is starless now.

I'm scared, I say.
You don't eat right.  You drink.  You smoke. I turn my cheek to the cool pillow.
I don't want my mother's life, I say to the wall.

Brandy is seventeen when her mom drives herself into the side of a tunnel.

Four or five days a month, I want a baby.
I want a house with a vegetable garden and to read bedtime stories, bake cookies, make hot apple cider in the middle of snowy winter,
but:  I never wanted to love anything so much, my mother
has told me
about me
and I believe her.

She was drunk,
but that was common.

Extensive reconstructive surgery
for the collapsed left half of her face.

She drags an oxygen tank behind her and
calls Brandy to confess:  mouthwash again.  To ask:
Can you get me some weed?

Brandy checks the contraindications of Holy Basil and Aspirin. Of milky oats and caffeine.  She says Hold your breath near gas stations, Wash your hands before you touch your face, Drink this tea.  She makes me walk with my keys between my fingers like claws
at night when I walk alone.
She worries that she's dying.  She worries that she's dying of worry.

My father, with cancer, was trying to learn to meditate.
It's like someone holding a gun to your head and saying, 'relax, or I'll shoot.' he's said to have growled
in that beautiful baritone.

Her father (who wasn't really her father)
died of painkillers and liquor
in Rawlins, Wyoming.  Just never woke up.

He loved that town.

In August we drive through to look at what he left for.
We picture him whistling through the mountains on the night train:
one huge light, unstoppable speed, faceless cliffs.

There's a grocery store and a church and Drive-Thru Liquor.  A lot of dust.  A couple bars.  Some houses.
            More highway.

Afterward my mother cuts her hair off.  He had loved it.  It had hung down to her waist.
            Too pretty for me, she says. 

I never had the chance to know if she was crazy before he died
or only consequentially.  If it's grief makes it impossible for her to be here.

Heart ripped out again.  His death was one of a long, long line. 

In a rare moment of quiet, she bends her head and
says to her lap: “am I cursed?”

I have no faith in the ground:
Just because it's always held does not mean it always will.

Brandy decorates a room perfectly and buys the right appliances and is marrying the steadiest guy
a really good guy, reasonable and generous and funny, smart and kind.
She can't get out of bed, though, this month. 
She calls me:
I don't know what to do, I can't get out of bed.  Do you think I need iron?

I get half way through hanging curtains, and give up.  Sit down.  What's the point?
I eat rice straight from the pot
and the only relationships I like are the ones wrong from the start
because at least I know where I am.

Parting.  At the airport we hold each other and cry like the world's ending.  Oh God, we say, It's like my soul is being torn. 
If this sounds dramatic
that's only because that's how it feels.
We are each of us sure that one or the other of us will die; a plane crash, or the masked man with the chainsaw on the bus; a sudden, anomalous lack of oxygen; aneurism or broken heart.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

still rough but maybe less rough (again) (*and again!)

1       Suppose I tell you a story. 
This story begins in the dark. 
This story begins in a heart that is broke before it is much else. 
This world a world where ground has a proclivity to simply give way. 
This story takes place in a world where she, blonde celluloid disaster, seemed and seems the truer. 
(Truer than what?  Anything else.) 

The story begins in a desert. 
Begins:  Way out past love. 


Way out past love.  All things carry the intimation of danger.

The cat, a beast across a desert, stalking.  Strips of sun on the hardwood floor.  The hips sway.  The shoulders are cowboy jaunty.  My man is only part man, mostly creature.  The way he holds a cigarette, unencumbered.  He walks without thinking how it looks to walk. 

In the film Niagara, the temptress Rose sways out in a red dress that catches all our eyes.  “Why don't you have a dress like that?” Ray asks Polly.
          “Honey, that dress you start planning when you're thirteen years old.”

In the West, the coffee a man drinks is thick as sand.  His mouth is full of gravel.  He wears a gun.  A man is all man, all beast, mean.

2       There are three mirrors.  Two girls.  One on the bed.  Piles and piles of pillows, fluffy pink.  She's fallen backward into heaven, legs crossed, 1920's sex kitten, hand palm up across her forehead.  A princess in the clouds, the clouds they have in yogurt commercials.  Angels with their glossy teeth and hair.      

