Susan Aizenberg

The Beautiful American Word Baby
November 23, 2020 Aizenberg Susan

The Beautiful American Word Baby

after John Weir

Once, I wanted it growled low in the throat
by a Steve McQueen look-a-like

 

as he pulled me down for a long, slow kiss—
me in my Liz Taylor satin slip,

 

him in his tight tee shirt and low-slung jeans.
Some steamy motel night.  Babe

 

would do for more domestic moments—
hey, Babe, have you got a second?

 

not quite so good, but still clear as a ring
or my name tattooed on a bicep—

 

keep away girls, taken. No Sweetheart, no Sugar
for my dream lover, too many

 

high-pitched consonants, too easy for salesclerks
and sarcasm, too Southern.  Only Baby

 

sounded like whiskey and leather jackets,
the backs of Harleys, James Dean

 

and young Brando, pointy-toed boots
of worn-soft Spanish leather. Honey

 

was for drag queens and sitcom husbands—
jokey as a big wig and falsies, homely as Schlitz

 

and socks on the bedroom floor.  Doll reeked
of menace, cold eyes, hard slap, sharp

 

flick of a switchblade. Dear was unthinkable—
Ozzie and Harriet, virginal librarians

 

who hadn’t yet transformed by taking off
their glasses and letting down their hair.

 

Baby it had to be, appreciative as a whistle
from the young hard hats in summer,

 

breeze ruffling a cotton skirt on bare legs.
Baby was dangerous, sexy hitters

 

perched on car hoods hot Coney Island nights
in July, signal clear as any other animal’s

 

call. Baby was I want you, a warm hand
cupping a naked breast, a palm sliding

 

down a man’s taut stomach. Musky sheets.
Quickened pulse. I was too young

 

to question— Baby? As in child? As in mine?  
Not your Baby reads the tee shirt

 

on the young woman I passed on the street
today, and of course she’s right.

 

Even back then it was mostly a bad joke—
who can remember every chick’s name, man

 

or habit, a tick, no more meaningful
than a pecked cheek goodbye. Still, at sixteen

 

it seemed to me beautiful. Sleepy green eyes
behind Ray Bans. A cocked cowboy hat.

Susan Aizenberg is the author of two full-length poetry collections, Quiet City (BkMk 2015) and Muse (Crab Orchard Poetry Series 2002).  Her most recent book is a chapbook-length collection, First Light, published this June by Gibraltar Editions in a limited letterpress edition with original linocuts by artist Kevin Bowman.  Aizenberg lives and writes in Iowa City, where she teaches in the Iowa Summer Writing Festival.  She can be reached at her website: https://susanaizenberg.wordpress.com