Primping and Beautymaxxing Backstage at the Slave Auction – Mark Parsons

A Mail Order Bride Considers a Career as a Model in Her Husband’s Native Country


Does it matter,
Who gets to think in terms
Of B or C cups, a double D or true E
The exception,
Like Sofia Vergara and Kate Upton, with
Jessica Rabbit cartoon proportions, and all-natural breasts?

Or which one of us—
She or I—

Fills in with
Shadow of crosshatch and lines

As you
Begin to understand:
What was
Where you found me

You can’t negotiate
Take with you from that other place.


For every model as subtly flawed as
I might be the first time
We get a call,
There will be ten to take her place,
Who are perfect.
And for every one of those ten
Who isn’t as perfect as the others, there will be ten—

Our beauty like theories in quantum mechanics,
Waiting for close observation
To establish the flaw,
We all hear the same thing.
Less is the difference between us.
Our slight variations ascend to a point
Like a pyramid,
To a point that’s ideal, like the dead
Bodies of victims
A Cold War
Totalitarian dictator murdered
With state-sponsored violence to demonstrate
In the usual strong-arm fashion a hoard of political capital.

The client flips through the portfolio,
Turning pages
Of glossy stiff heavyweight stock.
Light from florescent lights set in drop ceiling tiles
Spills on the shine to flash across a stick-thin woman thrusting out
A proud, defiant adolescent boy’s bony birdchest.
The light is angry, glaring white
Like neo-nazi milk, with marching anthem shout.
The client looks,
Only satisfied when he finds the flaw.


It’s easier never to give up looking for
What isn’t there,
Than it is to admit it’s not
There, where you can’t find it.
You’re afraid to expose yourself
As the person who didn’t see
What’s there,
And what will have been there,
In the future,
Even at a much later date, even
In retrospect.

Like theories in science,
Like innocence
Living in totalitarian dictatorships,
Is provisional, never confirmed, but is always attendant on new evidence.
No one is innocent, no one is beautiful,
No theory
Ever is proved.


Do you believe in regions so remote,
So removed from your point of origin—
You start to yearn
For a new loss, to learn a new lexicon of distance,
Rules and relationships?
To track an emotional exchange rate
And calculate with each fluctuation?
Is there something far enough in the past,
Or that will come to be, that you forget—
And turn around—
And look?


I’m nothing, if not accommodating.
But still…
I’m unsure I’ll be enough to
Support your unrealistic expectations, grandiose plans.

Don’t tell me that’s part of
My “allure.”
Leave me alone; let me get back to work.


Post-Historical Historical: Doc, You Meant…What?


Don’t trust the directions. The only directions you need
are the betta fish, vase, philodendron. There’s something to do with pH levels
the water, roots, and traces of the soil you rinsed away
are involved in, but you don’t need to worry about that. According to the directions
the betta fish makes the heart-shaped vase of pebbled texture,
the opening as wide as a carafe and stuffed with philodendron roots, and bottom mulched
with chipped blue glass,
like Travis Bickle made his crummy little apartment
in Taxi Driver. The fallen angel of bitterest wisdom, who taught mankind to write,
and so doing, to hold onto the past for good or ill,
like Edward Rochester confining his creole half-breed in the attic;
or Emily Grierson, who kept the body of
her unwitting suitor, the type of man they used to call “that way,”
a “confirmed bachelor,” a feckless gay,
after she poisoned him,
to sleep beside;
or the sadistic Havisham,
who gloated over corrupting the mind of her young charge:
language and memory, the bricks and mortar to build the prison where jailer and inmate are one,
the turnkey imprisoning who he was to lock away the past;
the author and his memory
in a ghastly state of decomposition wed,
the writer hoarding what is gone and can never be recovered,
turning his back on God’s present and real
to curate someone else’s history: the wisdom that doesn’t profit the wise…
This angel named Penemue,
who was tempted from on high by the fair daughters of Eve,
and corrupted himself with others of his kind, in exchange for the dark art of writing,
until that time forbidden to his human hosts, was the same
that helped the screenwriter, Paul Schrader, make of his divorce and homelessness
a movie script, in order to let people witness how
alienation, rage, and guilt could drive a lonely damaged man
to psychosis, mass murder, and mayhem,
not to mention toxic masculinity and white supremacy…
also guided Travis, in private, unguarded moments, to comment on society,
which pathetic, stunted attempts
at aphoristic insight would instead elicit unintended sympathy,
forcing even the most jaded viewers to look away in shared embarrassment for the homicidal
racist, a broken man who, despite all his failings, if not outright evil,
was a child of God.


