- Tramp, and: Swallowing the Whistle, and: Valentino’s Last Word
Because everyone’s deaf in a silent film
and can’t speak unless spoken to
and only then through text
that stitches one plot to the next
and pitches the heroine’s fate to the villain’s whim,
the scrim of the screen hides even this, initially:
she’s blind, too— soubrette who falls
for the push-broom and the man
who wears its sober sobriquet.
Which came first: the dancehall girls
doing the 23 skidoo, or the mayor’s voice
chastising them from the tail-end [End Page 94]
of a kazoo? Tramp or trammeled dictator,
beggar, thief, vagrant, whore: woman
who couldn’t make up her mind anymore
if she wanted to be a wife or that part of a spade
against which you rest your foot
to force it into the ground.
To stamp, to tamp, to tread, to trample,
to push, to shove, to bruise, to press down—
from here on out, everything will be loud.
The great beauty in listening to nothing
is imagining what nitrate’s made obsolete:
the meaning of a word, its unscripted deceit. [End Page 95]
Swallowing the Whistle
Pursed lips are perjury, adding injury to insult.
When you say you love me, do you mean right now,
or for all eternity? Like Chaplin who swallowed
the whistle, I blow you a kiss, hollow hiss
in the ear of history. It’s not magic
we’re marked by, but the ax Eve used
to chop down the tree, so the snake had to crawl
on his belly, as God intended. Quia delectasti me, Domine,
in factura tua, she said as she swung it—Oh Lord,
glad by thy workThou hast made me—
my bare hands, that dead language,
come alive. [End Page 96]
Valentino’s Last Word
Who could have predicted the death of Valentino would spark a rash of suicides among suburban housewives?
A woman in Wyoming, who, just the night before, happily combed her daughter’s hair, could go on no longer; another,
whose husband never loved her like the Sheik of Araby, did he? Outside the Polyclinic Hospital, the poison swallower’s call for help
was answered by Lucille Vanderbilt, Switchboard Operator, with the curt reply, “He’s dead.” More or less, it was the end
of an era, the end even of the elevator boy at the Ritz, tired of standing all day alongside the grief of the rich,
who dropped himself over- dramatically into the quay. A world away, Fascists stood guard over the bier
in black-shirt, placed there by his producer. One hundred thousand mourners chased his casket through the streets, though it bore only a wax effigy
of a man with a farming degree. On and on into the next century, The Chazz Cats at the Albion sang his song: at night [End Page 97]
when you’re asleep (with no pants on)into your tent I’m gonna creep (with no turban on).
Appendicitis or overdose of Rogaine, trying to regain his hairline after the fact of it: dust to dust, death came as it must—
no stranger than silence, moving air pulled through the trees so quietly, it doesn’t shake a single leaf, but takes the last words from the lips
of a dead man’s mouth: Don’t worry, Chief. Blasé or bored, greeting or warning or explanation, most words aren’t necessary
for communication, though it often helps to see punctuation, which expresses disbelief or delight, any emotion (like fright)
that compels a face to react. Never again will we see the world so white and blackly lit
that color didn’t enter into it, that speech was such an afterthought, it could be left behind like a note scrawled on a napkin. [End Page 98]
Robin Ekiss is a former Stegner Fellow at Stanford, the recipient of a Rona Jaffe Award for Emerging Women Writers, the author of The Mansion of Happiness (University of Georgia Press, 2009), the winner of the Shenandoah/Glasgow Prize, and a finalist for the Northern California and California Book Awards.