JAMES THOMAS MILLER
The Rough Guide to Romantic Comedy
Boy‚ you’re in a special love‚ one that whitens teeth
and completes each other’s sentences‚ so as you walk
Central Park on the first squirrel-orange day of fall‚
There is no symbolism lost to you or the camera.
Swans partner across the lake’s rippled chrome‚
the zaftig wives in tight black couture hurry
home to the Upper East Side‚ their husbands‚
even the Guggenheim is a surrealist wedding cake
and when the kid playing bucket drums says‚
Mister‚ you sure got a fine lady‚ you think yep‚
she’s a doozy: corkscrew blond‚ MBA‚ voice like
Ma Rainey after five full tumblers of single malt.
But something’s rotten in your Bronx apartment‚
her Gordian heart‚ the cold‚ cold feet of home‚
late night calls to that old boyfriend from Tupelo.
Being‚ Heidegger once said‚ is that which is farthest.
What you are not is he‚ him‚ the shiver-down boy
in the elms of her childhood‚ the one who grows up
shirtless and on her mind with his tan biceps hunched
under the hood shadow of a tractor‚ pining away for
the day she returns to the farm‚ expectant and courtsome.
Now the camera isn’t happy. Life is rain and gray winos‚
the smell of muscatel on your stoop the afternoon you
come home from work and find she’s caught a train south‚
left only a note: Gone back to find out myself—Beth.
Over and over‚ like a broken reel‚ the heinous cricket-light
of moon sees them to a cool pond edged by willows‚
and before you can say cut‚ the image of him
drawling down her calico sundress plays your head.
For a week you lie in bed‚ read the longer works of Coleridge.
Enter the sidekick‚ Buddy Strong‚ the man with the plan
and a brand new Lincoln that squires you through
the bituminous hills of West Virginia‚ Kentucky‚ into
Tennessee‚ where night comes like a quarter horse‚
quick‚ quiet and poorly sired‚ out from under the rafters
of a barn you passed fifty miles back‚ making it
vein-blue and susurrus‚ a gunmetal pennant drowsed
over poplar‚ hickories‚ pine‚ the Natchez Trace
winding you and Buddy miles around bend after bend
until the camera focuses in on a city limit sign:
Welcome to Tupelo‚ Original Birthplace of Elvis
Population: None of Your Goddamn Business.
See‚ Boy‚ now you’re in a trouble love‚ one that shatters
teeth and gimps your knees with a crescent wrench‚
so as you arrive unannounced at her parents’ house‚
the drama is lost to neither you nor the camera.
Beth on their backyard veranda‚ alone‚ surrounded
by the smoldered white of camellias and lattice.
The other man coming across the lawn‚ tire iron
in hand‚ his lip cleft with the same delinquent twitch
The King wore in Jailhouse Rock‚ only meaner‚
but before he can lay a finger on you‚ it’s time for
the Big Speech. With the assembled family watching,
you recount a love unequalled since Beatrice and Dante,
a Siamese intimacy of body and mind that defies
physics‚ noblesse oblige‚ and the cosmos itself.
A covey of doves flits in everyone’s chest.
The other man‚ now wistful and tender‚ says‚
You winned her fair and square‚ which doesn’t
make sense‚ but who cares? After you kiss Beth
in the primrose last scene‚ credits run‚ aisle lights
shunt the audience from the labial walls of the theatre
and into the parking lot‚ where things really heat up.
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