Mudlark Flash No. 17 (2002)

Shelley Ettinger

Shelley Ettinger, a secretary at New York University, has been active in progressive movements for 30 years. She co-authored WE WON’T BE SLAVES: WORKFARE WORKERS ORGANIZE (IAC, 1997: NYC). Her poetry has been published in FACETS (October 2001). She is writing her first novel, for which she was recently awarded a Money for Women / Barbara Deming Memorial Fund research grant. She was also awarded a summer 2001 residency at Norcroft Writing Retreat for Women.

B and N Ponder the Statute of Limitations on War Crimes

B was raped by a dog
Don’t blame the dog

If she can’t name the men, or count how many—
it’s been so long, and even then she
they were strong they
were armed they
pinned her they
whipped the dog they
positioned it to mount she
was held face down they
taped her mouth they
covered her eyes her
hands were tied. The beast had at her from behind—
if B couldn’t see the men or whether they were uniformed or wearing suits and ties,
isn’t it best to
let sleeping dogs lie?

Can’t those people let things be?
So long ago
Tuesday, September 11

New York 2001
Late summer night
Another opening
another show
Upper East Siders love art, you know
Flashbulbs explode
Society pages take note
All the right folk
Brooke’s here. Patricia. Oscar. The Klugs. Luly and Tony Duke.
Smatter of small talk. Patina of intellect: the diplomat in a dinner jacket.
Such charm
those jowls
that throaty growl
Thinker. Writer. Cultured, too,
for a Jew.
Horsey-faced N on his arm
Her skin glows
Lips, cheeks
collagen-full. No crows crinkle her eyes. Forehead, mouth wrinkle free
Last week’s Botox injection a bonus: it enhances the lockjaw effect
much prized among the horsey set

N spent the weekend on a farm
They call it a farm
White mansion
colonnaded façade
Expanse of broad green glistening lawns
Gawd they do keep the place up
Spanking clean stables
two hundred horses
Pampered thoroughbreds
sleek as silk
gallop faster than machine-gun fire,

The men who
tend them are
billeted in squat gray huts dubbed bungalows scattered over the back grounds
five bunks per, hot plate, pump, W.C.
Three square meals. All the beans they can eat.
No medieval conditions here
Minimal but decent provisions here
they came north for work
they found it

N loves horsey country. H didn’t go. ‘Give my regrets to Jersey,’ he’d snarled. ‘I have cousins there.’ ‘Darling, please. This is an entirely different thing.’ Huntderdon County air. Space. She loves to see again her oldest friends, some from as long ago as Miss Spence’s School.

Friday cocktail hour
‘Buffy! Muffy! Liddy! Koo!’
Tinkling laughter at the old joke names
the public perception of finishing school girls
Old money, they say, has a smell
N breathes better here
In the morning they'll ride
It will be

Before dinner, out of earshot, a minor tiff.
Hugh, home from the coal mines as he likes to sigh, tips out of the Lincoln. Good lord his bones creak. Takes forever getting home from the Street. What ever happened to banker’s hours? This world is not what it used to be. Now look. Cars. Company. He sighs. No massage, and besides, he’ll have to be nice. At the door, he hears voices behind clinking ice. HK’s cunt. Christ.
Pamela greets him, a martini and her cheek. ‘Dinner in 20.’ ‘I’m tired.’ ‘Drink your drink.’ Ice jiggles. ‘You’re jumpy.’ ‘The drive.’ ‘Now you’re home.’ ‘With the Jewess. How the hell will I eat?’ ‘She’s not. Now behave. Be witty. Be sweet.’ ‘You don’t know how hard it is on the Street.’ ‘Remember, he did you a favor or two.’ ‘You refer, I don’t doubt, to ’73?’ ‘Did you dirty your hands? Did you lose a penny?’ ‘Didn’t he save my ass—see, I know the routine.’ Gruff chuckle. He bends, she musses his hair. ‘All right. It’s true. Without H and Dick every dollar down the tube.’ The memory shudders. Elections. Strikes. Land, factories, kit and kaboodle, damned if it didn’t almost change hands. So give it to H: he managed the game. He followed through. Erased Allende, produced Pinochet. Who was one hell of a fellow. Knew just what to do.
Hugh’s relaxed now he’s
ready for weekend guests he’s
got on his game face he
holds out his hands
‘N, my dear, how do you do?’

Planes flew
Bombs dropped
A bullet in the president’s head
Ten thousand dead
for starters
A new term
for the lexicon
A new use
for the stadium
where B was raped by a dog and
rats gnawed her vulva but
don’t blame the dog
don’t hate the rats. They
did it for H who
did it for Dick who
did it for Hugh who is terribly rich

Cook’s night off
N, country sojourn through, makes do
Something sent up
salads, finger food
Her man prefers substantial fare but
N watches
her figure
his cholesterol
This is the wifely task, and after, at her desk (Louis Quatorze), there’s more. The week’s invitations. Obligations. She sighs. It’s always up to her to decide. Keep his calendar. Pick his tie. At the opening she
graces his side she
glides she’s
his guide
through the upper strata
Arm candy
in no danger of being tossed for a newer model, for she’s his entrée, she thinks
Elder statesman, he thinks,
welcomed in these quarters
for all he’s done
for all of them
and he is,
and he did.
In his prime
in their hire
he performed brilliantly
That is a certainty
Now he’s hounded he’s
becoming an embarrassment
Last week he fled Paris
the hordes, the haunted in hot pursuit
Pay for your crimes, they cry
Cambodia East Timor
Chile Palestine

they call him

mass murderer

sometimes people die but
that’s all in the past
he writes
she rides
together, N hopes, they’ll dodge the bullet for the rest of their lives

H is her burden
the rest
let history decide

B was raped by a dog. She doesn’t blame the dog. She survived she
lives an exile’s life
on the same splendid island as H and his wife
world capital of capital
where she
has occasion to ponder
how anniversaries of awful events
have an inescapable resonance

Copyright © Mudlark 2002
Mudlark Home Page