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--for Kirsty MacColl
O the songs you sang of Brazil, of the Amazons
boiling up their rice in satellite dishes, stealing whatever men
or comfort they could! For years I dreamed of turning Amazon,
letting my slips and hair grow wild as flowered vines in the Amazon.
Did I tell you? Once near Rio, I nearly drowned
when the tide, like a lover, stole back to the Amazon,
her brown lips wide and waiting. They had to pull me up
before I sank for good, like you, my pale body yanked up
like a tooth rotten at the root, while the sounds of the Amazon
crooned in my blood. They warmed me like love.
The songs you sang were always about love.
The boys in the chip shops lied to you about love,
slick under their Elvis haircuts, eyes sequined like the Amazon's
dark amniotic waters. Them you loved,
as much as the Irish who fled to New York, loving
the night sounds of Christmas bells kissing the stars, men
chained to Church and self-hatred who called you 'Luv,'
their unwashed necks tasting of bitterroot and Love-
Me-Not when you lured them down, down, down
to your apartment. Even the Socialists who wouldn't go down
on you, their bad skins splintering in the cold, these too you loved,
teasing them into the bars where you propped them up
on wood stools to demand why you weren't quite up
to our standards yet, our Madonnas and Kylies, app-
aratchiks of plasticity, of de-thighed loving-
kindness spray painted pink. You were the London girl, flying up
and over townships, backed by a flaming Amazonian
'do and Johnny Marr beat. Lonely girls, we put you up
on a pedestal. You put us on the pill, crooning Are you up
for disappointment? in our bedrooms packed with men's
photographs and colognes. On a cold gray day, a cold gray man
will do, I learned to sigh, and gathered up
all signs of strangers' passing like treasures from the drowned;
fragile wood ships sinking into horizons, down
to the tips of their amber sails; down
to me, where I lived through a voice that called up
starfish and sirens, breathy songs so tearful as to drown
sailors in their own beds. They said: In Mexico, she drowned
in front of her two children. Isn't that sad? Frankly, I'd love
a better word than sad right now. Something less drowsy
and inert, something to reflect the woman you were drowning
in her bathtub, clutching a martini. The Amazon's
sheared off breast perhaps, or the war cries that rattled their jungle
like silver spears. I'm in your eyes; I'm drowning,
you purred in stereo until I could only picture the man
who'd pull me under the way you could, into the male,
heady registers my voice could barely reach. Here comes that man
again, Kirsty, the one who can't stop killing you with his down-
burst of sighs, his tooth-and-nail kisses. You with your black jack-
boots and bejeweled cashmeres, mane
of hair sweetly teased into powdery red, op-
eratic clouds settled after the nuclear blast: what man
can resist you? Not even that Insatiable Mister
who's caught you (at last) into his thin arms, crying, Beloved!
the way he once caught at me, adrift at sea and in love
with the tug of shoals and moon. I swore no more songs for dead men
or rock stars but you were the last straw, my Penthesilea
calling all her Amazons
to war. O my Amazon,
the girls you've left are still here; like me, waving, not drowning,
before the poets on their pylons, eyes fixed to the ships sailing above
us in the night, mouths full of the hymns you sang of love.
The world is beautiful and wrong. But the men, Kirsty. O the men.
Paisley Rekdal is
the author of the books A Crash of Rhinos, The Night
My Mother Met Bruce Lee, and Six Girls Without Pants.
She is the recipient of fellowships from the NEA, the Fulbright
Foundation, and the Wyoming Arts Council.