Marilyn the Tortoise, was bequeathed to my brothers and me in '69
by our drug-dealing Cuban building superintendent
who, running one step ahead of the local Anti-
Crime Unit, was forced to leave his French
Provincial mustard velveteen sectional
sofa and the largest RCA model television
money could buy. He packed up what he could of his tight
cellar dwelling in haste, leaving family pet, Marilyn, behind.
She lived her truncated reptilian existence in a roasting pan
lined with gravel; she ate lettuce when we thought to feed her,
and had little choice but to shit where she ate.
Thinking her dead, one day, we discarded her.
Little did we know, tortoises fly
in the face of time -- almost as if death fails
to tunnel into the tender part of their living meat.
Little did we know our Chelonian -- our testudine,
Marilyn, descended directly from the Triassic age.
Little did we know the tortoise we neither
named nor renamed might have lived
a hundred years had we not treated her like garbage,
consigning her to a slow death by negligence.
We felt sorry and stupid and full of guilt and
fear at the pediatrician's office as we read up on
tortoises in Children's Highlights and discovered
our Marilyn, who had lived a life unmarred
by the vicissitudes of glamour,
might have been hibernating when we left her
for dead. We toyed with imagining
she had surpassed our expectations
by cheating death, that Marilyn had scratched her way
out of the garbage room on those slow claws of hers,
her life preserved, her scutes unscathed, and had
managed to venture down Broadway
to the northernmost limit of Van Cortland Park
where she might graze free in a world more capacious
than the silvery oblong limits of her roasting pan.
The tortoise comes closer than many to deathlessness,
but immortality eludes even these creatures.
"Athanatos" she was not,
though Marilyn Monroe was
sometimes called a "goddess,"
after whom our tortoise was named;
she lacked the carapace that serves
as armor to offer protection from predators.
And though premature death
she persisted, everfrozen
above the grate,
the white skirt of her frock, a butter-cream flourish,
an Elizabethan collar aloft, a circumnavigating
froth about her full hips for our pleasure.
We loved our dumb bombshell
blonde. We loved her nude
pinup shots on the beach
where the wind lifted her fair
mess of tresses and caressed her pink
freckled flesh. We loved her gleam, her slow-motion
Milltown ode to her "best friends." Whether heartshaped
or pear-shaped, it's all coal
converted to ice under the pressure of heat
that wends its way toward the prismatic
luster of the whiteness that is full
of color, improbable and rare. We loved
the genuine blonde whose platinum
came from a bottle. We loved our Marilyn,
more concubine than queen, who captivated us;
we prized our glistening treasure,
more adoring than adored, adorned,
incandescent and ablaze, yet dying
too soon; fated to become a monument.
Marilyn would be 80 today, old as a tortoise,
with brown roots and her cartilaginous flesh gone
grey, but forever sewn into her Happy
Birthday Mr. President gown,
her pink wiggle deliciously bound
in a luminescent mesh like fresh catch
shimmering on a line, her mouth a ring of blood,
translucent as she was transparent,
whom the camera loved,
who developed in the dark, fatherless; orphan
daughter of a madwoman, childless
child, shuttling from man to
man in search -- We loved our serial adulteress,
our heavy-lidded slob, our beaming, extravagant
latecomer, our woeful comedienne, our glittering junkie,
our starlet spawned in Spring who failed to claw
her way to autumn. We loved her breathless baby
timbre and those real tits God gave her. We loved the moist
tenderness of her generous living flesh, her damaged
divinity. We adored our Mrs. DiMaggio, whose
Yankee Clipper left roses on her grave for years
after she took a Louisville slugger to his heart.
We loved the Commander-in-Chief's 'booty call,'
the playwright's fetish, Albert Einstein's wet dream --
and though she was anything but Spartan, we loved her
as some Helen of Troy for our day, the piece of
ass that launched a thousand ships.
"Pressure and Heat" appears in Black Irish, a collection of poems (Plain View Press, 2009)
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