Wednesday, March 23, 2011

"Liz Taylor in Levittown" by Michael Montlack

"Nobody tells me who to love, or not to love, who to be seen with and who not to be seen with" —Elizabeth Taylor (February 27, 1932 – March 23, 2011)

Liz Taylor in Levittown

You wore her perfume, kept score of her husbands,
even delighted in her weight gain
back in the 70’s—when you too had put on a few,
then were inspired to lose it all
(like she always did).

I still wonder if her Cleopatra
had anything to do with that green eye shadow
we insisted you throw away.

Yet from the kitchen table (while doing algebra),
I too watched that night
as she was ushered forward like royalty
for her Channel 4 press conference:
violet eyes blinking, curt smile glimmering,
hair teased to a threshold bordering on self-mockery
yet commanding attention—and you gave it.
“Chuck it all—I’ll never finish before your father gets home.”
The rice could burn, your family could starve
            but “That damn dog had better shut his trap!”

Another bone … then Liz took the mic.
I didn’t know who to look at:
this movie star under a fire of flash
highlighting that hair, those jewels, those eyes;
or you in your terrycloth housecoat and Kmart Keds knockoffs,
lighting a Kent III Ultra Light
to heighten the drama.

I rarely saw you focus on just one thing—
always rushing, even your crosswords were done (or nearly done)
with the spin cycle finishing and your soap opera starting.
Not to mention the phone (and “That damn dog!”).

But you waited for words of wisdom now, eloquence, power
to enter your world, our world: there—on the border of Levittown
and Liz delivered more than I could
when on the verge of tears (rage),
she demanded the nation to Wake up!
See what’s happening?
to not fear the dying, her friends.

She wanted research money, voices of support.
She wanted education
and I was getting just that:
a lesson that distracted me
from X and Y
and what it all might equal
for me—in the future, in this kitchen, on this island—
every day becoming more and more
a man.

And yet she seemed to be teaching you even more,
so evident by the way you inhaled deeper, nodding, agreeing with her
on a subject you’d never discussed, probably never pondered
except during your trip to Frisco when I was 10:
“We saw the Golden Gate, Alcatraz and oh yes … the gays—very colorful,”
punctuated with a whirl of eyes that said much more,
too much.

She was too gracious to name names
—those heartthrobs (Rock) and characters (Liberace)
disappearing without proper goodbyes.
Why?   Why?   You almost cried with her.

I did not
but I could not
though I could have a glimmer of hope
when Liz invited us—the world, America, Moms like you—
to ask Where would we be without these people
we passively watch die?
These incredible people ... who contribute so much?

A tenser tone, more unsettling glare:
I mean, for God’s sake, where would Hollywood be?
Where would I be?
—so bitter she almost scoffed.

And as I watched the rice smoking behind you
and heard Dad’s car pulling up the drive,
I knew exactly where I was—
as if for the first time—
I was there, just outside Levittown,
and surprisingly I was not alone
in that crowded kitchen
which suddenly seemed to be opening up
and opening up
at the beck and call
of one girlish but seriously angry voice
that somehow touched my mother
who’d once again be racing
to catch up with time.

©Michael Montlack, Cool Limbo, 2011 New York Quarterly Press
(originally published in The Cream City Review
republished at The Debifrillator by permission of the author)

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