Olivia, July 2012
i do so love how these came out.
don’t sulk, don’t
from your place at my feet
don’t you see how much i love you?
how i wash your hair with my tears,
bend to kiss your crooked fingers
as you rip down my sandcastles
don’t you see how you
sad gibbous-moon child-cheek
turning half away
(still bright though)
even when i ask you to look at me
full in the face
don’t you see, disappointment
how you are
the one thing
that reminds me
how much i wish for
in this life
there are places, maybe, where they still believe in magic.
these irish elk died out a thousand years ago. their echoes stay on in the stories we still sometimes tell.
hidden entrances to secret worlds.
Ernest to Ethel, confidential.
I’m an old man now, but I remember everything that’s important. We were married fifty years ago, for just one cycle of the moon, you were old then by their Hollywood standards but I thought you beautiful. True, I could have had a starlet, any sort, girls flocked around actors just like they do now but they were of course less precocious then.
You were nine years older than me, a dirtier mouth than my mother’s garden in Italy. It was rich black loam that poured out of your mouth, between martini swills when you, the queen of showbiz, told detractors and journalists and directors to kindly go fuck themselves. And then you laughed, that hearty, gutteral laugh. It frightened me half to death, I gotta admit it to you.
One thing I don’t remember is, I don’t know how I even asked you, couldn’t begin to remember. I must have begged you. Marry me, Ethel, please say yes. I only want you, Ethel. Girls don’t have names like that anymore. Jessicas and Caitlins and Jennifers, wearing their hair like hippies, looking like they never heard of a shampoo. It wasn’t hard crying your name: feminine but tough, Ethel, O Ethel, while you left dark lipstick moons on my neck, my barreled chest.
You were a pro. You had forty different diamond necklaces on hold at any given time, ready to snatch up whichever one would go right with the tight dress you were being fitted for. Designers wrapped you in tulle, in silk, and you smoked endlessly and talked on a telephone. Not that now this is anything, everyone’s got their gadgets right at hand, ushering in a new world. But then, that was something, you barking some girl around, getting her to drag the telephone over to a side table after going out to find a cord long enough, summoning an ashtray even though the cigarettes did hell to your voice. The voice.
You were swirling drunk, a haze of perfume and lipstick, at a party in the Hills, and you said, “Ernie, oh Ernie, you’re so fucking stupid. I want you, but you know that. You wear my desire for you like a dinner jacket, you smug son of a bitch.” You would think I might have frightened you with how hard I kissed you but you were a vaudeville girl, you knew what was coming with an attitude like that.
I don’t know why you wouldn’t talk about the marriage. You could have. Maybe you were sparing me. Thirty-two goddamned days of me boring the hell out of you, and you, wearing sequins at ten in the morning, sitting on the balcony, a fading rose with your beauty wearing thin but still wanting, more than anything, to be free. Me with my tray of orange juice, no servants or assistants, I just wanted it to be me and you, queen of the water, my lady of the lake. You with your faraway eyes, dark and slitted as you surveyed the smoggy silhouettes of the city that has grown up around our feet crammed in shoes too small for us, your ribs cinched by designer corsets, our nightclub drunk mouths pressed close to microphones, the feeling of being entertainers, going forever, never stopping.
Yes, you wanted to be free. And I had to let you go. You filed on your own, of course, in cat-eye glasses with that wicked smirk. You said you were going - did you want me to stop you? You said, “Farewell, Funnyman, I’m off to the races,” and you held up the papers like it was nothing. Later, in that book you wrote, our marriage was summed up with one white page. Nothing on it. Nothing.
We had talked about celebrating our birthdays together. January, a cruel month to be born, at least it was back then. Everything just made of ice. We never did that, you know. Never drank champagne in Morocco. Never grew old together.
I was sad when I heard you had gone, but I remembered what you’d said, curled up against me in the slanted shadows of Venetian blinds, how you murmured, half-drunk on gin and sex, “God, when the time comes for me, I hope I go in my sleep. Right in the middle of a dirty dream.”
I hope you were dreaming dirty, Ethel. I hope the navy boys and the muscular grips and the young carnival hopefuls with their hair all ribbon-curled were doing their best to impress you. I hope they were crowded around you in a boisterous circle, you wearing some white sparkling thing, some impressive construction of some sad lonely delicate man who laughed too loud at all your jokes. I hope you were dreaming big, singing loud. I hope you felt free. I always, always hoped you would be free.