Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE FAT LADY, by HAYDEN CARRUTH

Poetry Explorer

Classic and Contemporary Poetry

THE FAT LADY, by                 Poet's Biography
First Line: A lovely house it was. We all thought so
Last Line: The one world I know how to love had died
Subject(s): Obesity; Women

"A lovely house it was. We all thought so,
Anyway after we got used to it. All
That redwood and that queer roof -- modern, you know.
And the window! Enormous, like a wall -- "
Which burst like spindrift inward when the flames
Were most intense, showering the dear creature
With foamy glass and giving the fervent neighbors,
Who stood like choristers on the lawn,
An even better view.

"She'd call us dirty names,
All of us, but we didn't mind. She was mad.
Why, right at the end she laughed out fit to bust.
And sometimes she'd just lean back and yawn
Like an old mare and go to sleep.
She said it took a might of resting -- and eating --
To keep the life in such a heap.
Four hundred fifty pounds! That's three of me,
And she no higher than a pasture gate.
We told her she ought never be alone;
We told her, but she always knew it all,
With her fancy books and that funny mechanical doll --
All gone now. It's kind of sad."

Saddest because she cackled at the end,
Mad and mortal in a ring of fire,
And still, O Lord, house to the girlish lust
For heroes who could never part the flames.
Saddest because I think of that old lust,
Her flesh that flowered like any other, slowly,
Assembling hues and textures through the seasons,
A trick of eye and lip, the shoulder's lift
Above the proud young breast; her moment came,
The moment of perfect form, growth's triumph, life
Verging . . . oh, verging on all conjectured joys,
Expectancy, consent. Only a season,
An April, a poise, three stepping-stones where laughter
Weaves quietly beneath the willow trees --
For her not even this. Like rain her shock
Pelted upon her ceaselessly, and growth
Went on and on, the moment lost in dread,
Horror of the flesh, mounting, mounting,
Flesh whose rolls and waves encompassed her,
Crushed her, sank on her tender heart, like heat
That swarms and lies on equatorial towns.
And speech became a gasp, all beauty gone,
As fat fish gasp in puddles when the tide
Falls fast down the beach.

"You would have thought
They'd make these fancy houses fireproof
At least. Hell, she burned like tinder,
Everything, walls and roof,
Except the tiles and that glass ball.
You'll find them somewhere there among the cinders."

Burning, burning, she faced the centuries,
A metabolic mound that time alone,
The way of flames and ashes, could reduce.
To move was torture, why then should she move?
Her moment fled, or rather smothered. She
Attuned her mind to practical affairs.

She was a monster. All right, let them pay;
And twice a day she had them hoist her up
Against the gaze that washed her like a sea,
While she stared back like rock, a promontory
Eating chocolates. The barker cried his creed,
"You won't believe it, she's impossible,"
And she dreamed hexes on that facelike sea.
From stand to stand she rode the baggage car.
Yet more than once she did not sleep alone;
Temptation hung like smoke among the smells
Of gin and elephants, as black-nailed hands
Flickered and passed the bottle round and round.
She was astonished when her lovers came,
Stealthy and drunk, dared to that mammoth bed.
In the skittery dawn they fled like mice. Not one
Was ever seen again.

"What can you do
With such a crazy dame?
She sat there every day.
She knew, she knew."

Between the joys of staring down the sea
("My audience, the brutes -- all of them")
She cultivated a cold mind and ate,
Ate everything in sight, her barker said.
She took a mechanical turn, and bought a toy,
A doll on the end of a string, whose antics soothed
Her massive immobility. She jerked
The string with one fat finger while she read
Tracts of the star-gazers -- interpretations,
Systems, prophecies. "Nonsense," she said,
And dropped the books about her on the floor.
And yet she bought a lovely crystal ball.
Mostly she ate, a rhythmic munch and crunch,
And felt the love flow from her jaws like blood.

Round and huge and decked with tarnished beads
That fell like chains from her neck's greased machine,
She sat, a queen, a tawdry giantess,
Fruitful, unloved, obscene, the essential mother
Who bore through pain's interminable years
Without a yell and cursed us all and gave
Her life to be the image of our love,
Her utmost curse; we wander in our love,
Disconsolate and cowardly and free,
Kicking the rusty coins above her grave.

"That crystal ball's what finally done her in."

She'd no more quit her triumph than her pain,
And when she tired of baggage cars, she built
A house around a window and a chair,
A window large enough to frame the brutes,
A chair . . . well, large enough for her. And still
They came to stare, furtively, beyond
The lawn, to see the monster, though she charged
Only the quota of her cold contempt.
Enthroned, immobile, she gave them eye for eye
Through the wide glass. The year turned, and the sun
Slanted each day closer to her chair,
And bored at last into that crystal ball,
A smoking beam that fell upon a page
Of one of the open books around her chair.
The paper blackened, and the flame at first
Was pale, almost invisible, but it leapt
From page to page, yellowing, dancing, dancing,
Like the doll at the end of the string, and fast flew round
The chair in a raucous ring, a ring of flames,
All gay and hot in a topsy world, a cheer
And a whirl, and "Hink!" she squealed, and laughed and laughed
Till she thought she'd die. "I've got you now, you brutes,"
She cried, and the tears streamed down and quickly dried.

The one world I knew how to love had died.

Used with the permission of Copper Canyon Press, P.O. Box 271, Port Townsend, WA
98368-0271, www.cc.press.org

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