Carol Muske-Dukes

February 24, 2017 Muske-Dukes Carol


(Paris, Hair, 1971)


Once through an ancient stage door, past a sign

“L’audition”, I’m ushered by hip Mercury, cocked


torch lighting his winged brow. My number’s the one

he hands me, though I don’t know how: to act or


if I can belt “Easy to Be Hard”. Which I do.

How can people be so heartless? I ask the


high notes. The day before I’d quoted de

Beauvoir with equal fire as a Metro creep


touched my leg, whining at me off-key. I shouted

my textbook French, which he instantly corrected.


Now an anonymous voice from a darkened row: asking

for more & that evening a callback at my Cité U dorm.


Direct to onstage, piping high notes at a Hell’s

Angel, missing back-of-chorus cues, half-rehearsed.

The first bars of “Aquarius” sound & I climb, hand

over hand, from scaffolding below the side balconies


into scripted light. But the Tribe didn’t take to me.

The only time I took my clothes off at the nude scene,


first act’s end, they hid my tie-dyed jeans. I couldn’t be

naked the way they were. I think everything is real.


Nude all interlude, I search, lost, behind the great

moth-eaten sway of cloth, beneath hanging skies.


In my forever-auditioning blond body, begging in each

failed language: “My clothes?”, “Pourquoi, mes amis?”


Funny joke, but these bright fake tryouts at Life, ongoing,

take a toll. Due to be paid up Mercury’s road. Everything


is real to me, even the big joke war over a woman’s body.

What I shout back, exiting, is how it will all be fought —


in a future when She, Great Moon, rises up, floods the Seventh

House, & Jupiter aligns peacefully at last, with his partner, Mars.

Carol Muske-Dukes is a professor at the University of Southern California and a former Poet Laureate of California. She is the author of nine books of poems – her ninth collection, Blue Rose, was published in 2018 by Penguin. Earlier books of poems include Sparrow, from Random House, a National Book Award finalist, and others. She has also published four novels, including Channeling Mark Twain from Random House, 2003. She is also an essayist and anthology editor. Her two collections of essays include Married to the Icepick Killer: a Poet in Hollywood (S.F. Chronicle Best Book) — and an anthology of poems, co-edited with Bob Holman – Crossing State Lines: an American Renga (from Farrar, Strauss & Giroux) and two children’s poetry “handbooks” – The Magical Poetry Blimp Pilot’s Guide, 1 & 2. Many of her books have been NY Times Most Notable Books.  She is the author of an essay collection Women and Poetry: Truth, Autobiography, and the Shape of the Self (Poets on Poetry). She founded both the USC PhD program in Literature & CW, as well as the Art Without Walls/Free Space writing program on Riker’s Island & prisons throughout NY state. Also, she has reviewed & written for the NY Times Book Review & Op Ed,  the LA Times (for years as poetry columnist), the New Yorker & the Huffington Post. She is published & anthologized widely, and is the winner of a number of awards, including, Guggenheim, NEA, Ingram/Merrill, the Castagnola award (PSA) and six Pushcart Prizes.