To be blonde—white blonde—platinum.  Jean Harlow is the first Platinum Blonde, sex on a screen.  When Marilyn tests, they say the same thing: Lord, the ways I would fuck her.

Developer.  Grains of neurotoxic white.

The bathroom is exactly like heaven.  A door that locks.  A mirror.  One girl pulls the other one's hair straight with a comb to paint it.  They compare thighs and bellies, despair.  That particular non-silence though there is no noise.  You have like the perfect body, says one to the other.  Bleach.  The exact smell of heaven.  A gasoline feeling.

3       So we begin.  We, two girls in a room.  Distinguished from each other by the color of our hair.  One light and one dark. 

A pale pink room, leftover of childhood, a unicorn sticker peeling from the wall.

And we, the girls, move with a flinging feeling, a sigh.  Trapped in space and time and bones and brain and family and _____.  Boredom.  What’s goin’ on in the ol’ brain today.  She (brunette, blonde) stands before mirrors fashioning and refashioning hair and mouth and eyes and breasts—waiting.  Somewhere in the background, a movie plays.  It always plays.  They hardly seem to see it.  Sometimes one speaks a line in time with an actor:

4       Gay says: You know, you're a real beautiful woman.  What makes you so sad?  I think you're the saddest girl I ever met. 

It's laid in the West and it's about people who aren't willing to sell their lives.  That's a good way to put it.  They will sell their work but they won't sell their lives, and for that reason they're misfits.
Everyone's alone. 
The real story is the Nevada desert and what it is to be free and what it is to be lonely or to love, or to be alone and love, or maybe just about being alive.  Who do you depend on, who?  Clift asks Monroe.  She holds his broken head: I don't know.  Maybe all there is is, just the next thing.  She's got those eyes stained by sadness.  And something—not determination exactly.  It pulls toward ecstasy.  Clift, the only person that's a bigger mess than she is.  They recognize disaster in each other's faces and giggle about it.  Maybe it's a kind of being broken without breaking.  He has a light.

5       The Misfits.  In which Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe are Gay Langland and Roslyn Taber: aging and driving into the desert, getting closer to the core. It’s a black and white film directed by John Huston, as in love as I am with cowboys and dirt.  Screenplay by Miller, Monroe’s third husband.  Written as a Valentine to his bride.
The movie stands as a half-incarnation of a monumental collapse.  It’s like coming across ancient ruins.  The collapse of love or of faith or of these grand glittering lives.  It embodies it and points to it and is its result.  It is the result of effort.  It is ultimately called a failure.  The girls are sixteen and given to tears.  Life feels both like the disaster the film points to and the one that Monroe seems to be gazing out at.  In the background of the movie runs another story, other moments.
It’s a 1961 film.  It begins in the city of Reno and moves into the desert.  It goes to the rodeo.  It goes up into the mountains.  It plays like a record that returns to its center, a scratch on the record that has it caught on want and lack and loss.


The Misfits.  In which a sexy divorcĂ©e falls for an over-the-hill cowboy who is struggling to maintain his romantically independent lifestyle in early-sixties Nevada.  In which:

1 Epic music.  Opening credits.  The opening sequence has a background of puzzle pieces: black on white or white on black.  I forget.  Puzzle pieces trying to be fitted, won't fit. 
Marilyn is heard, then seen moving.  Half hidden by curtains in an upstairs window.  Breeze blowing.  Okay, honey, she calls down.  Inside she's applying lipstick and murmuring.  I can't make out what she's saying and for a moment she seems touched. 

          She turns to Ritter:
          Why can't I just say, He wasn't there.  You could touch him, but he wasn't there.

          She leans to her reflection, painting her mouth.  Pauses.  Pulls back.  Presses her lips and frowns lightly. 

          Dahlin', if that was reason enough, there wouldn't be ten marriages left in America. 

Black and white light is hard, like morning sunlight.   Her skin looks fragile and we can see where it won't hold.

