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Ed Barrett

Ed Barrett
from Tell on You


IV

Lady



1.


Through misery and pain, sang the mirror, and the blossoming freshness
of the extent of things, the way things are, and nature, which includes
you too, and wants to hold in your hands that spiky little brush you
lengthen your eyelashes with, the powdery chalks you draw across your
cheek, and nibble through the spectra of—and here the mirror paused,
then resumed—crayons the consistency of Philadelphia Cream Cheese that
you stroke your lips with:  you have allowed nature to imagine these
things too, you have let her understand what her endless wanderings
were for:  look how she wants to color your hair, sang the mirror when
you were in the shower.



2.


The body with its CVS of free radicals and antioxidants, the body
filled with homelessness and blood and crips, the four humors wearing
puffy sleeves embroidered with stags chased by archers in waistcoats
holding crossbows, lab-coated genes peering into a test tube through
thick eyeglasses, the body with its yachty skin, its crystal CD eyes
and its Oprah mouth, the maw’s shell waiting on the strangely bleached
sand, vaulted Sienna fat and vomitorium, poop malls and Tenderloin
districts, the Romeo prick and the Juliet crease, the hangman’s throat,
the Internet tongue, tennis court hands and Coney Island aquarium
lungs, the German Lieder brook spotting your whitest pair of new cotton
panties, and your Irish Spring boxer shorts.



3.


It’s hard laughing up the hanging sleeve of the extent of things
pointing past you—this time—to the person in the seat behind you, yes,
you ma’am, would you mind coming up on stage, never to be seen again
through the encouraging, relieved applause.  You feel like Joey Bishop.
His face was the grave of the joke he was about to tell, cheerless as
an approach to the Van Wyck Expressway, a blankness I think older Jews
in Brighton Beach “got” but moved past to Buddy Hackett and Shecky
Green, even Norm Crosby.  They had “an act” that could at least reach
into the straw-filled wind and pull down a bolus of veal or chicken to
chew on through the first show of the stripping, mob-owned night.



4.


One can drift in ignorance with a kind of rebar sturdiness, yet a
lightness and a lyricism—at least for a while.  You have to be quick
when you’re young and ignorant.  So it was not surprising that one took
to professional fighting as one might, in a different setting, take to
dance or poetry, or, in this setting, how some took to heroin, which
was just beginning to come into this Brooklyn Irish neighborhood like a
dog hunting on the scent of a wounded animal, in this case families
already mortally wounded by alcohol.  These were “the way”—fighting,
drinking, heroin—to strip down and be seen and wondered at and feared
and to effect some sort of end by having to struggle through or within
in front of others attending to the only spectacle that is ever worth
watching:  one’s mindless fight against being alive.



5.


We were prepositions hanging on, modifying, slightly, the larger
sentence.  Engraved on a plaque in front of the church near the gym
were the psalmist’s words:  “God is in the midst of the city,” and I
figured it meant, here in this church, the way “Liquors” showed where
you bought Schaeffer beer or “Drugs” on Doc’s meant here is where you
got prescriptions filled.  “Be still, and know that I am God,” a
knowledge we get by listening to the psalmist tell the desolation
visited upon his enemies.  But that only raised the question, what was
the need for wasting a bunch of us nobodies in a marginal part of the
city which belonged more to the ocean than to the city streets which we
walked barefoot on in summer and in winter waited for a car to stop at
the light so we could crouch down behind it and grab its rear bumper
and let it pull us in our Thom McAnn’s sliding through the snow?  Whose
enemies were we except our own?  Two young men, one already with a
budding cauliflower ear, contesting nothing personal with his opponent
in victory or defeat:  the one we called The Lady putting a hundred
down on the bar to take drinks out of, a small-time fighter’s big money
purse, which sounds feminine outside the world of the ring—black patent
leather with two straps, or a small beaded bag your cut man hands you
stepping out of the locker room, pissing blood all day tomorrow.



6.


The way things are, consequent and necessary, never and always
sufficient, waves slapping up the side of a lapstreak hull like
applause.  The world as expectation and desire wants you in more than
your apprehension of it, it wants you in how you express it more than
it can represent itself:  remanded forms that also are the case.  Then
it lets go of you, tells on you just when you’d like to float
anonymously a little bit below the surface billowing up around you; or
tells on you like weathering, the salt air and the salt water peeling
back thin curls of varnish from a deck like tasty apple strudel flaking
on the plate plunked down in front of you.  The unknowable struggle
alive:  why they could accept who he was and then not accept who he
was, an inconsequential, unique life like everybody else’s, light of
foot and catchy as a show tune, dark as any psalmist’s.



7.


The Lady is not able, like the boat he shipped out on, to connive with
strangeness and nature.  He cannot return successfully.  He cannot work
as a greeter in Vegas, someone a little bit larger than life—a boxer
and a merchant marine—to make you feel special when you walk in.  He
has no stories to tell.  No one feels saltiness in his handshake.  The
ocean does not bell out to the wheelhouse stars, the desert shrinks to
the canvas inside the ring.



8.


My boxing gloves, which we kept in a hat box tied together with string
on the top shelf of the closet, looked like two big eggplants with
thumbs, and I’d sink my tiny fists down into them and turn, eager, to
my father who was going to give me a lesson, and he’d lace them up
along my forearms and I’d punch them together two times to show they
were on tight, but I’d leave out the part a professional fighter did
then, holding his gloved fists together in an inverted V level with his
heart, spreading apart his shiny robe, the Lady’s hooded face turned to
the side in neither disbelief or wonder or fear or acceptance:  This is
what you do.  This is how you do it.  This is happening now.  This is
what I will do.  This is what I think.  This is how it is done.  This
is how you do it.  “Face the color of a plum when his brother found him
hanging” said Dave the launchman, who knew everything about everyone.
And I was surprised they had an open casket, or surprised the funeral
director could get the face back which looked all squunched down on the
shoulders of the Lady’s new blue suit, a neck filled with junk and
broken shells.  And the world as expectation and desire and the part
which relates to action as the result of everything else:  permanence
and passing no more belong to us than we to them, and the illusion that
separates us.



9.


But seriously, as the biblical Jewish comic “I see before me” might
say—a blend of Rickles and Lewis, Norm Crosby, Joey Bishop and Isaiah,
none of them ever really that far from the dog-tongue waves of Brighton
Beach that just want to lick your longed-for face—seriously I kid with
the spilkes in the gnechtigazoid, with the love and the telling and
pretty l-a-d-y!  And the desert sands, transfixed by the immutable sun,
enjoyed a drink on the house in the old days’ young nights, its legs
dusted with stars showering down the cool Sahara dunes.

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