Jeff Simpson

Elegy with a Balcony and Opening Credits

Tonight I am small. I con­tain soli­tudes, similitudes
of a life I once raised a glass to while observ­ing a stalk
of sum­mer wheat, but here in the Palace Theatre,
watch­ing the Die Hard dou­ble fea­ture, I’ve got it all—
pop­corn and diet soda, com­ing attrac­tions with vampires
and robots built fast for those with ADD, and I think if you’d
wink at me, flash a lit­tle pre­view of what’s to come,
then maybe lat­er we could bring two sticks together
and catch fire or at least make a spark. Sometimes we’re kindling,
some­times the ash, but when McClane starts kick­ing ass
I feel alive and cav­a­lier until he runs across bro­ken glass,
and I reach back to touch the thin spot in my hair,
know­ing you feel embar­rassed for bald men the way I felt
embar­rassed in the Wal-Mart bath­room for the paraplegic
emp­ty­ing his catheter into the floor drain, caught like a cricket
in a web in the mid­dle of the room. O the entanglements
we fly into and must escape from by com­ing to a place with dirty
ceil­ings and sticky floors, a bal­cony on the edge of collapse.
And so I’ll toast to the sea­son, and to the self, and to the thunderstorm
that churned above the library, where yes­ter­day I checked out
Barry Switzer’s auto­bi­og­ra­phy and found buried between recruiting
vio­la­tions and wish­bone for­ma­tions, a book­mark illustrated
with car­toon­ish kids rid­ing moun­tain bikes toward the sunset,
as in Look, ma, no hands!, as in the trans­for­ma­tive power
of read­ing. On the back, some­one wrote Fuck books in mag­ic
mark­er. I laughed, then thought about regret and the improbability
of time trav­el because I’d repeat the sec­ond grade just to write
some­thing as mean and direct on the book­marks I kept next the glue.
Instead of Be mine on the Valentines, I’d chis­el a new gospel
in cap­i­tal red let­ters—I don’t like you. You’re ugly. The Magic Eight
Ball says you’ll be sin­gle and preg­nant by junior year.
O the things we wish to revise, the ways we want­ed to change.
I’m dis­ap­point­ed no one men­tions the pos­i­tive side of Jeff Goldblum’s
char­ac­ter mor­ph­ing into an insect-human hybrid in Cronenberg’s
1986 remake of The Fly. Sure he devel­ops sores and must vomit
on his food before ingest­ing it, and yes he wrecks his relationship
with the attrac­tive Geena Davis char­ac­ter, but what peo­ple forget
is sim­ple con­ver­sion. Seth Brundle steps into one tele­pod and emerges
from anoth­er, stronger and unique. I had acne in high school.
I dat­ed a girl who threw-up her food after ingest­ing it, but we
didn’t change into the things we want­ed to be—the blue­bird, dolphin,
or tiger. I want­ed to be the spi­der, the fid­dle­back mak­ing you dosey
doe with my tox­ic song. Besides, who needs books when I’ve got
Bruce Willis hiss­ing Yippie-ki-yay moth­er­fuck­er! and toss­ing bad
guys out of thir­ty-sto­ry win­dows? Who needs imagination
when I’ve got De Niro talk­ing to him­self in the mir­ror, Glenn Close
boil­ing bun­nies on the stove? Watch some­thing long enough and you’ll learn
to love it a lit­tle. After sur­geons tore apart my shoul­der, I spent the next
day watch­ing a Columbo marathon on a 14-inch screen, and now I’ve got
a soft spot for Peter Falk’s glass eye, just as I must cite John Wayne
as an ear­ly influ­ence because moms made me watch reruns of Rio Bravo
in lieu of a father. Ya need to man up, pil­grim! The sec­ond fea­ture rolls,
and Bruce is back, all shaved head and design­er leather jack­et, liv­ing free
and dying hard as he com­bats ter­ror­ists and hack­ers in CGI. And when
the moment comes for the catch­phrase that’ll make the implausible
dis­ap­pear, the last word gets drowned out by the sound of something
explod­ing. I weep and throw a hand­ful of Junior Mints at the screen.
Sometimes you’re the accel­er­ant, some­times the charred meat
at the bot­tom of the grill. But maybe if I run my hand up your skirt,
remem­ber­ing how your Nazarene father banned you from tank tops
and mat­inées because he knew what can hap­pen in the dark,
then maybe we’ll be for­giv­en, and I’ll whis­per, Are you the gatekeeper?
And you’ll say, Are you the key­mas­ter? The movie is almost over
and Bruce is out of bul­lets. Soon house­lights and end­ing credits.
Soon the evening will call us home, and we’ll be forced to live another
day, so let’s call in sick and stay for anoth­er reel, the way I used to fake
fevers just to rewind The Neverending Story and learn every minute
how The Nothing sur­rounds us. Let us break-up the seats and make shelter.
Let us fall to our knees and wor­ship the pro­jec­tor. May our teeth be pulled
to the sweet­ness of a cav­i­ty, our days be roy­al and easy, screened in silver,
a motion pic­ture, while ush­er-boys wait to sweep the palace.

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