A poem by Wendy Klein

A Short Manhattan Lullaby, 1939
after S. Olds

I see them tarting themselves up for the party where they’ll meet;
she post-divorce from her approved-of Jewish ex,
and all set to become a successful playwright. I see her pucker up
for the brightest lipstick, slip her feet into lethal stilettos,
bat blackened eyelashes in the gilded mirror,
see it return her appreciative glance. He’s more nervous;
primed with Dutch courage – Bourbon, because
he can’t afford Scotch — tweaks a pre-formed bowtie,
covers a less-than-fresh shirt with a Harris tweed jacket –
herringbone. I see them arrive separately on the steps
of an East-Village Brownstone, pause a moment
before climbing the dim-lit stairs, gauging the level
of booziness; assessing the volume of laughter,
of music. He’s the wrong man for her; literary, unreliable,
full of unattainable aspirations — the sort of stray she finds
irresistible. She’s spiky, too smart for him,
but she’s yet to find out. He can’t resist her green eyes,
made brighter with kohl, alcohol, artifice, her sassy chat;
can’t take his eyes off her carmine lips,
the flash of white teeth, bared by her brassy laugh,
and she can’t resist his smoky gaze.
They go through the pick-up in cliché Technicolor,
and every warning she’s heard about weak, irresponsible
gentile men wafts out the window of the ninth floor,
gains speed over the Hudson, the East,
as she whispers shut up Mother,
and I want to say stop; you’ll destroy each other,
but I bite my tongue, just watch them walk away,
clinging to each other so tight that I flinch.
(first published in the anthology of winning poems from Norfolk Writers’ Poetry Competition 2011)

Wendy Klein was short-listed in the Poetry Business 2012 Pamphlet Competition, judged by Carol Ann Duffy. Her first collection, Cuba in the Blood, was published in 2009 by Cinnamon Press. A second collection, Anything in Turquoise, is due out from Cinnamon Press in January 2013.

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