Jeanne Moreau, I Love You
In the film, Jeanne Moreau has a lover in Paris,
a rich one on his polo horse, and a new one,
archaeologist and poor, connoisseur of good bones,
met on the side of a road when her car
breaks down during the back and forth of Dijon Paris
Paris Dijon. The husband in Dijon is unbearable
in his sarcastic neglect of her.
How can anyone resist her pouty lips,
dismissed by cameramen as not photogenic—
I want to kiss those lips, their weary blues.
Her orgasm, shown as a trembling hand,
labeled The Lovers pornographic
until the case reached the United States Supreme Court,
Justice Potter Stewart ruling, I know it when I see it,
and this is not porn, he so famously declared.
I remember, in an interview, she announced
that sex as an older woman was undignified,
which I thought so sad. But, in the film,
the path of existence as domestic furniture
deviates in unexpected ways: one night of making love
and there she goes with the new lover, in his mini
Citroën, away into the sunrise, into a revised life,
escaping the death so resident in her old one.
And sex is a little death, sure, but escape from death too,
done here to the music of Brahms.
Besides, her archaeologist makes her laugh.
I don’t want to see her die for not one,
but two indiscretions, this being 1958. What courage
she has driving away from the Lake of Indifference
to Terra Incognita, as the map drawn at the beginning
of the movie lays out the land of love!
Not even one time does she look back.
And maybe if Vivian hadn’t gotten a headache
that day, one that drilled into the back
of her right eye so that she no longer could stand
the muffle and clack of her fellow office workers’
typing, she wouldn’t have left early for home,
wouldn’t have found her husband naked
in their shared bed with a woman
she’d never seen before. She fled Brooklyn without
a change of clothes, rang my parents’ doorbell,
expecting to move in, at least to be invited
up their too-steep staircase for the night.
No way, said my mother, hands on hips, the jezebel
that Vivian hadn’t wanted her brother to marry.
In 1905, Henry Darger was placed involuntarily
in the Illinois Asylum for Feeble-Minded Children
for too much masturbation. Later, he created
watercolors, collage paintings of the virtuous
Vivian Girls, seven intersexed princesses, incorporated
into a single-spaced, 15,145-page manuscript.
The day that Vivian rang the doorbell,
I was listening to Snakefinger’s song, The Vivian Girls,
on his album, Chewing Hides the Sound, except—
it didn’t. Vivian called my mother a bitch,
howled in the doorway, long, loud, and hard.
She scrunched up her red-stained dark eyes,
yelled, you can all die! And poof!—she vanished.
At the wedding of her grandson, decades later,
we’re together again, Vivian muttering,
spittle flying, my uncle silently seated at the table
farthest away. She was always crazy as a tack,
Vivian says of my mother, who isn’t around anymore
to correct her mixed metaphor. The name Vivian
means alive, a curse that is her victory.
She’s outlived her brother too, molders away
with her daughter, who, fleeing a husband’s beatings
is glad to have had her own curse lifted, resigned
to have little choice but to take her in.
My first beloved high heels were an impractical
blue Italian, strappy suede sandals
from a Lower East Side
discount shop—I paid cash and cradled them home.
You wasted your money, tsked my left-wing friend.
Don’t wear such painful things just for men,
chided my feminist friend.
It was the late 70s; I was warned I would ruin my knees.
I was in a women’s group, was supposed to be
raising my consciousness.
Still, I wanted any man I liked
to want nothing more in life
than to slide off my shoes.
My underwear too, always black and lacy.
I painted thick smoky-black lines
around my eyes.
I wanted the gaze. I wanted their smiles.
I wanted my lips punk purple.
With little faith in my feelings, or those of men,
I depended on all this. I wanted to be bad.
The blue of the shoes played off my jeans.
My painted toes played off the blue.
I thought I can walk in these for miles.
And I did.
Susana H. Case is a Professor and Program Coordinator at the New York Institute of Technology. She is the author of: Salem In Séance (WordTech Editions), Elvis Presley’s Hips & Mick Jagger’s Lips (Anaphora Literary Press) and 4 Rms w Vu (Mayapple Press, forthcoming in 2014). Please visit her online at: http://iris.nyit.edu/~shcase/.