Gauzy, metallic ribbon edged with wire tied in a bow
around the neck of the glass heart
that’s the angry Valentine Scorsese gave to New York City,
the magenta-to-purple flame
of Siamese fighting fish zigzags a saw-tooth path
like a restless satellite in orbit between ivory-colored roots and glass,
sometimes finding the way closed off,
its progress through
the narrow space obstructed, itself stuck
in the sloping shoulder, vivid colors and the terminal serrations
of feathered fins
strained to a blanched and dreary smudge
through finer mesh than window screen, to hover there, throbbing
like inflammation deep in the tissue of a muscle, or chronic stress upon a hypertensive heart.
Some places the fish must pick its way over terrain the details
of which are impossible to see when you look at the roots directly…which is always,
to a certain extent.
Its leaves like sheet metal, with edges that look just as sharp
as unfinished cut tin; dramatic veins of opaque white; and long florescent pistils with yellow stamens;
the plant is like a stopper in the neck where the neck is four inches in diameter.


To feed betta, or fighting fish—shortened version of name they’re sold under in stores, Siamese fighting fish—once daily: dip dampened toothpick in betta fish food—rust-colored, crumbly stuff; then dip in betta fish vase water. Replace about 25% of the bottled water (Food Area – Beverage Aisle) weekly. Dieffenbachia Plant, or Spathaphyllum, also known as Peace-Lily (Lawn and Garden) can either one be substituted for Philodendron with similar results.


The Senescent Artist Visits His Alma Mater on the Occasion of the Breakup of His Marriage


The wood battens wheeze, groan
under the feet of the dancers who practice on-stage:
the heave of jumps, the splintery
inhale, exhale
as bodies bargain the price of gravity down,
the sewing machine staccato of running, arced trajectories across the stage
describes the feeling in your chest.
A person performs a series of leaps punctuated by stutter- or half-steps:
silence, stepped on, snaps back taut
pipes and plumbing,
a collective
metallic stomp
in time with the landings.
This room you’re in,
both foundation and basement, part of a system
of valves and chambers, halls
lined with doors to studios, poured in the heart of concrete.
In the heart of concrete—


“—Overheard by opposing gangs, both of which gangs were seeking control of the twelve hundred block of Ninth St. Members of the two gangs kidnapped the newly-wed couple, who were having an argument in their car that was parked in front of the library, three blocks from the hotly contested turf. Representatives for the gangs agreed to the couple’s safe return, provided civic authorities grant the gangs permission to solve their problems in the streets, alleys, warehouses and night spots along the waterfront: grant the gangs the inalienable human right to work out their dispute in their own way.”


Never forget
Staring into the dark,
Staring down
The dark
Of blacked-out auditorium
Like you are staring down the barrel of a gun,
As Robert Fripp’s sedate guitar
Begins to play, and stops, and then to play again,
Over what was just played,
An electric hum like the echo of the surf
Crashing over the sound of surf:
Over and over, again and again, intricate sound
Concentrating your faculties
When out of the abyssal dark the stage leaps forth,
Frozen, glittering with hoarfrost,
Every detail,
Freed from the void for only an instant,
Burns and sears
Before the latent image dark returns
To pulse and throb
While the salts of silver halide
Suspended in the gelatin-coated contact paper
Of memory react
To that one brief instant of light,
And a member of Parsons Dance performs the solo showcase “Caught”:
Floating as a series of leaps that flash
Strobe-drenched from front to back around the stage
Like an animal on a carousel,
Or cut-out silhouettes affixed in a zoetrope cylinder.
Blinking dark like the space between
The inter-cut of slits
Creates the illusion of something static
Perceived to be in motion: through ribbons of guitar
That corkscrew and spiral like tickertape
And spall into the void,
You hear the floorboards heave and groan.
The pulse of light picks up.
The photographic negatives pile up, fill up
Your short-term memory.
You forget where you are and what you’re looking at.
When the strobe light stops
Her prior poses
Remain as luminous pentimenti
Stenciled in the darkness, fraying around the edges
Like effervescent tablets
Dissolving in your consciousness,
Until she appears at
The bottom of a well of light
Projected from above:
Head down, and hands behind her back;
Between the crimping of her bandeau top and harem pants,
Midriff working like a bellows,
With every gasp for air
Distended as the ball joint of a Bellmer doll.
The dark returns,
And then the pulse of light
That picks her up,
And never sets her down
Holding her up so she hovers in place:
Doll-like fixed-posed arms
Stiff at her sides,
Legs straight and shoulder width apart,
Gouging the fabric
Of some unspeakable darkness.