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Susan M. Schultz

Four poems

At the Tanning Salon

The dominatrix tanned herself between a judge and a gay man. She suspected their motives for turning brown were different, having little to do with judgment, except the snap kind. Best not to be too pink, especially when springtime makes the desert blossom amid dust and dinosaur bones. My business is global politics, she thought, lived out in the bedroom, where it belongs. The pictures she’d seen on tv showed amateurs imitating her techniques, yet offering no pleasure to the other side. A prison is no place to dominate another, she thought, devoid of the beauties of self-abnegation, free will. Hers was a theological bent, in tune with higher powers (more spiritual than psychological) that re-set shifting balances between genders or souls, for she believed in them.

The dominatrix aimed at the straight and narrow path where work and sex intersect; in her, men vested their hopes, their prayers, their desires not to have or be. She wondered if the judge saw it that way, felt empathy for so many of those he’d incarcerated, his dominion domination of another kind. What did he make of the gay man, father to twins, whose skin fleshed out a politics of moderation, paradoxical to some. Whose will to call his own? The dominatrix turned to face another angle of the artificial sun, refrained from the obvious questions. Their roles were delicious, even without the play.

Former Child Star

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.

— 1 Corinthians

The headline read, Former child star arrested for possession of controlled substance. Above all, it begged the question of enjambment. He played these games with himself, with words, between shoots when afternoons sagged. He liked phrases like “controlled substance” for its optimism (this was an election year), and the way “possession” of them somehow marked the reverse. The word “arrest” would put an end to that, he thought. He wondered most about the phrase “former child star,” whether to emphasize “star” or “child.” His life had seemed more se- than pre-quel, as if the beginning was lost to a succession of captured movements, never quite his own. His memories wandered from the house that had seemed his to one he’d been left in for the camera’s eye alone. Or so it seemed, before the premiere, when they dressed him as a child and asked that he speak as one.

The former child star screamed horror in a poster “for promotional uses only.” Another former child claims they slept in the same bed, but swears there was nothing between them. Hollywood forgets them both, for different reasons. Forgive the man-child his lack of a childhood, cut and then pasted in the paragraph after, where the child-man appears, clean-shaven, in a mug shot, accused of behavior inappropriate for child or man. For who’s to be the former child’s judge but one who passed through unseen or heard, who remembers fondly the skateboard on which his name was carved.

Local Politician

The MC kept mispronouncing her name. She mouthed it back, corrected, but the MC looked the other way. She spoke in Japanese and sang a song by a former internee, old man who wavered beside her. Was it a song about the towers, the barbed wire, a woman’s tubes tied without her knowing? She looks good, someone said. The crowd filed past a cut ribbon into the gallery. There were family photos: the Yamamotos in Arkansas; the Hasegawas at Heart Mountain; the son in Italy; the son at Tule Lake∗. Rows of barracks in the desert. And there was the proclamation, signed by a president, to say that words could not express. She’d served a year at Kailua Correctional for what she told the judge all politicians do. She didn’t sing beyond the genius of barbed wire, but paused to say she had a job in recycling, did anyone know anyone with scrap.

∗Refers to internment camps for Japanese Americans during the Second World War, and to the 442nd Infantry Division, composed in part of the sons of internees.

The Conspiracy Theorist

The conspiracy theorist drives a Japanese car with three hubcaps, “I [heart] my wife” bumpersticker on the back. Afternoons, he goes to the community pool, takes pictures from below. He was always first to find the change to a room, however small, whether the stray wisp of a spider’s web or the tiny painting his mother hid beside the shower in the space of a missing tile. As he grew up, he realized that alteration is itself a glue, that what changes connects. Only connect he only got to later. But for then it was the Oz in Oswald his parents uttered over dinner in the days after his first assassination, that first loner pulling too many strings. He dreamed of flea-bitten hotels and ballrooms, yes, but he awoke with the smell of cigars in his nostrils, scent of organized outrage. He loved Marilyn Monroe, not for her surfaces, but as the linch-pin between Jack and the Jewish playwright, Sinatra and the Italian slugger, quadropoly of male power.

What he learns he puts on the web, spider of the information age, design governing in things so small. When asked to define “conspiracy,” he denies any difference between it and collusion, cop-out of the media’s false hounds. Some people would say, he would say, proves repetition is design, that there’s no such thing as insistence, only the orthodontics of a single phrase. The boy starts his story once upon a time, knowing that’s how stories begin. How they end is less certain — less certain still how we read them, as consumers or as spies. Tell us again how the man in the red Studebaker got to Texas.

— for M.R.

Susan M. Schultz is author of three books of poems, including Memory Cards & Adoption Papers (Potes & Poets, 2001) and And Then Something Happened (Salt, 2004). She edited The Tribe of John: Ashbery and Contemporary Poetry (University of Alabama Press, 1995) and has a forthcoming book of essays from the same publisher, A Poetics of Impasse in Modern and Contemporary American Poetry. She edits Tinfish Press (http:/ / out of her home in Kane`ohe, Hawai`i.

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