“Clara Bow is In Your Face but You Can’t Grab Her” – Poetry by Joseph P. O’Brien

ClaraBowBoxFrom our Summer 2016 issue, “Clara Bow is In Your Face but You Can’t Grab Her” is Joseph P. O’Brien‘s poetic tribute to the original “It Girl.”

{ X }

YOU CAN FEEL HER, though you don’t really see her
today. (If you do, it’s probably Betty Boop anyway.)
But when we talk about “It,” we talk about Clara.
All the stars and starlets since just play a game
of tag she started. What is IT? IT’s what the French
call “I don’t know what,” but cutting out
all the bullshit in the middle.

It’s being born in a Brooklyn heat wave, the caboose in a train
of miscarriages, looking death in the face and winking.
It’s growing up with girls maligning your poor clothes,
so you hide inside sweaters and hang with the boys
(your famous right arm could lick any one of ’em)
until your womanhood makes boyhood impossible.

It’s keeping warm with your mom on cold nights
by crying in each other’s arms, until you wake to a butcher
knife at your throat– epilepsy induced psychosis,
the doctors say when dad commits mom, and eventually
it kills her. It’s calling your mourning relatives ‘hypocrites’
at mom’s funeral right before you jump into her grave.

It’s finding romance, nobility, and glamour on the silver screen,
but thinking the actors queer & stilted, not at all how you’d do it,
so you make your bedroom a one-woman circus, star
in your own mirror movies, til Hollywood can no longer ignore
your genuine spark, your divine fire, and you steal the
show as an undercover tomboy. It’s never facing a means to pretend,
no secrets from the world, it’s trusting through dangerous eyes.

It’s the press calling you mischievous, pretty, aggressive,
quick-tempered, deeply sentimental. It’s drawing laughter
from hard-boiled audiences as the prize vulgarian,
adorably played, horrid flapper versus whimsical flapper.
It’s making Colleen Moore so jealous she tries to take your
close-ups away, so you get that bitch back with revenge sinus surgery.

What is it? It’s “No more soda-pop love affairs!” as Hollywood becomes
the French Revolution, women waving pitchforks & losing their heads.
When B.P. Schulberg scolds you for living with your boyfriend,
it’s shredding your contract & throwing it in his slimy lemur face.
It’s being the sweetest girl in the world you don’t dare cross,
an impish, appealing little devil of infinite variety.

It’s gurgling with naughty delight. It’s rehearsals only sapping your pep;
you’re a Stradivarius violin, just touch you and you’ll respond
with genius. It’s seizing not the day but the moment, time doesn’t exist
for you, except you think it’ll stop tomorrow.

It’s dreadful manners, because dignified people are frightful snobs
and you’re a freak curiosity. It’s nerves shot, crisis-a-day, rows of sedative
bottles on your bedside table. It’s when the neighbors used to shout “Pipe down, your voice is terrible!” but now the studio loves your half-talking /
half-singing, all the way to your sanitarium desert paradise. It’s returning
to Hollywood only to make enough money to stay the fuck out of it.

It’s a life of uproar where you couldn’t make a place as one of Mrs. Alcott’s
little women, and you’re sorry for a lot of it, but not awfully sorry.

{ X }

photo by Alibi Jones
photo by Alibi Jones

JOSEPH P. O’BRIEN  is the managing editor of FLAPPERHOUSE.  “Clara Bow…” is part of BADMOTORFLAPPER, his forthcoming poetry collection inspired by women of the 1920’s, and music of the 1990’s. This poem’s musical inspiration is Faith No More’s “Epic,” which uses the word “It” nearly 120 times in under 5 minutes. Some phrases in this poem come from articles about & interviews with Clara Bow, all of which can be found on her Wikipedia page.

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