The Lyric of the Beautiful Girl
Many a poem has sprung from an encounter with a beautiful girl: this is not news. I once had crush on a man who was rumored to have dated Christie Brinkley. Logically, this made no sense: she was significantly older than him, and she had been married so consistently that it was hard to imagine when she had squeezed him in. In the heart of my narrative musings about this possible dating history –who wants to come after a super model?– my poet friend decided that each of us must write a poem about Christie Brinkley. Clearly, I thought, a waste of time. But in Andrea Cohen’s collection Long Division (Salmon 2009), you can find a funny, rich lyric entitled, “Sometimes You Need A Little Christie Brinkley,” which contains these lines:
Don’t forget, in some room Christie Brinkley
wakes and wants an alchemy other
than herself, some mornings she and the mirror
refuse to speak and she could do
with a little less Christie Brinkley, especially
considering how mirrored halls tend to echo.
her without end, how the ricocheting suppositions
of who she is causes aches and stains.
Within the narratives we tell each other in our daily lives, we’re constantly finding something other than the narrative thread, and I’m going to call that something the lyric seed. Who knew a supermodel could be the seed of a good poem? Then again, she is, after all, a beautiful girl.
Sometimes it’s difficult to find the seed amidst the density of a thread. In my current project, I’ve been listening to hours of tapes by my Filipino-American grandfather in which he tells of his life in the Philippines, including his years as a civilian prisoner interned by the Japanese army in Manila for years during World War II. It’s easy to want to hand the reader the whole thread, but when I try that, it fails. I end up wanting to invite my future readers over to my apartment to listen to my grandfather. He was a much better storyteller than I’ll ever be. And so I keep looking for those lyric seeds, whether it’s the cat he killed to feed himself and his friends and their baby, the hemp stripping machine his father invented and lost the patent to, or the memory of a French-Egyptian teenage girl who had one side of her face blown off by a shell that hit the internment camp. In this last case, the lyric seed was my grandfather’s voice fading off as his usually jovial voice repeats, “She was such a beautiful girl; she was such a beautiful girl.”
Maybe the lyric poem is itself a bit like a beautiful girl. You don’t always know her story, but she can still break your heart.
Rebecca Morgan Frank's poetry has appeared in the Georgia Review, Guernica, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, Best New Poets 2008, and elsewhere. She received her MFA from Emerson College and is currently an Elliston Poetry Fellow in the University of Cincinnati's PhD program in creative writing. She is a founding editor of the online journal Memorious: A Journal of New Verse and Fiction. Her poem, "Intellectual Property," an AWP Intro Award winner, and will appear in HFR #45.