2       The Misfits is the only film that Gable and Monroe are in together and the last that either complete.  Miller rewrites the script as they film.  He married her thinking she was some sort of angel then finds out she's not.  Of course she's not.  She's only pretending.  Huston says: Miller's heroine of course closely resembled Marilyn.  Sometimes I had the eerie sense that we were in another dimension, that we were hearing Marilyn's own cry against the brutal violations of her life.
          As the movie is being filmed their marriage is ending.  He thought her so innocent among the Hollywood wolves—she tries to be that.  When the monster shows, Arthur can't believe it.  He's not sure he likes her after all.

3       108 degree heat.  High emotion on the Nevada desert.  All this emotion and nothing even happens.  The music crescendos.  Cartoon-y.  Marilyn talks so breathy.  Looks off-screen, wistful.  Puts palm to cheek and looks into the middle distance. 
          It's hard to watch.  It's overdone.  But in a way things really are overdone.  She means it—her life.  Gives everything she has til it hurts.  A very sweet lady who is obviously going through some sort of Hell on earth.  Plenty of shots of her ass, men watching her ass:

          She's hard to figure.  She sure can move, though. 
          Gay draws a long breath.  Mmmmhmm.  She's real prime.


          Home: Hi, Mom.  Close the door.  Fall open at the corners. 

          She tries on faces.  Really early mean light.  Hand up to the hand in the mirror.  Always felt she was nobody and the only way for her to be somebody was to be... well, somebody else.  After a while she smokes.  Wants everyone in love with her.  So fucking quiet it gets in her head.  Hey.  HEY.  Marilyn is the feeling of being lost and hungry and open and brilliant and fucked.  Cotton candy, a sick-sweet feeling.  She tilts her head back, eyes half closed. 
She can make her face do anything, same as you can take a white board and build from that and make a painting. 
A book of mostly photographs.  A little taller than her hand and nearly square.  Divided into four sections: The Early Years (Norma Jeane), Rise to Stardom, The Later Years, and Marilyn Monroe: the Woman Behind the Legend.  One picture shows her smoking.  An introduction by Truman Capote.  She doesn't know who he is.

2       It gets dark, then the rain starts.  The dark-haired girl pulls the car over on the shoulder.  Jesus H.  She beats on the dash with both hands, Come on.  Her fists and the rain both get going.  The blonde lights a cigarette that glows in the rear view:
          I hated the zoo—not like vegetarians hate the zoo but because I was a sad fucking kid and going to the zoo was like eating sawdust.  They'd drag us around in the sun.  Like there was something to see, all over the place.  Aquarium, Locks, Wild-waves.  It makes me tired.  Nothing is sparkling, nothing is light.  I want to sleep.  I can fall asleep anywhere.  She shrugs.

          When I was a kid.  Jailbait.  What a delicious secret.  The hot car.  Knees sinking into the back of the seat in front of me.  Hot plastic and magazines.  The story is about a dark-haired girl on a road trip with her family, flirting through the back window.  Some men hold up a sign:  Hey, jailbait. 
          Cheesecake photos of girls.  Lips sultry like cherries.  Ziplocked bags of browned apple slices and saltine crackers and cheese.  Zack smacks mosquitos between his hands, Fwap!  My thighs stick to each other.  Lick the salt, let the cracker go out the window.  Cracker after cracker.  Flying.  Girls are butterflies, glimpses.  Girls are secret, delicious things.  Soda-pop sweet.  Mmm.
          Open a Cherry Coke only part way, slurp the edges.  I want to be the girls with the headbands and curls, sweaters in the '50's, miniskirts in the '80's.  Coma-state.  Skittles.  Thirsty.  Highway after highway.  When we stop to pee I fall getting out.  Spinning, gasoline, sun.
          In the store the clerk is high, says Mom.  Boy in a blue polo.  Chewing licorice.  Pulling at it like an animal.  Feet crisscrossed clean from my sandal straps.  Fat feet.  The straps cut at my ankles.  Bathroom? Mom asks.  He points.  I get a soda from the cooler.  Go up, lashes aflutter.  Feeling from the inside, something blooming—half a smile.

          Some kids show me how to huff around this time.  We breathe all kinds of things, t-shirt over a gas can and everything getting to spinning, fun.  Sky, nasty pink.  Sit against a tire.  Rims in my back.  Think: I’m totally fucked.  It's a roller-coaster feeling.  The movies, carried away.

