Wise Poets – Robin Coste Lewis – Paramount

Robin Coste Lewis

There were six of us, but we paid
just for four. Before we reached the front,
Daddy would pull the car out of line
so Ritchie and Stevie could jump
inside the trunk. We’d smile and shush
right past the guard. I was five,
and still wore felt pajamas with the feet in.

The hefty steel speaker we hooked
over the passenger seat window.
Its knob and the static it sparked
when tuned down the Paramount’s
station. We saw all the movies there:
Cooley High, Coffy, Sparkle, Shaft.Perhaps
it was then that my longing first began
for mirrors, rhinestones and polyester.

Daddy’s long tan Ford. Whenever we drove—
all six of us— down the Harbor Freeway on Saturdays
to visit Grandmother, I would roll down
the wide rear window and stick my head out
into the Santa Ana wind and make believe
it was a long river of water and I was
washing my hair with Wella Balsam.

In one scene, she wore a big gardenia
in her hair; the next she was tied up
on the floor in a white padded room,
jerking. A real story, at least. I remember
that deep prick of having sensations
for which I’d yet to learn any words:
acting, aesthetic pleasure, biography.
Yet there were other feelings I knew enough
to know I didn’t need any words.

If my father could have heard what I was thinking
he would have made me kneel in the corner
with my face to the wall. She was too skinny
and dark to be that lady with the voice, stranger
than Christmas. Why couldn’t she be fat
and yellow? And Billy Dee looked so smart
in his sky-blue fur coat, hair brushed down
hard and wet, I could smell the Murray’s
dripping off the screen.

I can still feel the light of the projector
moving over my bird chest. I sat
between my mother and father.
My sisters and brothers were in the back. Bodies
walked across me; cars drove up
and down my face; then wearing an opal
dress, she walked onto the screen,
and swam through the blue light
hovering all around me.