My father called Shirley Drip Dry, though not
to her face, because her hands perpetually appeared
to be hanging from a clothes line. Even when
she raised her arms, her hands hung, peely
and pale. My brother was a good sport about it.
Shirley was his first girlfriend followed by Emmy
whom our father called ugly once, as in, Hey there, ugly,
though we all knew she was beautiful or at least she fitm
our family’s version of beauty. Shining onyx hair,
olive skin, Semite with a surprising, sweet,
short nose. But Emmy knew already at fifteen,
how to chasten: there is always truth
in every jest, so be careful. Our father,
I could see, felt ashamed. It was only his love
of America that made him say it,
his hope of sounding cool instead of Old Country
where he didn’t dare raise his eyes
from the pebbles on the ground,
from the dirt streets, if a girl was near.
My aunt Susie called both my parents lookists
because—without knowing anything about the fractal
geometry that makes us see beauty in a moon
shaped face or high cheek bones, those supreme
lookout points above the ultimate
fourteen-tooth smile—without knowing
anything about the golden ratio of beauty
that makes us praise faces with the most
symmetry, eyes level and preferably
large, brows of equal thickness—without knowing
Rossetti’s Helen of Troy or the unblemished
marble of David, they both loved to look at
beautiful people more than the not so much.
I was fifteen to Dahlia’s seventeen when she
introduced us to boys as the pretty one and
the smart one—she being the pretty one, and I
believed for years that the slot was not shareable.
Only one pretty allowed per two best friends.
It never occurred to me that she might have
coveted my smart slot as much as I coveted
her pretty one. Now I am sixty and signed on
to eHarmony that asks for ten traits, choose
from a list of twenty-five, that I could not live without.
And if I try to check off even one more,
the computer goes wonk and won’t let me do it.
So pleasant to my eye is pitted against doesn’t lie,
and you know what I choose. What this says about me:
that I stood before Van Gogh’s blue and green
impasto wheat fields and wept, wishing I could have
held him, smoothed his hair that he painted
in his self portraits to look like gold and
ruddy wheat fields, could have put my hand
out the window to feel the rain that fell
in black streaks like mascara on the cheeks
of a woman weeping, could have touched
the paint on his canvas while it was still wet.
—from Rattle #38, Winter 2012