4       Harlow goes at twenty-six, Marilyn at thirty-six.  Dominoes.  Oh, to be Marilyn.  Stumbling home drunk.  When they tell her to go home she says, I am home.  Life you're getting too close.  Spends more time daydreaming than anywhere.  At times a nightmare.  Tries to walk like her, ass swinging.  Sure that she's a joke.  She lays her head down in the dirt here. 
          She can be a monster.  Breaks her mother's heart.  Drives round and round til the light goes.  Always trusting the wrong people.  Then when they disappoint she's too quick to drop them.  When the monster shows we can't believe it.  Lights round the bend: halogen, too fast.  Staring at the ceiling she doesn't seem to notice.  For some reason we don't know it's a bad day for her.

          She tries to be so sweet.  But behind the scenes things are made for disaster.  Gossip.  Huston's drinking and gambling.  Clift in his cabin with his long suicide.  They say Marilyn's on so many pills that she has to be walked around the room in the morning.  In time it doesn't seem to matter.  Gable is forever a gentleman.  He loves Marilyn.  Imagine it this way.

          When I was a kid the world often seemed like a pretty grim place.  I loved to escape through games and make-believe.  You can do that even better as an actress, but sometimes it seems you escape altogether and people never let you come back.  Maybe I'll never get out of it now til it's over. 

The girls move between car and bedroom.  Sometimes their bodies are heavy.  Sometimes one of them stops and says to the other: it’s too hard, to move and breathe at once.  They sit.
The story moves between two houses: a middle class house with a stable and horses and a vacuum cleaner always running and shoes taken off at the door, a bitter blonde wine drunk mother beating a chicken to make it tender. 

And then across a field over a wobbly tin gate on a path through trees there’s another place, mushrooms, broken cars, mean sun.  Potato bugs in kitchen corners and a pointless day.

The girls don’t drink as much or do as many drugs, or as good of drugs, as they want to.  They don’t enjoy the parties, keggers in the woods that they sneak out to as much as they like the speed through the night it takes to get there. 

Though she likes the feeling of standing in a room with people and their loud and gruff and flirty and common talk.  Feeling of falling into someone in a drunk camaraderie.  The thought that flashes through her head: see, this is all there is to it. 

This is how you live.  This simple thing.  Drink and laugh and fuck and that’s a life and it’s enough.

These girls are good friends.  Are such good friends the lines between them blur.  Psyche and skin, both, are porous.  They lay side by side in bed, one’s hair twisting around the other’s.  Whispering until they can’t tell which feeling belongs to which body, which fear.

2 She says I can’t remember what it feels like.  I don’t know if I ever felt it.  While I was in it.  The grass without shoes on.  I don’t like how it pokes up through my toes I don’t like the idea of bugs.  I don’t know why I don’t have shoes on just that they are gone.  In this remembering.  In the way the dirt was always so dry.  In the way I fear the worms and slugs.  In the way I want to put on shoes and socks.  Keep myself myself. 

In this remembering: Marilyn.  I am and Marilyn is.  In this remembering without shoes on.  In the grass then on steps, tar paper, porch.  I feel what it is to be Marilyn in ways I can’t feel grass.  A girl in her head.  A girl makes a story in her head.  She makes a girl story and does a girl thing.  Scared she isn’t quite a girl.  Not human or too wholly human.  Especially there.  (Can’t say where but I know where). 

She forgets that she’s not Marilyn.  So she is startled by her face.  When she glimpses it of a sudden.  She is Marilyn with face painted with an eye for light and dark.  And cupid’s bow mouth.  She is Marilyn in nightmare of body reflected back and back and back.  She feels Los Angeles in bitten fingernails.  Smells the streets of the nineteen forties in high heels, the nights in crummy hotels.  She will be: the kind of girl they find.  (A cheap hotel room at the end of the hall.  A cheap bottle of vodka, a bottle of pills). 

One time she takes off her clothes and walks around the room. 

3       There’s a ten minute period in the evening when the light has a pure magic.  She puts on makeup again.  Once and again before the mirror.  She misses it.

