HOW OLD MEN DIE: COMMEMORATING
THE EXPLORER ROBERT FALCON ROSS (1868–1912)
At 2 A.M., verses by Tennyson and Browning
slosh in his brain. He eats raspberry yogurt
and urinates in a bottle near his bed. He's
seventy-seven. His belly flaps. Underarm tissue sags.
Near the Arctic Circle
Ross snuggles with odoriferous huskies.
He'll never again see Oates the mate
who's outside in a blizzard peeing.
He scribbles farewell notes
until cramped by frost, he writes no more.
Ice scrolls his lantern's globe.
His heart, if he shook it, would
release stalagmites of death.
Hot boullion might save him.
Should he drink his piss?
He scrapes blubber from his face
and rips off a walrus hide glove,
exposing a livid ulna.
He recalls succoring Oates,
churning body heat, panicking
when Oates left the tent to die.
He knocks a kettle into the fire,
dousing it. Iron clangs. His toes shiver.
He moves so as not to shatter his ankles.
As he settles over the ashes
Oates drops from his cracked lips.
He prays that he'll be found.
There's so much to tell to his infant son!
Sniggers freeze on the lips of old men.Nostril hairs thrive after heart,
trachea, intestines, and testicles are mush.
Inside their tents, protected from marauding bear,
Ross' men watch films of their jaunts.
Not one is sardonic. Not one believes
that death will kill him.
BASILISK IN HOLLYWOOD
Imagine a legendary laundress
who washed gingham dresses
into strapless silks.
Lucille Le Sueur a Chicago hoofer
became a 20's flapper
rivaling Clara Bow.
Her breaths and stares weakened
the knees of celluloid moguls.
The jazz baby flung
her debutante soul
onto beds of devilish MGM bosses.
After being promised the role of Camille,
she played Sadie Thompson
in Rain—a box office flop.
When she spiked directors with her heels,
she was "box-office poison."
Predatory men loathed her,
but packaged her mass appeal, providing
their limos, mansions, and Tahiti cruises.
Mink, murder, mayhem & melodrama
spirited her from the 30's to the 50's.
She was always a bit obvious,
a shade vulgar, a bitch goddess
with a dagger stashed in her purse,
her sharp lips forever slashing.
In jet-black ankle-strapped heels,
Joan clacked up many silver stairs.
This once Charleston-dancer finally
waltzed into arms of a Pepsi billionaire.
After his death, she sat at the head
of his round table, infinite floors up,
with a "No one fucks with me" glare.
A chameleon in drag—a basilisk,
King Arthur in petticoats.
She died of a severed heart
with a broken Pepsi bottle in one hand,
a stiletto in the other.
Forty years later her Sadie was praised.
MY PICTURE OF THE SUN
ridiculed my picture.
"Look Miss Markoff,
Barbara wrote words
on her picture. She thinks people
don't know it's a picture of the sun
without being told.
What else would it be?"
After a wave of laughter,
my first grade teacher said,
"I didn't tell you
to write words on your picture."
The house we'd been told to draw
had H-O-U-S-E across it
and the blue sky and yellow sun
were labeled. I liked the words
I'd printed. Words completed
a picture, were visual because
they were words and words
were more necessary to me
than empty pictures.
The next time we drew,
we were studying birds and rain.
Deliberately, I wrote B-I-R-D-S
and R-A-I-N across the images.
My teacher didn't complain:
she'd learned what to expect from me.