Operation Smart Blonde
When we first started seeing one another,
you told me about all the other women you’d ever loved,
admired, slept with. None were as smart or blonde
as I, you said, before asking, How about you?
No one, I answered. I’ve never loved another soul.
Nor will I. When you didn’t believe me, I explained
that before you I believed in abstinence. In saving
myself for the perfect one. It was a religion.
A way of life. After all, I had studied theology
and philosophy and was still considering advanced degrees.
I wasn’t just a dumb blonde. You laughed in my face,
and told me about a trapeze artist you made love to
mid-swing. A magician who sliced your body in half
in a fit of passion. You’ve never been the same since.
Still I refused to speak. Until one day you accused me of lying.
You said I was covering up my past. Finally I gave in.
I violated my code of secrecy.
I told about Operation Smart Blonde.
How for years I worked for the Secret Service.
I was part of an elite force consisting solely of blonde women,
a select squadron of friendly fliers.
More than once I had to sleep with a masked man,
and in the name of world peace. I was bound and gagged,
or maybe he was. It all blurs in my mind. Perhaps I was drugged.
Once we leapt from a speeding jet, our parachutes slowly opening,
our legs entwined as the earth exploded beneath us in a million flames.
Maybe it was Desert Storm when I went completely blind
from the smoke from all the oil refineries. For weeks
I could see only with my fingers and tongue. There was one
officer whom I knew only by the taste of his skin, his scent
of cigarettes and limes. He kept me alive on honey and figs.
On my last term of duty, I was airlifted to safety-whisked
out of bed, wrapped in white flags like a mummy.
When I landed on home turf, I was told I had destroyed
the heart of the enemy. If it hadn’t been for me,
it could have been World War III.
Ever since I’ve suffered from withdrawal-trying to content
myself with humdrum sex, everyday events, men ordinary
as sausage and eggs. As grits or hashed browns.
It isn’t easy. Always I dream a pair of callused hands
on my hips, the whine of planes overhead,
the touch of a stranger whose face I never see,
whose name I never speak, whose last wish I never can forget.
Lately I’ve been trying to be a good Buddhist. I like the concepts:
becoming free of suffering, happy, peaceful, blissed-out. But I have this
a not very Buddhist theory — that most people are actually mannequins.
They have official positions in the world, with nametags to show for it,
so that they know who they are and what to do. But their minds
are recordings. Like those announcements in the airport:
Welcome to Pittsburgh International Airport, a smoke-free terminal.
Maybe I think this because I am stuck in the Pittsburgh airport and
have been for days.
I have begun to notice the tell-tale signs: When you ask a mannequin
a question, the response is always a variation of: I am sorry. I cannot
Their eyes are fixed on the person behind you, whom they will soon
of the same news. It isn’t personal. It’s just the way they are.
But occasionally there are real people. On rare mornings you glimpse
but most go home for lunch and never return.
Maybe I have it backwards, that it’s true, what the Buddhists say,
everything is a projection, that it’s I who am so indifferent to the world,
that I see, not humans, but machines. This is not a good thing.
According to Buddhism, there are three responses to the world:
attraction, aversion and indifference. The third is the most common.
In the third response we treat others as if they don’t exist at all,
or only exist to serve us, as if they were mere mannequins.
Thus a janitor might be seen as a living vacuum cleaner. A waitress
as a pop machine. And a stranger walking down the corridor
(or one who serves no function for you)
might be no more interesting than a large yellow ball rolling past.
Indifference, according to Buddhist philosophy, is subtle and cruel.
It is the cause of much human suffering.
I, however, am not certain this is the case. Indifference, I believe, has
I am not sure I really want to know why someone can’t help me,
or what is meant by “mechanical difficulties,”
whether or not the planes have holes in the fuel tanks or windshields
or have been recently hijacked to Bogatá. I have friends, however,
who are soothed by any show of personal attention, which is,
perhaps, a natural response to a world saturated with mannequins.
These friends are mostly poet-types who even get excited
by hand-written rejection letters. Me, I like the type-written forms
written by an anonymous “we.” I picture a small army of mannequins
in magazine offices around the world, typing day and night,
heaps of the requisite forms—
Although we have read your manuscript with care,
we regret to inform you it does not meet our needs.
The needs of mannequins are a mysterious proposition.
If asked on the wrong day what they are, one might even respond,
Welcome to Pittsburgh International Airport, a smoke-free terminal.
I was telling this to my friend Syd, who used to edit The New England
when he read me sections of his recent and very personal rejection
from Joseph Parisi, a letter which began nicely enough
with a few niceties such as “Thanks for your missive”
and “so sorry to be late” and concluded: “But I wonder if you’ve ever
really read the magazine” in which “the poets presented are driven
by genuine necessity to write and have something to say, and don’t
And: “Please keep in mind that we receive over 80,000 poems p.a., and,
amid many other financial and administrative responsibilities, perhaps
I am beginning to lose patience with people who repeatedly and often
unfairly consume increasingly pressured editorial time.”
Maybe he wrote the letter in the Pittsburgh airport.
Maybe Mr. Parisi’s a Buddhist at heart and knows he should never show
he doesn’t realize anger is not appropriate for Buddhists, either.
Just last night in the airport bookstore I read a sutra on anger,
acclaimed by the Dalai Lama himself. I learned why there is never
a good reason to be angry. Because, in truth, all we see and experience
is nothing more than a passing moment, a cloud dissolving in thin air.
Why hold onto a cloud? Especially when you could do something else,
like board the first plane out of Pittsburgh? Who cares
if it takes you to Bogatá?
Even then, I imagine a real Buddha would probably do nothing
but smile and nod. Which makes me wonder if the Buddha, himself,
is nothing more than a glorified mannequin. Picture him as a living
or better yet, a toilet bowl, one of those super-flush airport models.
No matter what drops in, or who, you can swish him away
in a matter of minutes. Now this might be a cause for happiness.
The Talking Pussy
Wherever I go, I carry a pussy with me. How do I carry it,
you might ask, but I assure you I and my pussy are not the same thing
so carry it I must. Asleep or awake, depending on who else is in the
the pussy talks to me. Quietly of course, so as not to attract attention
or disturb the peace. And honestly, much too honestly, really.
I am so glad when those who hear it pretend not to. Or perhaps they
they are only hearing things. On rare occasions the pussy gets carried
Then it sings off key or starts composing poetry. Of course, most don’t
(or so I hope) that it’s the pussy and not I who sings, or how difficult it
to carry a pussy everywhere I go, much less listen to the running
when all I wish for is silence. A little relief. I’ve even sought medical
but the doctors insist the pussy is all in my mind. I need only stop
about it, and the pussy will vanish forever. But I keep wondering:
if the pussy is in my mind, then what if my thoughts leave first?
And if I have to pick between a pussy and a brain, which will it be?
After all, how can one choose between a player and her flute?
The sea below and the sky above? And who am I
to command the waves: “thus far and no further shall you come.”