“Bell Bottom Trousers” by Diane Wakoski

Diane Wakoski


bell bottom trousers, coat of navy blue,
she loves a sailor and he loves her too.
—Guy Lombardo WWII song lyric

Mine were brown velvet,
lush as sable. ’70s wide and swinging,
swirling outward from my calves,
vaquero rhythmed, and very expensive,
the cost of a ’40s war savings-bond. Driving across
America, alone in Green Greed
—or was it the Fox-brown Audi?—
I laid them flat across the backseat, like hero’s flags,
covered them with a Mexican serape,
keeping them intact, uncrushed, ready for The Visit.
The Evening. The Expanse-of-Pacific-wrapped-around-me-Event,
where I would wear them.

When the night collapsed into next day,
and I fell—alone—into my motel room king-sized bed,
like a duffle bag thrown into a locker,
sleeping the salty sleep of a girl who dreams of oceans and the man
coracled upon it, I flung
the bell bottoms onto the foot
of the bed, where the tossed heavy-textured spread covered them
during my flailing night, thus
causing their
I leaving them, not unlike my sailor-father
leaving me.
The bell bottoms
next morning, forgotten,
in my haste to travel on.

That’s what I am thinking about
forty years later,
I left them behind, and
just to fill you in on my concern, I who hate telephones,
did call the next day,
but they said no one had found them. That’s
what they said.
Unlike my bookkeeper mother,
I don’t keep a list
of items left behind, yet these
brown-as-my-father’s-eyes trousers swirl
into history. They seem memorable like a
lost ring, topaz or sardonyx carved into a cameo.
They’ve conjured images of my father’s sea duty
to the Aleutians—bears hibernating—
or Pearl Harbor—yellow hibiscus worn behind an ear.
They floated, a topaz,
fallen brown-faceted and envious
of its setting,
my missing sailor pants,
worn in the days when I used to dance—
short breaths like the exhale of cigarette smoke,
animating the free swing of bell bottoms. A
small mishap in one
of many journeys, just a memory,
like the folded flag,
I can’t let go of.

from Rattle #33, Summer 2010


Diane Wakoski: “My poems are my secret garden, where I can be a girl wandering in a Southern California orange grove, a sorceress sailing between islands with the Argonauts, or a woman in a ’70s bar, waiting for the Motorcycle Betrayer to put his hand on her shoulder. The garden is confined, but not limited. I never get tired of sitting in this garden, knowing that only those who have the key can unlock the gate and join me inside.” (web)

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