She comes out just as the light turns bad.  She can’t remember her lines but feels she needs them.  Afraid to say anything unscripted.  Afraid of air off her stomach.  Afraid to say fart:

I’m too inhibited to feel spontaneous I’m afraid to be I mean—because I don’t know what will come out—what will happen even gas off my stomach (afraid to write fart) and I will be humiliated and feel lower than anything or anyone.  Why do I feel less of a human being than others.  Even physically I was always sure something was wrong with me—afraid to say where but I know where. 

Her shame relates to exposure.


What’s the point of breathing out if you only have to breathe in again.  It’s like you get to the end of a race and you think you’ve finished but you only have to start again.

1       Guido is a cowboy and a pilot, working wages as a mechanic in the city.  Played by Eli Wallach, tight and hungry about the mouth.  The opening scenes of the movie have him assessing Roslyn's car.
          And Ritter walking out to talk to him—one arm in a sling, the other carrying a clock.  She's rattling it.  She's nonsensical and no-nonsense.  She's silly, sweet, and grounding.  Eighteen clocks in the house dahlin', and not one of 'em on time!  She laughs at herself.

          The car was a divorce present from her husband, Ritter explains—she's gotta get rid of it.  All the men in Nevada keep crashin' into it just to start a conversation.
They givin' divorce presents these days? he asks.  He wipes his hands on a rag.  Marilyn leans out the window.  Oh.

2       She wears a black dress and her white hair is tied back.  Elegant.  At four million, the movie is the most expensive black and white to date. There's Technicolor but they don't want it.  Much of the cost is of Marilyn being late and forgetting her lines.  Of Huston drunk and losing at gambling.  Outside the courthouse her ex catches her arm.  She shakes him off.  If I'm going to be lonely I'd rather be alone. 

She and Ritter walk arm in arm over a bridge.  Pause, Marilyn fingering her ring.  The feeling is thick, freedom and loss tangled, time going on and on, things not working out.  She fingers her ring and lingers, distant, thoughtful, wistful.

          Throw it in dahlin'.  Everybody does.  This river's got more gold than ___.
Did you? Marilyn asks. 

          Oh, no, dahlin'.  I lost mine on my honeymoon!  She laughs a real sweet funny laugh at herself and Marilyn breaks, laughs with her in the same way.  The moment lifts off from some low steady pain.  Let's go get a drink.

3       A camera angled from far above shows Marilyn aglow amidst cowboys and their women.  The women are rougher, darker, with bawdy laughter.  Marilyn won't let anyone as blonde as her be in scenes with her anymore.  Blondeness is a fairy-tale quality.  Youth and wealth and whiteness.  It signifies pale skin and, therein, lack of exposure to the elements.  The elements metaphorically equal men.  But a bottle blonde is the opposite.  She's aware of this meaning, and that awareness changes the meaning. 
          In the cowboy bar they order whiskeys.  She orders hers like it's a line she can't remember.  Marilyn like the moon, the rest of the space just dim and cluttered.  Guido and Gay are sitting at a table nearby—a coincidence.

          She doesn't need lines to show how lost she is.  How often abandoned.  How do you depend on someone who wasn't really there...(the dialogue drifts).  The scene is bad.  She leans across the aisle to feed Gay's dog from her fingers.  What a sweet baby.  He later tells her how the horses he wrangles are slaughtered for dog food:  You've bought 'im 'is food before.  Where'd you think it came from honey.  The food you buy in the store for the dog.

          The sense of the film is of recklessness.  A desert so big that anything and nothing could happen.  Four strangers meet in a bar and take off for the outside of town.  Marilyn says:  I looked out there once.  It didn't look like there was much out there.  She rests her chin on her palm, fingers curling back toward her.  Instability, betrayal, and change are the undercurrents.  The men, drunk, feel broken.
          You know what's out there?  Everything's out there.

          Gay makes Marilyn think she can trust him.  She's tired and fragile and at her limit this time.  Watching them is like watching a horror movie.  You know what's behind the door and you're yelling, Don't open it, don't open it!  But she always does.

Flores e Flowers


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