EMERGENCY: I FLING
open the call box— the black phone handle, barraged with red fire ants.
Hugh and I started a band called Lonely Couple and wrote a song by the same name. We only performed it a handful of times, in Boston, where were undergrads. I was the lead singer, I thought though, looking back, we harmonized: Wilfred Bourgeois, you’re part of us And this is a song for you So I guess I was simply a singer without an instrument. Our friends have left us all alone At this lonely table for two. Wilfred, would you marry us? It’s the hardest thing to do… I played the accordion and keyboard but we didn’t own either. Hugh strummed a guitar with a colorful strap from Guatemala. He’d make me dinner at his Kenmore Square apartment— usually spaghetti with ketchup that he thought was the same thing as tomato sauce. I didn’t have the heart to tell him there was such a thing as jarred Ragu, and besides, it actually tasted good. This was what marriage was about in the abstract, learning to love another’s innocence and quirks. He was dreamy as he played his chords, but we knew he was headed for the Peace Corps and I for grad school. Wilfred Bourgeois, my uncle, had visited us and made quite an impression, so much so that we put him in a song. He had lost his wife when she was young and never remarried. Maybe we saw him as a romantic— and that Hugh and I would love each other more if we weren’t together forever. But it occurs to me now how smart we were not to pin each other down, how we drifted on without too much drama. We populated our band with classmates, theater or music majors, who came and went. Some would later become famous for sex addiction or Wall Street banking. One of these guys had a girlfriend in cosmetology school who teased my hair with a tiny pronged comb so I could more resemble Kate Pierson from the B52s. I knew how to shake on stage, but grew stiff if someone tried to take me home after the show. I wasn’t married to Hugh and never would be, but we had loyalty and respect. I’m remembering him and all this, which I’m surely remembering at least partially wrong, because I found the lyrics of our one and only original song in Hugh’s perfect penmanship. It was folded in the laminated menu of an Indian restaurant where we apparently performed once for a samosa and dal.
ODE TO THE AMPERSAND
& what one reviewer calls the “sly female squiggle” in reviewing Julie’s new book which is full of ampersands & magic that makes me see the ampersand’s tilted hip, one leg folded up & sat upon. The Latin curvy cursive, & her French cousin, the treble clef, were my favorite symbols to draw as a kid. How easy it was then to conflate words & music. The & folded one leg atop the opposite knee, a calf draped below, a foot hooked, dangling a shoe. The appeal of all that coiling & twirling, notes & script— one definition, I suppose, of verse. O, ampersand, you bring two names closer together than even the word “and,” which, according to the Writers Guild, simply means that those credited worked on the same screenplay but quite possibly at different times, maybe one even rewriting the other’s work. An ampersand between writers’ names means that the two were in the same room, collaborating side by side, & though technically I write this ode alone, it is really with Julie Marie Wade (poet) & Sarah Sarai (reviewer) who make me remember how much I loved to draw the ampersand & treble clef & play the keyboard which I learned from Mr. Solek who was a member of a polka band called The Happy Bachelors, & he did seem happy as an adult who wasn’t part of a Mr. & Mrs. or a Mr. and Mrs. The Dating Game was big then. “Bachelorette Number One, if the whole world were listening, what would you say?” The cover of the Bachelors’ album was pink which didn’t imply anything to me at the time, but now I wonder if those bachelors were gay— Mr. & Mr. or Mr. and Mr.— or simply young & hetero & capitalizing on their single status like boy bands do now. The Bachelors recorded together in a studio, twisting horns & button accordions, the “sly female squiggle” a part of all creation. I listened to the album on my parents’ record player & imagined all the kinds of adultness I could possibly one day inhabit, all the associations of sound & symbol & word. I thrilled at the polka music that lived inside the polka dot, the pulsating bouncing ball in the “Sing Along with Mitch,” the seed that would one day blossom into karaoke. Yesterday the Supreme Court struck down DOMA which meant a lot of celebration & yet this morning we read that the ruling won’t help couples in the 35 states that have laws against gay marriage & sometimes an “&” feels more like a “but.” “Bachelorette Number Two, if you could live anywhere, where would that be?” I download the actual ruling & am soon adrift in legalese. Nothing & everything has seemed to change this 27th day of June in the year 2013. My sister & her husband celebrate their 32nd anniversary in Florida, where two women in love can’t wed. I’m in Portugal where transportation workers, fed up with austerity measures, strike, but those who can afford it flag down taxis, the drivers of which are happy for the extra work. One tells me about his memories of the Carnation Revolution &, because he was a kid when it happened, how he thought every conflict from there on in would be solved with flowers in rifle muzzles. I feel the same nostalgia for Roe vs. Wade &, since I was a kid when it passed, I am dismayed Wendy Davis had to filibuster two nights ago in Texas. “Bachelorette Number Three, if you could travel back or forward in time, what year would you visit and why?” How easy it is for me even now to conflate words & music, memory & fact, & that one simple afternoon when I wrote my first song in the book Mr. Solek gave me, the pages lined with staffs, & I made my ornate treble clef, & writing was writing, & marriage was in a far off key I could barely hear, & then I made an ordinary sandwich & read the liner notes on The Happy Bachelors’ LP sleeve & each ampersand flipped to become shoulders & arms, hugs between each musician’s name.
“Ode to the Ampersand” references Sarah Sarai’s review of Julie Marie Wade’s book Postage Due (White Pine Press, 2013) in Lambda Literary.