Read the Goddamn Poem
by Anne Elliott
This next poem goes out to my buddy Marla, she's in the audience right there (hi sweetie) and she really was the poem's inspiration, at least in part; see, we were once eating cheese fries at Nathan's and she looked at me with this huge globule of grody American cheese on her chin--it looked like a little beard, it really did--and I said so, I said, Marla, you look like the cheese bearded lady, and she said, hey, let's go check the freak show, I hear there's a real bearded lady there, and I said hell no, what an awful way to spend a few dollars on that exploitative crap, feeding the horridness, forcing people to capitalize on their differences just so we can feel more normal, just to reinforce how the same all the rest of us are.
And Marla, she just wiped her cheese glob chin off and told me I was full of it: we are all bearded ladies at one time or another, she said, and we're not paying the freak show people to be different, we're paying them to be the same, to be our mirror, like the wavy-ass mirror in the funhouse, where you get to see what you would look like if things had gone very, very differently. And the thing is, the second Marla said this, a big-bearded person approached us on the street, rounding the corner by the defunct Playland, and as he got closer, I noticed that he had tits.
Okay, okay, okay, I know, read the goddamn poem. It's coming, I promise. Hey, this is the poem foreplay, okay? Patience. So anyway this bearded person with tits was approaching us, on the sidewalk in front of Nathan's, as coincidental and improbable as that may sound, and it dawned on me that this was the bearded lady. It must have been, considering we were at Coney Island, and what struck me as weird about this person wasn't the beard, not the beard at all. After all, she was wearing blue jeans and sneakers and a windbreaker and her hair in a ponytail like any normal guy with a beard, and she was walking around the corner quite normally, drinking coffee in the little blue Greek paper cup like anybody on their way to work--like me on my way to work even, coffee in that same type of blue cup--after all, normal people go to their jobs, with or without beards, drinking normal liquids from normal bodegas in normal paper cups. So it really was the discovery of the tits that threw me, threw me way off to the side of normal, made me realize that everything I thought I knew about this person had disappeared in that instant, replaced by a big fat zero. Nothing, a perfect, beautiful nothing, no assumptions, no normal exists, not now or ever.
I'm getting to the poem, I swear. Don't get your undies in a twist. Anyway, the bearded lady leaves, goes to her job, a normal day, and Marla comments that if a gay person marries someone of the opposite sex to look normal then the husband or wife is a beard, regardless of sex. In other words, the beard is a non-gendered symbol for normalcy, and she's right, Marla, and I find myself actually wishing I had a beard. Not to be a man, or to marry one, but just to have a beard, a long, flowing one like Rip Van Winkle; I could braid it or dye it cherry red or curl it or really style it in all sorts of fanciful and indeed feminine ways. How wonderful it would be to be a bearded lady, or any kind of so-called freak for that matter. To embrace it, maybe even cash in on it. To know that truth, whatever it is, the one that only women with full-on beards can really know.
So I wrote this poem, for Marla, for the bearded lady walking to her job, for all the freaks out there, with their freaky jobs--and you know who you are--or you will, someday, if you're lucky. It's a haiku, called "Ode to the Beard I Wish I Had," and here goes:
Baby pearl of cheese:Moment of pure clarity!(Will you marry me?)
About the author:
Anne Elliott has performed her poetry, with and without ukulele, at The Whitney Museum, Lincoln Center, St. Marks Poetry Project, and her local Brooklyn bar. She is working on a collection of short stories about artists, currently titled Light Streaming from a Horse's Ass.